Who doesn’t count calories?
Calorie-counting apps are big business, along with activity trackers like Fitbit.
Track how much you’re taking in versus how much you’re burning, and you’ve got an easy equation for weight loss.
The notion that we have to count calories to lose weight is so embedded in our popular consciousness that I was shocked to read Nobel prizewinner Elizabeth Blackburn’s perspective on dieting.
It’s just not healthy to spend a lifetime thinking about eating less.” 
Blackburn is one of the world’s leading experts on what it takes to live a longer, healthier life.
Her research on telomerase, the enzyme that repairs the protective caps on the end of DNA, won her and her team a Nobel prize in 2009. (Find out how telomeres have revolutionized our understanding of why we age.)
She believes that metabolic health matters more than the number on the scales, and she’s got the evidence to prove it.
The Calorie-Counting Dilemma
First of all, what could be so bad about counting calories?
Surely it helps you become more conscious of what’s going into your mouth. If you’re forced to see how many calories that lunch just cost you in black and white, then surely you’re going to make better food choices.
Perhaps you even credit counting calories for helping you lose a few pounds in the past. But did you notice a strange side effect?
When you count calories, you become obsessed with food.
You spend much more time thinking about food than you would normally. Your life starts to revolve around your “score” at the end of the day. You can’t put a bite of anything in your mouth without feeling incredibly conscious of how your target will be affected.
This restraint may get you to eat fewer calories in the short term, but in the long term it’s deadly…
Because it’s messing with your brain.
The Slippery Slope to Semi-Addiction
Counting calories can rewire your brain…
Turning food from something you eat when you’re hungry into an addiction.
When you restrict the amount of junk food you eat, your desire for that junk food increases. It’s almost impossible not to fall off the wagon at some point and binge. Then you feel guilty and ashamed. You vow to stick with your diet plan even more strictly.
Of course, it doesn’t work. You just fall off the wagon again.
That’s not because you lack willpower.
It’s because restricting food creates a state of withdrawal, similar to drug withdrawal.
When you finally relent and let yourself have a taste of a forbidden food, the relief is so great it’s impossible not to binge.
Restricting your favorite foods makes those foods even more alluring than before. No wonder most dieters end up yo-yo dieting, losing the weight only to put it back on again.
And the worst part is…
It doesn’t even work.
You spend a lifetime trying to eat less, experiencing a great deal of stress every time you step on the scale, devoting precious mental resources to tracking your food intake…
Only to find that your weight continues to creep up despite your best efforts.
A study on participants in the TV program The Biggest Loser found that extreme weight loss comes at a cost. As expected, participants had regained most of the weight 6 years later. But here’s the kicker:
Their metabolisms had slowed so much as a result of the extreme dieting that they were now burning 700 calories less per day.
And remember, this was 6 years later.
Still want to diet?
The more time and effort you spend counting calories, the more you burn up your willpower on an activity that doesn’t get you anywhere. No wonder you eventually run out of the willpower to say no. Your brain is tasked out.
Researchers have studied people who’ve spent a lifetime watching their waistline. They call it cognitive dietary restraint. Here’s how Blackburn explains it:
Restrainers devote a lot of their time to wishing, wanting, and trying to eat less, but their actual caloric intake is no lower than people who are unrestrained.” 
To add insult to injury, Blackburn found that being overweight doesn’t have a huge effect on telomeres, the protective caps on the end of DNA that predict lifespan.
We’re bombarded with the message that excess weight is bad for us. It’s another one of those medical truisms that no one even questions.
But, according to the most current telomere research, being depressed is worse for your lifespan than being overweight.
A Slim-Down Solution
So, if being overweight isn’t so bad and dieting is incredibly bad, what’s the answer?
Give up the fight and eat whatever you want?
The healthiest approach you can take is to focus on your metabolic health.
In other words, watch that belly fat.
Insulin resistance and diabetes do correlate with a shorter healthspan. You want to watch your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels.
If you find yourself looking more like an apple than a pear, then your health could be at risk, even if your BMI is just fine.
The best way to slim down where it counts—in the abdomen—is to eat an anti-inflammatory diet, heavy on the whole foods and omega-3s.
By focusing on eating more nutritious foods rather than restricting high-calorie foods, you can lose weight without even trying.
One last thing:
Blackburn warns that the research isn’t yet in on whether supplements have the same advantages as whole foods.
You definitely want to be taking in enough vitamin B, C, D and E, but the very best source of those nutrients is in the foods you eat, not the pills you pop.
So get on over to the produce section of your local grocery stores and load up on fruits, vegetables, and fresh foods. Forget about the calories. The more your taste buds learn to enjoy the sweet crunch of a red bell pepper or satisfying savoriness of mushrooms, the more food will become a source of real pleasure.