For years, this question has been one of the most common ones imposed on us by the diet industry. Let’s tackle why the perception of counting calories is not the key to our health and wellness.
This question is everyone’s favorite and comes up constantly. This question should be our least favorite. Many think the answer to this question holds the key to weight loss, but it’s far from it.
Every time this question comes up, it’s a reminder why many dietitians’ passion lie in wellness. Every body is different. We have different levels of activity, different baseline metabolisms, different underlying medical conditions, different ages, etc.
We are all unique, and that is why our nutrition needs are different and unable to be quantified so simply.
We hear that we need to expend more energy than we take in, but is this true? In a way, yes. But, more and more research is showing us that we don’t really know how many calories are in foods (for example, a study from a few years ago showed that almonds have less calories than previously thought), and we don’t know if all calories are processed the same way.
In other words, it may be quality over quantity.
It is confusing and frustrating because many of us feel if we could just control something and have clear-cut guidelines, we could lose those last 10 pounds. But, perhaps a strict guideline isn’t what we need. Here are some ways to reconsider how we approach our habits:
DON’T COUNT CALORIES
Instead, track or journal your food and evaluate your diet patterns for a few days. The easiest way to do this is through an app, but ignore the calorie recommendations it gives you and just simply use it as a tracker. For three days (two week days and one weekend day) enter everything you eat. Be honest with yourself. The point is to see what your normal eating habits are, and you will only limit your ability to improve your overall diet if you aren’t being truthful with yourself.
UNDERSTAND YOUR DIET PATTERNS TO MAKE SMALL CHANGES
This can include how often you eat between meals, macronutrient content (is majority of your energy intake coming from carbohydrates?), quality of intake (are most of your foods processed?) and yes, even calories. Use this as a tool to identify one small area of improvement.
For instance, if 80% of your energy intake comes from carbohydrates, look at your tracker to see how you might cut back on portions. If you eat several carbohydrate sources at one meal, consider eliminating one and adding a healthy fat to offset the decrease in portion size and to help you stay full.
QUIT USING EXERCISE AS A CRUTCH FOR BAD DIETING
Exercise should complement your diet, not make up for it.
Stop trying to offset what you eat by working out for 2 hours a day. It doesn’t work that way. Exercise for your health, for stress relief, and for confidence, but don’t think that you can offset your diet by wasting your entire day in the gym.
This may be a cliche, but for good reason. As you make these small changes, listen to your body. Are you hungry? Eat. Enduring a terrible afternoon slump? Balance out your lunch with a carbohydrate, protein, and healthy fat source.
You need to experiment, listen to your body, and be consistent. Over time, you will learn what your body needs. There will be days you need more fuel, and that’s okay. There will be days when you aren’t quite as hungry, and that is okay too. Let’s get rid of the rules, the strict guidelines, the obsession, and focus on eating whole, real foods, and truly nourishing ourselves.
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Courtney Ferreira, MS, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian based in Baltimore, MD with a passion for helping individuals reach their health and wellness through flavorful whole foods and freedom from counting calories, fat, and minutes on a treadmill. For more insightful tips on living your healthiest life from Courtney, visit her at the RealFoodCourt for the full article.