More Calorie Counting Futility

MoreCalorieCountingFutility.jpgHaving received a few questions following the last post I’ve decided to do a follow up post on tips for eating low carb.

To start I will recap a little about calorie counting. I am not disputing that weight gain is due to eating more calories than you are using, I am not disputing the First Law of Thermodynamics. However, calories in vs calories out answers the question of “what” makes you gain weight it does not explain “why”. Focussing on this implies it’s peoples own fault and they should just get more willpower. It also completely fails to take account of the differing effects different types of foods have on your body. Saying exercise more implies this side of the equation doesn’t influence the other. They are not independent … if you exercise more you get hungry and if you eat less you can feel lethargic. The key thing is that your body needs to get enough fuel from all sources (ie what you eat and your fat stores).

If you constantly eat carbs you keep insulin levels high which switches on fat storage. This means that when you eat your body stores some as fat, removing it from your blood stream and making you hungry again. it’s your fat storage thats driving your hunger.

I’ll try and make this clear:


The carbs make you release insulin which switches your body to fat storage. This means your body takes sugar out of the blood to store it. So imagine you eat 2,000 cals and for your exercise level for that day you felt you only needed 2,000 calories and lets say your calculation was right. Since you ate so much carbs some of those calories are taken out to store as fat, lets say 500, this means your 500 short and thus feel hungry. Now you either resist the hunger (you can probably manage this a few days) or you overeat !


Very few carbs in your diet. Your body goes in to Ketosis – fat burning. So now, using the figures above but NOT calorie counting just eating based on hunger. Say your body is releasing 500 cals from your fat stores and you need 2,000 calories … since you’ve got 500 already you just need an extra 1500. Once you’ve had those you’ll not feel hungry. Thus you eat less than you need, you loose weight, you’re not hungry.

It’s worth noting here that the driving force is fat storage – this is making you feel hungry. Those poor soles out there (there must be millions) that are trying their hardest to lose weight and all the experts are telling them it’s their fault. These experts think that calories in vs calories out is the causal effect of weight gain. It’s The WHAT causes weight gain not The WHY. It’s fat storage being switched on which is driving people to eat more than they use. It truly saddens me that so many people are being put through this effectively by our govt & ‘experts’. I just wish I had a louder voice… I just try to do my bit… [sorry … getting sidetracked]

To remove the hunger you need to switch the fat storage off. To do this you need to stop eating carbs. [ASIDE: this is why most low carb diets have an initial intervention period of VERY low carbs]. Once you manage this your body is in fat burning mode and your fat stores are being used to supply much of the energy you need so despite you eating less than your burning you don’t feel hungry. From your bodies point of view it’s got enough fuel as it’s using your fat.

My personal experience [ not only myself but people often put weight on during Epic Camp] and my reading make me a firm believer that exercise has little effect on weight loss particular when following a low fat regime since you just keep getting more hungry. So, if you’re reading this and are overweight and haven’t exercised much I would suggest the first thing you do is get your diet under control and not until you’re not feeling hungry should you start exercising. Then you should exercise at a low level and include weights. Low level so you can fuel it from fat, weights so you increase muscle which in turn will bump up your metabolism. Following your exercise don’t go downing a bottle of energy drink (full of carbs). Just because these are used by elite athletes doesn’t make it healthy. The exercise they are doing is way different as are their needs for carbs.


I will deal with each meal together with snacking.


For most people this is the hardest one to crack. We’re all so used to cereal and toast that it’s difficult to change. Many people feel it’s just not right to eat certain things for breakfast (eg salads). The first step is to get away from this and the second is to stop feeling eggs are bad for you. (trust me the whole cholesterol and saturated fat is a big con based on dodgy science and maintained by big pharma wanting to sell statins. Perhaps I will blog on this in the future).

So for me breakfast is always based around eggs. If I have time I will make  an omelette. Cheese and peanut butter is a particular favourite. With practise you can get pretty quick at this. If I’m in a rush I will scramble the egg and just dump it on the other ingredients. So for instance – put some cheese on a plate, peanut butter on top and scrambled egg on top of that. Some slices of tomato and you’re done. I can get that together in not much longer than toasting some bread.

If I’m flying out the door I just get some cheese and salami or some such thing. Often I go without. Once on this sort of diet you can often wake and not feel hungry.

Another approach is to boil a load of eggs and have them in the fridge. Throw together some hard boiled eggs, cheese, tomato, avocado.

If you really have time then a good old cooked breakie is great – sausage, bacon, egg and black pudding.

Kippers is another great one for breakfast. I go through phases of loving these and then not. Currently not really going for kippers.

Finally one of the easiest approaches is to cook surplus dinner the previous night and have it cold the next day or just cook additional meat / fish and use that in your omelette or with scrambled egg the following day.


