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Old 04-08-2009, 03:45 PM   #1
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Default Calorie Counting Vs Counting Carbs

Anyone else struggle with what lifestyle change is best for you? Why did you choose to count calories over counting carbs? I feel like when I'm counting calories, when my calories are up for the day, I get a little depressed that I can't have anymore food- I'm done. With counting carbs, I could eat unlimited meat so I don't feel so deprived, but is that really healthy for one to eat so much meat? I did the Atkins after our first child was born, and it worked, but having to give up the pasta, potatoes, and all sometimes is hard. What is everyone's opinion. What were the cons and pros that made you decide?
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Old 04-08-2009, 04:23 PM   #2
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What I have found true -

Ultimately, whether you count them or not, calories matter. A calorie may not always be a calorie - in the sense that for myself carbs make me hungrier, so I'm more satisfied on a lower carb diet. I also seem to lose more on 1800 calories of low carb than 1800 calories of high carb - but that doesn't mean that 7000 calories of meat is going to allow me to lose weight.

Atkins is not about unlimited meat - if you read the book carefully, it is not "all-you-can-eat." You're only supposed to eat when really hungry and you're supposed to stop as soon as the hunger stops (that is "mindful eating") not until you are "full." This is where many people fail Atkins - they eat as much as they can stuff into their stomachs, or at least eat well past the dictates of hunger.

It's why I left Atkins. I don't know if I was born without a hunger "off" switch, or decades of dieting destroyed mine - but I can't always (or I should say can't usually) tell when I'm hungry. On a high percentage of carbs, I am ALWAYS hungry, preoccupied with food, often even feeling "starved" even after having eaten. On a very low percentage of carbs, I never feel hungry - and the first sign that I should really eat something isn't even one I notice - but my husband sure does - irritability. So because I can't "tell" when I'm hungry, and can't tell when I've eaten enough until I've eaten too much - Atkins doesn't work very well for me. Calorie counting (without taking carb content or type into account) doesn't work for me either, because if I eat too many carbs (whether I counted the calories or not), I'm so hungry that it takes superhuman strength to stay within my calorie limits.

I chose a compromise - and chose a flexible exchange program. Exchange plans are a short-cut to calorie counting. Calorie controlled, because all of the foods within an exchange category have similar calorie counts. I adapted a low carb exchange plan I found on hillbillyhousewife.com. I used the 1500 calorie plan for my base and added 8 flexible exchanges that mean I eat 1500 - 2000 calories (usually about 1800) - unless I go off plan. The flexible exchanges I can use on any combination of fruit, starch, protein, or dairy exchanges.

I'm finding that I was a bit too stubborn in wanting to be able to choose to eat more carb-rich foods. I feel the best when I avoid starches, grains and sugars (even natural ones), so I'm thinking of changing my flexible exchanges to only use on protein, dairy, and lower carb fruits. It may help me stick closer to the carb level at which I feel my best.

I need to make my choices not based on a whim or even personal preference, but on what allows me to lose weight while feeling the best. Like many other people with fibromyalgia and/or autoimmune disease, I've found that eating large amounts of concentrated carbohydrates, especially sugar and grains seem to trigger flares. I feel healthiest, strongest, and have the most stamina when I'm eating "clean," mostly whole foods and little or no grains. I'm learning that "wanting" foods that will only make me feel crappy, just isn't worth spending my calories on.

I like the exchange plans, because they control calories, the exchanges are easier for me to remember than calorie counts, and they force some balance without having to overthink it. Having those little boxes to check off reminds me to include dairy and eat my veggies without eating too many veggies (I have IBS and tend to go all or nothing with veggies. I'll eat a lb of veggies or more for dinner - just veggies - and then get royally sick from the excess and swear off veggies for a few days - not a very healthy habit).

I think the core of the decision is what works for you, and what allows you to feel your best. It isn't necessarily what you "want" to do, but what you find the most healthful, doable, and successful. I don't find low carb "easy," but I feel my best on a low carb plan, so I have two choices - do what I want to do, or do what I feel and succeed best doing.

