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Deprivation diets aren't good for you BRIGHT EATING >>
If diets were medicines, the government might have banned them

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Date published: 6/29/2008

"HOW DO I KNOW how many calories I need?" asked the 25-year-old woman, a soccer player who feared gaining weight.

She didn't like my answer.

The fact is, there is no magic number. Sure, as a registered dietitian, I can calculate your metabolic rate using complex formulas and high-tech machines. But--I'm going to shock some of my colleagues here--I believe calorie-counting isn't useful in the long run and can even be harmful.


Watching calories briefly has its uses.

For someone who has been blissfully ignorant, keeping a food diary for a week or two can be enlightening. Most people aren't aware of the calories in everything they eat and drink.

For example, one woman I knew bragged, "I'm so proud of switching from soda to low-fat milk."

While it was a healthier choice, her portions were too big--she guzzled nearly a gallon of milk a day, providing an eye-opening 1,800 calories--almost her whole day's needs, without counting solid food. No wonder she couldn't lose weight.

So, a brief exercise in calorie-counting helped her.

But I cringe when people obsess about calories, especially folks who latch onto calorie limits and mentally berate themselves if they eat more.

Often, there are good reasons for eating more calories than they intended.

If a person is exercising hard, she may have burned so many extra calories that day that she needs to eat more to preserve her muscle strength. The body doesn't want to cannibalize its own muscles. So, through a bit of unconscious chemical wizardry, it simply makes a person very, very hungry--so hungry that it's nearly impossible to stick to a diet.

Women's menstrual cycles also throw off calorie calculations. There's a reason that women crave food in the week before the period begins: Basal metabolic rate rises by 400 calories a day.

That means that during PMS, a woman is actually burning an extra 400 calories a day while sitting still! No wonder she's hungry and has a hard time sticking to a diet that week.


If diets were medicines, the federal government might have banned them because the statistics are pathetic.

While most dieters lose weight in the first six months, to eventually regain that weight and more, according to researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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Jennifer Motl is a registered dietitian. Formerly of Fredericksburg, she now lives in Wisconsin.