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calories count, but that doesn't mean we should always be counting them

CALORIES are tiny little creatures that live in your wardrobe and sew your clothes a bit tighter every night.

Kidding! Calories are units of energy used to measure the energy values of foods.

To lose body fat, fewer calories should enter the body than leave it. The basic formula for fat loss is to eat less and to move more.

Although, this is grossly over-simplified, that's the basics of it. So yes, calories count, and if someone ever tells you that they don't, kick them somewhere soft.

With new diets such as Paleo and clean-eating, you could be led to believe that by changing the type of food you eat you will get less fat. This is untrue. You can get fat by overeating healthy food.

While the quality of food determines your health, the quantity determines your body fat.

The commonality among fancy modern diets such as Paleo, clean eating, intermittent fasting, juice detoxes and meal replacers is that they all slash calorie intake by eliminating certain foods or whole food groups.

None of them is particularly magical and none of them melts fat away.

Cutting out entire food groups is certainly not the most desirable way to establish a calorie deficit.

A better approach would be to follow a nutrition plan that maximises nutrient intake and your health profile.

Which leads me to beg the question, whatever happened to the balanced diet? Is it just not sexy enough any more?

So, long story short: to lose body fat, calories count, but that doesn't mean we have to count them. Here's why.

Why You Shouldn't Count

Counting calories takes the enjoyment out of food. Eating food should be a pleasurable experience, not a maths assignment.

Counting calories encourages people to eat packaged and processed foods - it's easier to count calories when they're written on a label.

Also, people try to cheat the system by fitting more processed junk food into their daily calorie/points quota.

By doing this, you will be missing out on essential nutrients needed for optimal health.

Counting calories encourages you to ignore your hunger cues. This is not ideal for long-term maintenance, and most people will end up hungry, give up and gain back the weight they lost.

The most important reason why counting calories doesn't work is because it doesn't address the root cause of over-eating.

Most overweight people don't over-eat because they're hungry. They do so for countless other reasons - to be sociable, out of boredom, to avoid dealing with difficult emotions or simply out of habit.

In all of the above circumstances, willpower alone and counting calories is a sure way to set yourself up for failure when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off.

What to Do Instead

For long-term sustainable fat loss, switch from counting calories to developing behaviours and habits.

Your meals should be full of nutrient-dense, whole unprocessed filling food consisting of protein, vegetables, healthy fats and reasonable amounts of starchy carbs.

To control food intake, use your own hand as a personalised and portable measuring device. A bigger person will have a bigger hand and a smaller person will have a smaller hand.

This is a very simple way to control food intake without having to count calories.

> Eat Mindfully

Eat every two to four hours to keep the hunger monsters at bay. If you let your hunger get so far, you are likely to make poor food choices and tear the kitchen apart to get to food. Eat slowly and stop at 80pc full.

It takes 20 minutes for satiety mechanisms to kick in, so try to make each meal last 15 to 20 minutes. Take your time and enjoy the eating experience. Eat until satisfied and not stuffed. This takes practice, but give it a go.

> Eat Protein With 
Each Meal

Protein is essential for 
helping with appetite 
control, losing less muscle and more fat and optimising metabolism.

Women should aim to eat one palm size with each meal and men should aim for two palms. Good sources of protein are lean meats, salmon and eggs.

> Eat Vegetables With Each Meal

Vegetables are cancer-fighting, free-radical-destroying and 
acid-neutralising and they provide micronutrient power. They are high in fibre and low in calories, so go on, eat up.

Aim to eat one to two fist-sized 
servings of vegetables with each meal. All vegetables are great, but opt for 
cruciferous vegetables, tomatoes and spinach for extra nutrient power.

> Eat Little Carbohydrate-Dense Foods With Each Meal

The amount of carbohydrates you should eat depends on your body size, body type and physical needs.

Eat little starchy carbs at each meal but have the chunk of carbs after exercise as they are better tolerated by the body around the workout period when they're less likely to be stored as fat.

Good sources of starchy carbs are whole-sprouted grains, bananas, potatoes, oats and rice.

> Eat Healthy Fats With Each Meal

Healthy fats are necessary for your brain, eyes, hormones and overall health.

Women should aim for one thumb of fat and men should aim for two thumbs. Try to get most of your fats from foods such as nuts, seeds, avocados and coconuts. Getting enough omega-3 fats is extremely important. The best sources are oily fish (salmon), ground flaxseeds/linseeds and walnuts.

> Keep Hydrated

Sugar and calorie-laden fizzy drinks and fruit juices are not conducive to a fat-loss goal.

Preferred drinks are water, green tea and a little black coffee. If you are a smaller person, aim for two litres of water a day. If you are a larger person, aim for four litres.

> Get Eight Hours' Sleep

Sleep is probably the most forgotten ingredient for fat loss.

Rest is critical to becoming healthier and leaner, helping to regulate the crazy hormones flying around the body, so it's crucial to get enough shut-eye.

> Break The Rules 10Pc Of The Time

The most important element of any nutrition plan is to eat fun food that you enjoy. Do this 10pc of the time, but don't use it as an excuse to pig out.

Pick a Friday night meal or a Sunday brunch and eat foods you wouldn't normally eat. This way, there's no deprivation, no starvation and no food is "off-limits". This is ultimately what makes any nutrition plan maintainable, sustainable and enjoyable.

On a final note, find out what works best for you and run with it. Instead of following the media or unsuccessful friends or family, find a mentor who has been successful and copy that person's habits and behaviours.

Lasting behaviour change takes time and often many mistakes, so give yourself a break from time to time along the way.

For more information from Dr Karen Coghlan, aka The Nut Coach: www.thenutcoach.com and Karen@thenutcoach.com