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Beyond Calories In, Calories Out—A No Hunger, No Hassle Plan


For a while now I’ve been saying that the notion of ‘calories in, calories out’ is entirely outdated. It just doesn’t make sense based on everything we now know about nutrition science and metabolism. First, timing matters. Meals are meant to fuel the hours to come, not the hours that have passed. In other words, you can’t retroactively burn calories, so running on empty all day then eating a big meal before sinking into the couch isn’t in sync with how your body operates.

Above all quality rules, eating 400 calories worth of soda and cookies is quite different than eating 400 calories worth of oatmeal with fresh fruit and sliced almonds. New animal research sheds even more light on the importance of food quality. In the study, mice fed an unhealthy chow, dubbed the “Big Mac diet,” sprouted new brain cells. That may sound like a good thing, but they weren’t the brain cells linked to intellect and productivity. These cells were located in the part of the brain that regulates hunger and activity—and not in a good way. When scientists deactivated the cells the rodents were 15 percent more active and gained seven percent less body weight.

While the researchers don’t know if the same thing happens in humans I hear similar stories from my clients. Many tell me that when they’re off the rails, nutritionally speaking, their cravings intensify and physical activity feels like a lot of effort. And the opposite is true, when they consistently eat clean, they have no desire to reach for processed food and they’re more active without even trying because they just feel like moving more. Can you relate?

If you can relate to these feelings check out my “No Hunger, No Hassle Plan” on page 94 of the April issue. It’s SHAPE’s bikini body diet, adapted from my newest book S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. You’ll find a week’s worth of simple and satisfying meals online here that’ll get your body (and brain) healthy, and give you the energy you need to get in shape for summer. Start your day with a peach smoothie, followed by chicken lettuce wraps for lunch, an apple parfait as your afternoon snack, and salmon ginger stir-fry for dinner. The best part: it’s customizable. Vegetarians and vegans can swap chicken, seafood, eggs, and dairy for plant-based proteins, and the plan includes gluten-free options too. Check it out and please tweet your feedback and results to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine.

Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.


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