When it comes to weight loss, diet experts routinely cite the mantra that it's all about "calories in, calories out." But obesity experts say focusing exclusively on counting calories without examining the quality of the calories you consume won't result in long-term weight loss or optimal health.
According to fitness expert Jonathan Bailor, calories are not a good measuring stick for weight loss because foods are metabolized differently.
For example, 300 calories of a salmon steak is not the same qualitatively as 300 calories in a cupcake. This is because the low-carb salmon and the high-carb cupcake will affect the body's blood sugar, insulin and other hormones in radically different ways.
An hour after eating the salmon, you'll still feel satiated and won't feel the need to eat again. An hour after eating the cupcake, your blood sugar will drop, and you'll likely feel hungry again (and maybe even cranky), and will be reaching for another sugary snack.
Limiting carb intake — over calories — may be a better approach to weight loss, said Bailor, because a low-carb diet has a smaller impact on insulin, the master hormone when it comes to weight loss.
"Most people store excess body fat because they are experiencing what researchers call 'metabolic dysregulation,' he told Fat Head. "I call this 'a clog in the metabolism.' Their hormonal balance has been compromised in such a way that their body is unable to effectively metabolize food, which causes them to over-consume food just to nourish themselves."
Instead of obsessively counting calories, he recommends eating whole foods such as vegetables, fruits and high-quality animal proteins and avoiding sugar and processed foods. By consuming healthy whole foods, the body naturally gravitates towards a healthy weight, he explained.
Other obesity experts agree that calorie quality matters more than quantity, and tout the weight-loss benefits of a low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet. While Dr. Robert Atkins (creator of the Atkins diet) was maligned during his life for promoting the high-fat diet, his theories are now being validated by leading medical experts.
Dr. Eric Westman, a nationally recognized obesity expert who oversees the Duke University Lifestyle Medicine Clinic, observed that his patients experience dramatic weight loss on a ketogenic diet, which is a high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb eating plan.
Westman said one patient, a 51-year-old woman, lost 185 pounds on the ketogenic diet and has kept it off for over a year without feeling hungry or deprived. "I tell my patients not to fear the fat," he said. "Eat lots of fat. Fat makes you feel full. There's no problem with fat."