Okay, this post wasn’t really planned, and I am writing it here only because of my inability to refrain from shaking my head when people talk nonsense. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go on a rampage, telling how silly or ignorant some people are. I just want to clear up some misconceptions about clean eating and counting calories, as I’ve done both simultaneously and separately one at a time and seen results from both. Some things worked better than others, but at the end of the day they all counted towards where I am today.
While reading some blogs and questions online, I have found a post from a girl who was sick of counting calories and asked for advice. Her idea was to stop counting and start eating clean foods instead. To me it all made perfect sense, although maybe a cleverer way to begin would have been to start eating clean and continue counting for some time, just to get an idea how much you are supposed to eat, if your goal is weight loss. But I was shocked how much negative response the post have got. Some were as nonsensical as claiming that ‘clean eating’ is a fitness and nutrition trap, that there’s no such thing as eating clean, that you can eat junk and still lose weight and that in the end of the day it all comes down to activity levels. While all those claims are mostly true, there is a huge difference in eating clean and simply counting calories to lose weight.
First of all, calories are just energy units. Yes, we gain or lose weight based on how much calories we consume or expend. Yes, activity and exercise help us burn those calories off. And yes, technically you can eat junk but stay within the calorie limit and lose weight. And of course you can gain weight from eating clean if you eat way to much and sit all day long in front of telly.
First of all, what is eating clean? Eating clean means eating whole unprocessed foods which are dense in nutrients and not so much in calories. This means eating fruit and veggies, whole grains, lean meat and fish if you’re an omnivore, eating nuts, seeds, legumes. There are no burgers from the fast food restaurants, no precooked meals, processed meats and desserts, etc. Bread is a processed food, although if you choose carefully, you can eat bread. And I think it is not necessary to eat 100% clean to get all the benefits. Clean whole food doesn’t come in packages with lots of ingredients you do not understand, there are no stabilizers and preservatives, nothing like that. If you eat a ‘clean’ salad, it is a salad made of fresh veggies and other ingredients that you can name one by one, all in their true form, and it is a dressing that was made by you or someone else using fresh whole ingredients, there are no citric acids and xanthan gums, etc. This is what eating clean means.
Eating clean is not a trap. Just think of it, what matters to you more: just shake off some weight eating your favourite burgers and then starving and killing your liver and stomach in the process, or eat much more food in volume, because it’s lower in calories, and not only lose weight along the way but also achieve and maintain good health? There are virtually no vitamins or nutrients in junk food, except for macros (carbs, protein, fat, etc). On a big picture these macros along with calories decide your condition, but they do not decide your health. And what does it matter that your body is ideal when you don’t have good health to live in it?
To get a better understanding, let’s see the difference between eating your calories of junk or of clean foods. Let’s take my daily calorie intake. My net calories should be around 1,750 kcal per day. If I ate junk food, it would be about three burgers plus some dessert, and I am done for the day. Can I live like that? No. Is that enough to get me going throughout the day? No. Instead I eat my breakfast, snack (or multiple mid-morning snacks), lunch (or 2, if I workout), mid-afternoon snack, 2 dinners (!), evening snacks, and as part of my daily menu I enjoy several desserts, be it fruit or soy chocolate dessert. And I still consume the same 1,750 kcal per day. That sounds like a lot. But because clean food is nutrient-dense and lower in calories, I can eat every 2-3 hours and stay the same, not gaining anything.
Also, it makes more sense about calories and food if you compare 1,750 kcal in chocolate and 1,750 kcal in fruit, for example. What do you get from chocolate? A regular chocolate bar is about 500-600 kcal. Eat three bars and you’re done. Will you be satiated all day long? No. Will you get a lot of nutrients? No. Will you consume an enormous amount of fat and sugar? YES. With fruit, of course, you will still consume a lot of sugar, but virtually no fat, and you will have to eat A LOT of fruit to make up those 1,750 kcal. And just think how many vitamins and minerals and antioxidants there are in fruit! You wouldn’t eat so much in an entire month if you ate junk.
To get an even clearer picture on the chocolate example, I’ll share two snaps of my diary in MyFitnessPal app. First is somewhat a typical day of mine, with low fat, lots of carbs (that do not make me fat, actually), moderate protein intake and a slightly higher than ‘needed’ sugar, mainly because of fruit. The second is yesterday. And yesterday (SHOCKER!) I ate 600 kcal of CHOCOLATE! Which was just three portions of Limited Edition Blueberry Pannacotta by Moser Roth. See the difference yourself. Don’t mind the vitamins and minerals because they vary day to day. Like yesterday I ate lots of veggies and beans, and that day was chickpeas and couscous.
But what works best for weight loss? Well, counting calories if done correctly works as well as clean dieting and as well as exercising. I know people who exercise and eat clean and the’ve lost tons of weight and maintain a good shape, and I also know people who count calories and do not lose a bit. When you do things correctly, they are all just different kinds of tools which you can use to get to your goal. They may require different amount of time and effort, but they all work well. But to achieve the optimal results in terms of weight loss AND health you should combine all three. And it’s not a deadly sin to indulge yourself a little from time to time, but only if you can control your appetite and cravings.