Hands up, who has counted calories?? Yep, most of us have at one point in time. In fact, most of us have on multiple occasions. And throughout my studies as a Naturopath and Nutritionist, the number of assignments asking to compile a 1200 calorie based plan for this population, or a 1600 calorie diet for that population, were too many to remember. But I have to confess, this entire concept, just didn’t gel in my brain.
Surely it cant be that hard though, right. You have a list of foods, with their calorie count sitting beside them, and all you do is measure right? But you see, when I did this, as my own experiment during university, I ended up paying more attention to the calories, then to the food in front of me. I would opt for sometimes lesser quality foods, to merely bring the calorie count down, and I wasn’t enjoying the food, because I was too busy ensuring the numbers were right.
And if I had eaten 700 calories for dinner, then surely I couldn’t still be hungry afterwards…..it was a battle in my head….and a battle with the calculator and if I went over……well, that was a really bad day, wasn’t it…..I didn’t get the feel good concept from this style of eating. I didn’t feel rewarded or satisfied, in fact all I felt, was ridiculous. Ridiculous, that something so apparently simple was becoming a mathematical nightmare.
So needless to say, I failed miserably. I failed at counting calories. And I often wonder, if all of this calorie counting has contributed to the nations epidemic of eating disorders.
So, as a Functional Medicine Naturopath, I actively ‘discourage’ my patients when it comes to counting calories. Calorie counting is not necessary, and here are 6 reasons why:
1. Calories in = calories out, is outdated and untrue.
If calorie counting worked, we wouldn’t have the obesity epidemic we have at the moment. We are a nation of obsessive dieters. And, it turns out, what your eating is crucial to how many calories you want to eat, which in turn determines how many calories you burn (Dr Ludwig, Obesity Researcher).
You need to also consider the type of food. For example, a 100 calorie bag of chips versus a 100 calorie bag of carrots is completely different. You will get a different sensation at the end of eating both. And in this example, your fibre intake will vary, your nutritional intake will be vastly different and your ability to digest and absorb will differ considerably also. Quality matters so much more than quantity!
The calories in vs calories out theory is also debunked, when you consider our internal hormonal variations. We all know for example, that skinny girl in school. And it turns out, she tries really hard to put weight on, she eats double the calories you eat, yet she still cant put weight on. In this case, the way she metabolises is very different to how other people metabolise. Her hormones and organs work differently and at different rates to other people’s. And her thyroid hormones, her insulin / cortisol and leptin hormones also respond completely differently than other people who have trouble losing weight.
2. Nutrients vary by season, by variety, by the way it’s grown and by ripeness.
Food companies use a standard nutrient rating when they process foods, and its obvious to say that they can not analyse every variety of apple, from every region, at every level of ripeness and considering all different types of growing methods (organic vs conventional). The summer vine-riped tomato would have a very different nutritional value to the flowery smell-less pale looking hot-house tomato grown in winter. And I certainly know, which I would prefer to eat!
3. We don’t absorb all calories.
Some foods are easier to digest than others. A large portion of nuts for example, are excreted straight out. It’s thought that the cellular structure of the food and our capacity to digest determines how much we actually absorb. And just speculation, but I would think we absorb many more calories from processed foods, than real foods, hence the reason for our epidemic right now.
4. When you calorie count, you often leave the healthy foods out.
This happens especially, when it comes to fat. It’s a simple fact, fat is huge in calories. But the benefits often outweigh the calories. For example, ‘healthy’ fats keep us fuller for longer, they help us absorb fat soluble nutrients out of meats and vegetables and they keep our brain healthy. They are also crucial in fertility, building hormones and keeping our blood vessels functioning properly. So, I suggest you fully ignore the calorie ratings on high fat ‘real’ foods, like eggs, butter, avocados, nuts, seeds and oils. But more than that, fats make food taste sensational. Fats give that delicious flavour and keeps the food moist during the cooking process.
5. It’s all too confusing.
I don’t know about you, but I really ‘don’t have time for that’ counting anyway. And counting stuff, before it goes into my mouth, just takes the fun factor away from eating. It seriously does. Just ask my satisfied patients currently using the FAST Body Plan (FBP), that keep returning for healthy eating nutrition programs.