My personal philosophy is to go with the simplest plan that works and if it doesn't work, then try to understand what failed and why before deciding what to do (do you just need to make changes to your motivation or changes to the plan) and tweak yourself and/or the plan until you get results - but add no more restrictions than you have to. If your problem is that it works, but you don't "like" it, you can try to find a plan you like better, or you can learn to deal with not liking it. That's where I am with carbs. I know that too many (regardless of weight loss) will make me hungry, tired and sick, yet I want to be able to include them in my diet plan. I'm finally realizing that allowing them is more trouble than it's worth. That doesn't mean I will never eat another piece of my own birthday cake - but I have to realize that eating a piece of cake is a lot like throwing myself off a cliff - is it really worth it, just because everyone else is doing it, or because the first few seconds of "flight" seemed fun and exciting.
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Old 04-08-2009, 06:25 PM   #3
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I did Atkins randomly in 2000, before I gained all this weight (I did it to lose 20 lbs, which is what I needed -- well, wanted -- to lose at the time). The weight did just drop off. I found it very effective.

But I wouldn't do it again because it is just the opposite of me ~ the opposite of my eating habits. I don't really like red meat, for example. The chicken, cheese and eggs were the only things I really liked so when I was on it I was pretty much just having black coffee, cheesy egg omelettes, full-fat salad and chicken dishes.

My tastes run to a vegetarian-leaning diet. I love fruits and vegetables (and yes, full-on carbs). The meat in my life is generally chicken twice a week plus the occasional seafood.

Plus restricting a whole food group like that made me crave pasta, etc! Just so not for me, I guess. I have seen others flourish on it, though, and for a short period of time I was one of them. For a carnivore like my dad it is dreamy. I also have an aunt who does it periodically to control weight, and this helps her maintain.
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Old 04-08-2009, 09:37 PM   #4
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I've done Atkins and lost about 50 lbs on it but look, I'm back here again trying to lose weight. While I'm sure that there are a select few that can follow low carb for the rest of their lives I don't think that many can and I'm definitely one of them. Not to mention that I feel like my food is so much more balanced and generally good for me when I'm calorie counting.
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Old 04-08-2009, 10:57 PM   #5
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I think a lot of people think they can't follow low-carb, or think it can't be balanced because their idea of low carb is bacon, eggs, and steak (and maybe lettuce), and nothing else - and sadly even some who read the low carb plan books interpret it that way.

I find low carb quite difficult to follow, which is why I make a lot of mistakes, and my progress is rather slow. That doesn't mean that the plan can't be my "ideal" diet for life. The assumption that it's undoable is based on the assumption that any, even small deviations from the diet will result in gaining all the weight back. It is unrealistic to expect a person will never deviate, even rarely from the plan. I ate a piece of birthday cake this weekend (it was for my birthday) and I've regretted it ever since - because it made me sick. It may be "unrealistic" to expect to avoid cake for a lifetime - and yet it's not any more reasonable than eating it knowing it isn't worth it.

There are a lot of healthy plans (including Atkins if done sensibly) that fall under the umbrella of "low carb." Any plan that included fewer than 200 g of carbohydrates daily can justifiably be called low-carb (though people following lower carb plans, may disagree).

Low carb can be done in a healthy manner, and in an unhealthy manner - and so can calorie counting. Even an exchange plan, which forces some balance can be skewed if a person makes too limited of choices within each exchange category.

For example my plan consists of
2 Starch (80 calories)
9 Protein (55 calories)
4 Vegetable (25 calories)
3 Fruit (60 calories)
2 Dairy (90 calories)
3 Fat (45 calories)
2 Nuts (40 calories - usually nuts are considered a fat in most exchange plans, but to include them every day, I made them their own category)
8 optional (starch, protein, fruit, dairy, 2 nuts, or 3 vegetables)

It's perhaps one of the most balanced plans I've ever followed. Ideally, my starch servings would come from starchy vegetables like sweet potato, squash, peas, beans, carrots, and less commonly beets, potatoes, and corn; and not from bread or grains. I tend to assume that aiming for a lot of variety within each exchange, ensures balanced nutrition - though I don't purposely pay attention to the micronutrients themselves. For veggies, I follow the rainbow priniciple (choosing several "colors" each week, and trying not to choose one color more often than others)

I'm thinking of eliminating starches as optional choices, and thinking of trying to avoid grains altogether. I've been reading and suspecting the accuracy of theories linking autoimmune disease to grain and high carbohydrate, especially sugar consumption. Around Christmas, while I kept my calorie counts low enough to keep my weight reasonably stable, my carbohydrate consumption skyrocketed. In January, I had a flare of the autoimmune disease that had been in suspected remission. I hadn't had any symptoms since I started controlling carbs. It's taken a couple months (on plan) to get my symptoms back under control. I realize it may be a coincidence, but I'm suspecting not, since the better I am at controlling carbs, the better I feel - and when I do eat carb-rich foods I notice the difference much more immediately (I don't remember birthday cake ever making me noticeably "sick" before).

