During the last twenty years of educating about healthy living, I have often be asked how many calories are in a particular fruit or veggie juice, and my response is always: When you eat healthily, you don’t have to count calories. I held onto that lofty ideal for years until, for my 49th birthday, I decided to give myself the perfect gift to ward off those midlife crisis blues. On the morning of my birthday, I planned to jump out of bed, stand in front of the mirror and unwrap my perfectly defined abs while singingHappy Birthday to Me. I already had a disciplined diet, which included regular exercise and body building. All I had to do was lose 8 to 10 pounds to unveil the real ab within. Easy. Nothing to it. Increase running and decrease a few carbs. After five weeks of what I thought was low-calorie eating, I jumped out of bed on the morning of my birthday and, sure enough, staring back at me was a 49-year-old man with a flabby belly. I had not lost a single pound.
So, instead of abs, my birthday gift was, for the first time in my life, to count the calories I ate every day for one week without making any changes to my eating habits. The results were quick and clear. For someone who prides himself on living a life of meticulous discipline, I was in denial about how much food was being deposited into my belly every day.
Denial Killer: It’s All In The Math
Calorie counting is perfect medicine to cure denial. It demystifies weight loss, stripping it down to an unromantic mathematical equation of plus and minus. Plus
is daily calories eaten. Minus
is daily calories burned. It’s that simple—and that hard, because the answer forces us to face the reality of our own self-deception.
The Hard Numbers
- One pound of body fat equals 3,500 calories.
- A 168-pound man with moderate activity burns 2,200 calories daily.
- Reducing your daily intake to 1,800 calories means you will lose 400 calories worth of fat per day.
- Burning 400 calories more than you eat each day means you will lose less than one pound of body fat a week.
Less than four pounds of fat a month is the unromantic truth. To have seen my teenage abs in five weeks, I would have had to eat 875 calories fewer than I burned, meaning a dramatic decrease in caloric intake or a dramatic increase in aerobic output.
Have you ever heard someone say, “No matter what I do I cannot lose weight”? They shrug and sigh while quoting some study they read that states that because of genetics, some people find it harder to lose weight. Of course, this only reinforces the feeling of powerlessness over their growing tummy. The good news is the majority of your inability to lose weight is denial, not genetics, and you can do something about denial. If you say that no matter what you do, you cannot seem to lose weight, it means you are not being honest with yourself about how much you are eating. This makes you a perfect candidate for a week of joyous calorie counting.
If you accurately record, without cheating, every calorie that enters your body, including those nightly drinks, you will be amazed at how many calories you consume in a day. It will quickly become apparent why you just can’t seem to lose weight no matter what you do. Facing denial is the first big step toward taking charge of your fitness.
Related Article: Counting Calories Establishes Healthy Expectations