As the late great Peter Drucker famously said, “What gets measured gets managed.” And that is certainly true when it comes to transforming your body from fat to lean and weak to strong. But what you measure is extremely important, and the sad truth is that most people measure the wrong things.
Macronutrient Ratios & Nutrient Density Trumps Calories
Measuring caloric consumption and utilization is the cornerstone of most traditional weight loss efforts. But contrary to popular belief, counting calories and trying to eat less and exercise more isn’t actually a very effective approach for losing body fat.
How many calories you eat matters somewhat, but what you eat (and the affect of different foods on certain hormones) is far more important. One hundred calories of sugary soda will cause a very different insulin response than one hundred calories of butter. For the good of your waistline, cognition, happiness, and peformance, it’s far better to measure your macronutrient ratios (aiming for a high-fat, moderate-protein, and low-carb approach) and nutrient-desnity (eating foods with the highest concentration of vitamins, minerals, etc.).
For more about the flawed “Calories In, Calories Out” concept, read my post: How Can You Lose Belly Fat?
The Scale is Not an Ideal Tool for Measuring Fat Loss
Most people track their fat loss efforts using a bathroom scale. While this tool can provide meaningful input, used alone, it’s an extremely blunt instrument that can often cause undue distress when you are in fact making progress. Gaining lots of muscle, for example, will cause you to gain “weight” (since muscle is heavier than fat tissue) even if are actually losing body fat. Fortunately, there is a much better alternative: using an inexpensive self-looping measuring tape to track your body dimensions at key locations (e.g. belly and hips).
Cholesterol is Not a Good Indicator of Heart Disease
“Atherosclerosis is not caused by dietary fats and cholesterol; it is caused by chronic out-of-control inflammation.” ―Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD, Put Your Heart in Your Mouth
People over-focus on easy to measure end points like total cholesterol (a nearly meaningless number) instead of measuring what really causes diseases. In the case of heart disease, for example, high cholesterol is a symptom, not a cause. The real issues to measure and address are:
- Glycation (especially Advanced Glycation End Products)
But these are much harder to measure accurately than cholesterol and far less easy to mask with profitable pharmaceutical bandages…
So why does this myth persist and why do we still focus on measuring total cholesterol? Dr. Uffe Ravnskov, MD, PhD, author of The Cholesterol Myths, places the blame on blind faith, ignorance, or worse:
“Masses of valid scientific evidence should have destroyed the diet-heart idea by now. Yet, like the ancient Greek Hydra, a mythological monster that grew new heads whenever its old ones were chopped off, the cholesterol Hydra continues its life as if nothing had happened… Scientists, who support the diet-heart idea and who are honest must be ignorant, either because they have failed to understand what they have read or else, by blindly following the authorities, they have failed to check the accuracy of the studies written by those authorities. But some scientists must surely have realized that the diet-heart idea is impossible and yet, for various reasons, have chosen to keep the idea alive.”
For more about cholesterol myths, read my post Does Cholesterol Cause Heart Disease?