In reading the various "ancestor diets," like Paleolithic prescription, Neanderthin, The Paleo Diet.... they present a strong argument for lower carbohydrate diets. Concentrated carbohydrates, even high sugar fruits are relatively rare in a "natural" diet. Grains are generally not edible without cooking or processing of some kind - so the argument that they are not a natural food source (and perhaps not a healthy one) for humans is compelling.
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Old 04-08-2009, 11:57 PM   #6
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I have found by choosing my calories wisely I'm NOT hungry at the end of the day and often need to slip in another snack before bed to catch up. I just love pasta, rice and bread too much to completely give them up but I have learned sane portioning and now one serving of spaghetti IS enough.

Also everytime I go on low carb I start craving strawberries and CAN NOT go without them or I start wanting to kill people.

The best thing about calorie counting is everything is on the menu as long as you adjust and be reasonable about it.
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Old 04-09-2009, 03:41 AM   #7
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I have found by choosing my calories wisely I'm NOT hungry at the end of the day and often need to slip in another snack before bed to catch up. I just love pasta, rice and bread too much to completely give them up but I have learned sane portioning and now one serving of spaghetti IS enough.

Also everytime I go on low carb I start craving strawberries and CAN NOT go without them or I start wanting to kill people.

The best thing about calorie counting is everything is on the menu as long as you adjust and be reasonable about it.
I wholeheartedly agree that if a person can stop at reasonable and sane servings of carb-rich foods like pasta, rice, or bread - and those foods don't trigger intense hunger, cravings or binges - calorie counting (or the shorthand equivalents like exchange plans, and WW points) is the absolute best place to start (the kiss philosopthy - Keep it Simple, Silly). If a person has absolutely no understanding of nutrition (and no interest in learning), or likes a shorthand method of insuring balance while controlling calories - an exchange plan may be a better option (unless a person refuses to eat any foods in one food group - such as dairy, fruits and/or vegetables; although even then an exchange plan could be developed eliminating the food group, not that that's such a hot idea). But if calorie counting, even of "good carbs," still results in extreme reactions to carbs - a control aspect may have to be added (some people may be able to do so just by avoiding certain foods or certain types of food - refined carbs for example, or more broadly sugars and grains.... whatever, I think the philosophy applies, only restrict as much as you need to). And still, for some folks it may not be enough.

Essentially, the least restrictive method that is effective and manageable is the best method. For many people (maybe even most) calorie counting (or some derivative) fits the bill. But when it doesn't, something else has to be available.

I think that too many calorie counters AND low carbers (and many dieters on other plans as well) think that their way is the only legitimate and healthy choice. I don't think that there is a one-size-fits-all approach (at least it hasn't been invented yet).

I think calorie counting is the place to start for almost everyone, but it may not be where everyone ends up, as it's not a perfect-fit for everyone. While calorie counting is the method I used most often in previous weight loss attempts, and I did lose weight when I stayed withing my calorie alottment - I was absolutely miserably, intensely, insanely hungry 24/7 - and with a fair knowledge of nutrition, I was making good choices, and the hunger persisted. Even avoiding sugar, potatoes, white flour and white rice, the crazy hunger was still always there (and much worse during TOM). On South Beach after Phase I, I was always hungry too - not to the degree as on low fiber carbohydrates, but still too hungry to be able to lose weight without constantly thinking about food, and feeling miserable.

For people who know that they are crazy-hungry on a carb-rich diet (even when the carbs are "good" ones), or have found that high carb foods aggravate health issues or result in not feeling well - then low carb really is an option to consider. Until I was persuaded by two doctors, I would have advised anyone (because it's what I was taught) to stay away from low carb diets because they were dangerous and unhealthy. Finally, more to disprove my doctor's sense in recommending a low carb diet, I started researching the various low-carb plans and found that most, even the most restrictive, allowed alot more carbohydrates than I had assumed. I also found that the research evidence against low-carb diets was not nearly as compelling as I assumed - there was just as much research supporting low-carb as condemning it, and some of the research condemning it had some pretty seriously design flaws (like limiting carbs far more than most low-carb plans advocate). Most low-carb plans (even Atkins) allows a fair number of carbs, often increasing them indefinitely (like Atkins) until the dieter decides to stop at the level best suited to their needs (weight maintenance, continued weight loss...). The all-meat diet is a persistant, but inaccurate myth.

