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Stop counting calories & start reading food labels.

Posted November 16, 2014 by Melissa diLeonardo in Life After Five
That’s right I said it.  Stop. Counting. Calories.  Yes, you need to create a calorie deficit when trying to lose weight, but if you are struggling to lose weight and are stuck at a plateau, maybe stop counting and start reading.  Examine WHAT ingredients are in the food you eat and see if eating cleaner (whole) foods provides your body with the push you need to reach your goals.

Don’t get me wrong.  When beginning a weight loss program one of the easiest ways to start losing weight is to look at how many calories you consume and compare them to how many calories you expend via daily activity and exercise.  You then try to expend more calories than you consume and thus create a calorie deficit.  In theory, this should work for weight loss. But too often, women reduce their calories too drastically and as a result either deprive their bodies of vital nutrients and/or reserve their daily allotment of calories for processed foods that do little to help fuel the body and curb cravings. The result may bring you to weight loss, but ultimately over time, when you return to regular eating habits, you will back slide.

Want to raise the potential to push through a weight-loss plateau and create sustainable weight loss?  Start reading your labels.  I have experienced the power of knowing exactly what ingredients are in my food when I did the Whole 30 last month.  (What is the Whole 30?  Google it, please.)  Although this type of nutrition challenge is not for everyone, it made me very conscious of what goes into many of the “healthy” foods I was eating regularly.  The more I examined labels, the more I noticed that sugar or sweeteners in various forms (evaporated cane syrup, cane juice, high fructose corn syrup, honey, agave, etc.) were found in foods that I would never expect or deem sweet.  WHY does this matter?  It matters because by consuming these foods, I ultimately would get a “sugar high” and end up not feeling satisfied and/or hungry shortly after eating.

The other thing I discovered when I started label reading pertains to fats and fillers.   This is not an article promoting a gluten-free diet, but upon label reading every day for a month, I became aware that wheat products are found in many foods that (again) I would never have expected. Eating these foods, combined with any of the other healthy carbohydrates I eat throughout day, can really add up and often are not the most efficient way to take your weight management to the next level.

My experience:  Before I did the Whole 30, I was heavily relying on protein shakes and energy bars.  These foods are great occasionally if you are in a pinch, but look at the labels. Many contain many ingredients that do not naturally occur in the real world.  The sweeteners (natural or otherwise) were preventing me from feeling sated and I was reaching for more food shortly thereafter.  Again, these foods may be deemed “healthy,” but they were not nourishing my body in the same way that whole foods can.

What should you do?  It’s really up to you.  Again, I am not pushing the Whole 30 (although I learned A LOT and feel really great as a result of the challenge), but think taking time to better understand what you are putting into your body and tracking how you feel as a result of eating certain foods. This is not difficult and/or expensive.  Just start reading and maybe see what happens if you take a break (5-7 days to start) if you reduce or eliminate certain processed foods for cleaner choices.  Snack on whole foods (nuts, vegetables, and fruits) and maybe try a week of cooking your own meals, instead of going for takeout/fast food.

I recognize we live in a busy world, but 5-7 days is a mere blip in the grand scheme of your life.  In addition, if you really want to reach your goal, recognize that sometimes to move forward you need to work harder or try something new.  Knowledge is power and the more you know about what you put into your body, the more likely you will live in the body your want.  Think about it; you are what you eat.

More information about the Whole 30 can be found via the embedded links.  If this topic interests you, I also recommend learning more about how nutrition relates to hormone balance…and how hormones play a role in weight management.  There are great references online; seek them out and learn more about how your body works.



About the Author

Melissa diLeonardo

Melissa is an East Coast native who has made Chicago her home! She has worked in the health and wellness field for over six years and lives to bike, hike, run, lift, and play. As a ReebokONE Brand Ambassador, Certified Personal Trainer via the American Council on Exercise, and a Registered Yoga Teacher, Melissa is down with good health. Voted “Best Personal Trainer” in the 2013 Chicago Reader’s Annual Poll and selected as a global finalist in the 2013 Life Fitness Personal Trainer to Watch Contest, Melissa instructs fitness and yoga classes throughout the north side of Chicago (spinning, boot camp, strength training). She a proud member and assistant coach at CrossFit Chicago and Master Trainer for Life Fitness Academy . Co-founder of the Chicago-based wellness collective, true-2-life.com and Program Manager for Corporate Movement at Life Fitness Corporation, you can follow her on twitter @mdsapphire. Now let's dance!