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Should you let your body count its own calories?



Counting calories obsessively and ignoring the quality of food is getting more passé every day. (Um, even Weight Watchers scrapped it.) But many people still pay some attention to the numbers to help them with weight loss and maintenance.

They’re wasting their time, says Jonathan Bailor, the author of the new book, The Calorie Myth: How to Eat More, Exercise Less, Lose Weight, and Live Better.

Bailor, a former personal trainer and a senior program manager at Microsoft, says he went on a “13-year odyssey” to dig for scientific information that would explain why the things people were doing to make themselves happy and healthy were instead making them “sick and sad.”

And he lays out an argument based on what he found in his book: everyone’s body has its own “set point weight” that it will hover around naturally, no calorie-counting required. It’s just that everyone’s set-points are all out of whack. Bailor blames low-quality eats.

“The body is designed to balance itself out,” Bailor says. “It’s not that calories don’t count, it’s that your brain is counting them for you if you’re eating quality calories.”

CalorieMyth-HC-w-flap-11-24-2013-40k1. This is not permission to eat whatever you want, “so long as it’s healthy”

Bailor isn’t saying you should start eating 5,000 calories of kale a day. He’s saying if you eat the right foods, you won’t want to binge eat. It makes intuitive sense. When was the last time you wanted to binge eat organic grilled chicken? Pause. When was the last time you scarfed a giant bag of potato chips? Exactly.

“Any successful popular diet that has stood the test of time—like Paleo, low-carb, vegan, Mediterranean—any of the diets that have stuck around, they don’t count calories, they change the quality of the food that you’re eating,” Bailor reasons. “There’s no healthy culture in the world that got that way by counting calories.” The trick, then, is focusing on quality.

2. Eat SANE foods

Bailor says to ditch starchy, carb-heavy foods, and sugar and to re-calibrate your diet around what he calls SANE foods: non-starchy veggies, nutrient-dense protein, and whole-food fats. The easiest thing is to think of foods “found directly in nature. There’s no such thing as a bread bush—not even a whole wheat bread bush,” he says. (No potato chip bushes, either.) “Vegetables all exist in nature, as do meats, fish, eggs, coconut, chia seeds, macadamia nuts, and avocados.”

3. Find your set-point

Although Bailor says that research has shown 45 to 75 percent of what determines your body’s natural perfect weight is genetics, the rest has a ton to do with food. Eating this way will help to regulate your hormones (which are likely all kinds of irregular if you’ve been living on Diet Coke, for example), he says. Leveled-out, happy hormones help your digestive system, muscle tissue, fat tissue, nervous system, and brain communicate effectively about what to do with the calories you’re taking in, which leads to long-term set point maintenance. Translated: A happy weight that lasts forever.

While it’s impossible to determine if Bailor’s hypotheses are fool-proof, it certainly sounds better than dining with a calculator. —Lisa Elaine Held

 For more information, visit or check out The Calorie Myth