Next toughest one. Heading out to a sandwich bar doesn’t really work. When I worked at a desk I would take a big salad for my lunch. I’d make up enough salad for a few days and leave it in the fridge. I’d make up a load of dressing but not put it on the salad. Each morning I’d fill my tuppaware with salad, add some protein (tuna, chicken breast, whatever. I’d often keep some meat aside from the previous nights meal) and add the dressing. When in heavy training this was HUGE. The guy that sat next to me once timed me and it took 45 minutes to eat.

If you’re stuck and need to go out to buy lunch – sashimi is a good option or find a supermarket – cooked meats, prawns, olives, cherry tomatoes etc…


Probably the easiest – just do what you’d normally do but miss out the starchy veg, pasta, rice. If you have a partner / family that wants that just cook it up separate. We’ll often do cabbage, leeks or broccoli instead of the past or rice. Works just as well. At my sisters she’ll do bolognese, the kids have a little pasta with it the rest of us just have a bowl of the bolognese with cheese on top.

Most nights we have a big lump of protein (any meat really or fish) with either salad of non starchy veg.


Not necessary but we do often have it. If you stick with this you’ll lose your sweet tooth and fruit will suffice. we’ll often have fruit salad with FULL FAT yogurt (hard to find these days) or cream. If we’re really trying for low carb a favourite of mine is to mash a banana with peanut butter (Look at labels as some add sugar and vegetable oil. Meridian do a great peanut only peanut butter. We get cheap peanut butter and blast our own peanuts in the food processor and mix it all up). On top of this we may add some berries but always add some nuts (to add crunch) then cream on top – the richest I can find.

Cooking is done with butter, lard or dripping. Natural oils. Never with vegetable oil but occasionally with cheaper olive oil. You shouldn’t cook with virgin olive oil.

Always add dressing to salads and butter / olive oil to veg. Salad dressings – no vegetable oils. In deciding on oils think of what would be relatively easy to get – butter, dripping and lard for sure. Olive oil and cocunut oil I’ll use. Chuck out margarine and vegetable oil.


Tricky as well – few options. When travelling we’ll hard boil a load of eggs and take them with us together with nuts, almonds etc.. We’ll also often cook up some chicken drumsticks or thighs. A lot of these can be found when out and about. I also eat pork scratchings and peanuts. If you’re trying to lose weight be careful with peanuts as they have a lot of carbs compared to other nuts (they’re not really nuts either but thats by the by for this). Macadamias, almonds, walnuts are much better but also less available and more expensive.

If you follow this diet you will realise how much the food for sale is influenced by govt dietary advice – so many low fat products, endless isles of grain based products and milk has been messed around with so the fat doesn’t separate and even “whole” milk has less fat in it than natural milk does. For me this tampering with our food is very worrying indeed as I’m sure no one really knows what the long term effects will be though rising obesity and diabetes surely are signs of whats in store. If correct advice had been given for the past 30 years I’m sure there’d be no problem finding low carb food and snacks.

I find that most of the time I can train for Ironman on this diet. I wouldn’t go assuming you need to keep stuffing carbs whilst your training, instead test it and see. In the past in my Ironman build I’ve gradually increased the amount I’d ride before food. I’d ride first thing without breakfast and on one occasion built to Ironman Distance without food but I misjudged it and did 130 miles before arriving at my cafe stop. Doing this I feel is a good exercise as you get to know the feeling of going at a pace that you can pretty much do indefinitely on your fat stores. I also believe it helps make you a fat burner. For riding I would suggest there are three types of ride

1. Rides for fat burning as I’ve just covered. Maintain low carb

2. Rides to practise race nutrition – these should be hard effort to mimic the race and allow you to test your feed strategy – these will have you eating lots of carbs

3. All other rides – here you need to establish what you need to keep you going. For group rides have something in your pocket just in case until you are confident of what you can handle. I more or less never carry food in my pockets even on group rides. I will eat when I stop and will often have serious carbs – eg a muffin with a coffee, sometimes I stay low carb – peanuts, pork scratchings. This year i’ve decided to stop having diet drinks which has found me going back to what I always had when riding as a kid … milk. A litre of whole milk (sometimes I add cream) and a cookie tends to be enough mid ride to see me through even if I’m doing intervals. My experience is loads of carbs middle of a ride isn’t an issue as you will use them up but be careful having too many near the end of a ride. So… if the coffee stop is in the middle have a muffin, if the coffee stop is at the end have your full fat latte and leave it at that.

There’s always lots of publicity about getting your carbs in immediately after exercise. I don’t really follow this as I don’t feel it makes sense and my experience is my ability to train next day seems completely unaffected by when i eat after a session. My view is that the key thing after a session is fats and protein to allow repair of your muscles. Some carbs to replenish glycogen stores but I just don’t imagine it’s going to be that much. Eat based on hunger – if you’re hungry when you get in then eat, if you’re not don’t go forcing something down. Again this sort of thing is easy to test yourself – try different approaches and make a note of how you feel training the next day.

This entry was posted in Nutrition and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to More Calorie Counting Futility

  1. Pingback: Nutrition For Ironman Training And Improving Body Composition | EverydayTraining

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s