By volume, a person on a low carb diet eats mostly vegetables - not meat.
The standard plate dividing plan of half veggies, quarter meat, and quarter starch - is a low carb plan (the old food pyramid would recommended half the plate being pasta or other starchy food, 1/6 of the plate protein, and 1/3 the plate vegetables), and dessert being a small piece of fruit.

While a person on a lower carb plan, does have to be cautious with fruit, strawberries ironically are one of the best choices for carb-sensitive people, because like most berries they're are quite low in carbs (only 8g of effective carbohydrates for an entire cup).

On my plan, I could (and on occasion do) have three cups of strawberries a day (more if I wanted to dip into my flexible exchanges).

It is all a manner of what you find doable - and any plan should be based on common sense. Just as calorie counting, but eating only Snickers bars wouldn't be sensible - avoiding all food groups but protein isn't sensible either.

I think a lot of people would look at what successful low-carbers eat on a daily basis, and say "that isn't low carb," but the fact is that it can be. Even grains and fruits are not limited on Atkins, in the sense that there's a limited number of carbs at the start, but that number is increased incrementally each week until the dieter - using good common sense- decides to stop. There's nothing in Atkins that would prevent a person from having 100 to 200 carbs (or more) as long as they were able to lose and/or maintain (whichever they needed to).

I think the problem with low carb being assumed to be unhealthy, is that many people who it would benefit, are frightened away unneccesarily. If nothing else has worked for you, low carb-done responsibly, certainly is worth an attempt, especially when like me you started with over 200 lbs to lose.
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Old 04-09-2009, 07:31 AM   #8
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I always struggle with what lifestyle change is best for me. The feeling is not good.
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Old 04-09-2009, 07:38 AM   #9
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I did Atkins a few years go and I did really good on it for awhile but I just couldn't sustain in. After awhile, I would binge on carbs. Low carb did teach me to eat more veggies. I know now I will never give up mashed potatoes again, I just cant live that way. Now I use a healthy butter and skim milk when I make them and double my veggie portion to my potato portion, then ad my meat portion and its a full satisfying meal. I also learned to eat better for me carbs, my breads and pastas are always whole grain and they don't send me over the binge edge like their white counter parts. Counting Calories has been the best for me, do I fall off the wagon?? yep, but its easier to get back on.
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Old 04-09-2009, 11:13 AM   #10
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Finding the plan you feel best on, isn't as hard as it seems. A food and symptom journal will do it. To be honest, I was shocked when my journal proved to me that I feel better on no more than 5 or 6 servings of high carb foods (starches/fruits, primarily). It didn't jive with what I thought I knew about carb-controlled plans. Knowing that I do feel better on a certain proportion of nutrients, learning to accept that proportion makes more sense than not making that choice. If I were allergic to strawberries, it wouldn't make sense to eat them. If more than 6 servings of high carb food give me a headache and achey joints - it makes more sense to learn to live with fewer than 6 servings of those foods.

I love pasta, mashed potatoes, bread, icecream, corn, squash, cereals, fruit, and the occasional sweet dessert too, I just can't handle the 6 - 11 servings of starch combined with 2 - 4 servings of fruit, that the old food pyramid recommends (the newer pyramid recommends no more than 6 - half of which should be whole grain). I can have any of the carb-heavy foods I would like, but only a few servings a day (and if they don't come from whole food sources, I'm likely to have rebound hunger and cravings as a result). I could follow plan and include 13 servings of starch/fruit (then my plan wouldn't be low carb, but would follow the old pyramid guidelines more closely) - but I would feel absolutely miserable. Even of low GI, high fiber foods, much more than my minimum 5 servings of high-carb foods and I'm feeling miserable. Fatigued, joints hurting, killer headache. I didn't realize I had a constant headache until the headache disappeared when I reduced carbs (I get a different kind of, but just as miserable headache if my carb intake is too low).

Ironically, the new food pyramid (which my current plan is more in allignment with) would be considered low carb, in comparison to the new one. Our understanding of what people "should" eat is constantly changing (and maybe it's not as universal as we think - maybe some people do better on different levels of protein, carbs, and fat).