6. At the end of the day, if you still want to measure something, measure the impact on insulin, aka SUGAR!
If you feel obliged to measure or count something, or even read a label, then focus in on the sugar content. Sugars come in a variety of forms, white, raw, table, brown, caster, demerara, corn syrup, glucose, fructose, galactose, maltose, honey and malt syrup. And your body converts all starches into sugars, so all carbohydrates, grains, breads, pasta, cakes and baked goods etc are equally important for understanding and balancing your insulin release. All carbs (refined or complex) and sugars release insulin. And insulin is a growth hormone. So the more insulin, the more you GROW!
I don’t calorie count, but here’s what I suggest..…
So, maybe your wondering, what I suggest instead?
- Stop eating CRAP, seriously, your body is worth so much more than how this food makes you feel.
- Really understand when your hungry and when your not, and then only eat when your actually hungry, so this means, listening to your body.
- Pay full attention to the meal in front of you – look at it, smell it, learn about where it came from – are the ingredients locally sourced, was it homemade, was it made with love, any new ingredients you haven’t used or eaten before, and take absolute interest in the meal.
- Don’t be afraid of ‘healthy’ fats, in fact, make them your friend and eat them regularly.
- Fill your plate with fibre, fat and proteins. Fibre (all vegetables), fat (healthy sources – olive oil, avocado, nuts / seeds, home made mayonnaise, coconut oils) and protein (beans, legumes, meats – white or red, eggs, & fish) because when your meal combines these nutrients, you slow down the digestive process and improve your gut health at the same help. These foods keep you fuller for longer and stave off cravings. They also help to boost your metabolism, making the entire event, a win-win situation.
- While you eat, stop and sit down. Meal time should be honoured, for the nourishment and fuel it gives you.
- Eat at least one meal a day, with family, friends or loved ones. And use this time, to enquire about their day, to reflect on some good things, and talk about your daily happenings.
- Chew every bite until it’s moosh (sorry, there’s nothing technical about this term), before taking another bite. This slows the meal down, and allows you to register when you are full.
- Really savour the flavours, the texture, the sounds, richness, crunchiness, bitterness, saltiness or sweetness of the food. Take it on, like a new experience. Heighten your senses to it.
- Eat foods that make you feel vibrant, make you feel satisifed and complete on finishing.
- Notice the sensations in your body before, during and after eating. Reflect on how certain foods make you feel and learn from this. Then, use this knowledge for the next meal so you can ‘choose’ how you want to feel post meal. Ive heard colleagues say, the meal you eat today, determines your hormones tomorrow. It’s your choice!
- And lastly, I sometimes choose to eat foods purely for the pleasure of eating them, even when they are not ‘healthy’ (the critical word here is choose) and this is completely OK, with no guilt attached to it.
- Im currently running an online nutrition program (in collaboration with other some other brilliant health professionals), called the FAST Body Plan or FBP for short. This program runs everyone through the concepts of fat adaptation, the reasons we crave sugars and how we can turn our body into a fat burning machine, rather than a glucose burning / carb craving / slow thinking & responding being. The program is used to gently detox and then transition your body into the cleaner and more efficient form of metabolising. This program completely turns calorie counting on it’s head, and gives you some easy resources to move your health forward. If you’d like to put your hand up for this program, please email me: email@example.com
So, just checking in, are you nodding your head in agreeance at this point? Do these points give you some food for thought, or perhaps settle some uneasiness in your amazing body? Because seriously, I want people to stop feeling like naughty children if you’ve either failed at calorie counting or felt like you should be calorie counting. The truth of it is, calorie counting ruins your relationship with food.
‘Good nourishment and healthy food should be a reward NOT punishment’
So when we clear the clutter away, and you listen, you will find your body tells you exactly what you need to thrive, to feel vibrant and energetic. And as you become in-sync with your body, you will find a naturally happy weight, you will understand that your body knows best and feel comfortable your doing the right thing. However, if you need further assistance, please dont hesitate to reach out and ask for help. I am only an email away – firstname.lastname@example.org
Now, before you go, I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments section. Things like, are you a serial calorie counter, did you like it, or did you give up. Also, have you tried fat adaptation, did it settle your cravings and did you like this article? If so, please share it with your friends. And, if you’d like to receive any email updates, go ahead to the website and sign up, also make sure you like the Facebook page, so you never miss a post 😉
Until next time folks, yours in heath and happiness,