Sometimes I think with lower carb plans, the baby is thrown out with the bathwater. It's often seen in a black and white extreme, with virtually no carb or high carb as the only options. A person sees that they have trouble with some carbohydrates, so they cut them far too low - feel ill - or dissatisfied - and respond with a huge carb binge. There's another option - moderation, but one person's moderation is another person's excess.
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Old 04-09-2009, 11:14 AM   #11
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Essentially, the least restrictive method that is effective and manageable is the best method.
I absolutely agree with this. I feel that the less you can restrict, whilst being successful with fat loss, the better. It feels less like a "diet" and because of that, I think these methods are more likely to be sustainable throughout a lifetime. When I say "restrictive", I mean physically (the actual foods you eat, how much you eat), and mentally (what you find yourself drawn to, the tastes you enjoy). As you have said, many people are evangelical about their chosen successful methods of losing weight, but as people are so diverse physically as well as mentally, it would be strange to assume that there is a single "ideal" with regards to the specifics of a healthy eating plan.

It's also worth bearing in mind at as you lose weight, your body undergoes some major changes and what may have worked for you initially ceases to be as effective. I count calories, and for me, that's worked really well. I haven't really had to do anything else to lose weight, other than roughly sticking to 1200 - 1500 calories a day. For me, this is totally manageable, and I don't find it unpleasant or difficult to stick with. As my weight loss has progressed, I'd now like to start encorporating a few other things along with my calorie counting, one of which is increasing my protein intake and consequently reducing my carbs a bit. Generally I eat around 150g of carbs a day so it's not as though my diet is tremendously rich in carbohydrate, but I do feel like I'm lacking in protein, and this (combined with the fact that I'm closer to my healthy weight) is possibly hindering my progress somewhat. I'm also starting to pay attention to other things too (sodium intake, mainly). In short, my body has changed, and so have its requirements in terms of what I need to do to keep my weight loss on track.

I think the responses to this post really indicate how personal our diets are to us, and how physically and mentally, we react to different foods in different ways. To echo what I said at the start of this post, your diet shouldn't feel like a "struggle". If it is, I would recommend switching something around and finding out what works best for you. This may take time, but once you've found something that you can work with, instead of feeling like it's something you're battling against, that is when I think you'll find yourself successfully losing weight and feeling happier about it.

One idea that may work for you, as you're trying out different diet plans, is to keep a food diary, but also write about how you feel physically and emotionally. Do you feel satisfied after a meal? Do you feel bloated? Are you feeling peckish a lot, and grazing on snacks? Do you find yourself thinking about food more? Over time, jotting down these sorts of thoughts may help you see the bigger picture, in terms of which diets seem to be agreeing with you and which don't. Best of luck.
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Old 04-09-2009, 11:25 AM   #12
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I think the food diary/journal may be the single most valuable tool to weight loss (at least it's up there with the scale, tape measure and food scale).

I think the fault with most diet research is that it's still trying to find the single best diet for all human beings, instead of exploring why, whether, and how people respond individually to different diets.

Eating lower carb has changed my struggle. I still struggle with sticking to the food plan - but not as much as I struggled on other plans. I have learned that I feel best on this plan (and frustrated that it took over 3 decades to find/develop). At least now, I know where I need to concentrate my efforts.

I just wish I hadn't been so scared off by low carb's bad press to have taken so long to try it.
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Old 04-09-2009, 11:36 AM   #13
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I have done Atkins and was succesful but found it was not good for the long haul . I do calorie counting, it is much more flexible and doable for a lifetime of maintenance.
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Old 04-09-2009, 11:37 AM   #14
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I did low carb and lost 60lbs and have kept it off....However, I found the withdrawals very bad for me. I have two kids and I cant be inflicting my bad moods on them. I literally would shake from carb withdrawal. I now count calories and though I have cut my carbs down I dont seem to feel the withdrawal as bad.

For me, counting calories with low carb emphasis is working better. If I want something with carbs, I adjust my calories so that I dont feel like I have gone off plan for the day. The easiest part of Atkins was counting carbs instead of calories....but for me having to write stuf down keeps me honest.

Though the quick initial loss on carbs is something I miss lol!

Just my two cents.
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Old 04-09-2009, 11:39 AM   #15
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I did Atkins in the past--it worked as long as I strictly adhered to it--I eventually went off and gained it back so fast it was unreal almost--maybe a month or so I put on 25 pounds.

I am a c counter now. It seems much more doable to me because I can have what I want as long as I work it into the program of my daily calorie allotment. Even if I go over, I can have an extra workout and go way down on calories on the following day and still be okay.

ETA: I completely find that by staying away from what is known as "bad carbs" I am more successful and this c counting lifestyle is easier for me. I do not restrict my whole grains or my "good carbs" I just try to have a healthy balance of them with the rest of the food groups.
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