The notion of ‘burning off calories’ is pervasive in our diet culture and puts our body’s need for energy in a negative light. Here’s how to change your perspective.


If you’ve found yourself turning to the back of a food item you bought from the store to check out the nutrition label and calorie count, you’re not alone! We’ve been told to have this mindset of calories that more is bad and less is always better. But calories are nothing to fear.

In fact, they can help you in your journey towards making peace with food if you can understand their potential and can see them for what they are:

Energy for your body.

So what are calories? What do you think of when you hear that word? Maybe you’ve seen the funny definition of them being “tiny creatures that live in your closet and sew your clothes tighter every night.” Not a very happy view of them, nor a very accurate one.

Calories are simply energy for your body from food. And our bodies need energy to survive, live, and move as we live our day-to-day, from going to brunch with friends to running a marathon.

The misguided mentality of “calories in, calories out” is not an accurate one, and our bodies are a lot smarter than that. We don’t have to count out every calorie spent and taken in to maintain weight, and eating more calories than you spend won’t always lead to weight gain. What we do know about calories is that they can lead to fullness and satiety. They can help us feel more energized and awake. They help fuel all of the processes in our bodies.

We don’t have to fear calories.

This can be especially difficult for those who are trying to break free from a diet mentality and use counting calories (or macro or points) as part of their everyday lives.  They may need to first evaluate and start healing their relationship with food and body, but once they do, looking at calories may become a helpful way to make meals and snacks more satisfying.

Here are a two ways to positively reframe the way we look at calories:

1. Satisfaction is a good thing.

Looking at calories can help you understand how a meal will satisfy you. Higher calorie amounts are more likely to fill you up more and be more satisfying than lower calorie foods.

Alongside looking at calories, we can’t forget to listen to our fullness and satiety cues to help us know how to eat.  Even if a food that was higher in calories didn’t fill you up as quickly, it is still important to honor that hunger and eat something else.

2. Our needs change daily.

There’s no specific number of calories that you should be eating every single day, and each person has a different amount of calories they require on the day to day. The best way to know if you’re eating enough or eating too many calories is by listening and tuning into your body’s cues.

When choosing snacks, sometimes your body will tell you that you would do best with a higher calorie snack to help get you to the next meal. Other times your body will crave something a little lighter and lower in calories.

Bottom line: listen to your body.

Understand lower calorie meals will not be as satisfying or fill you up as well. Make sure you have other snacks and sides to accompany it to make it a more complete meal that will leave you feeling full and satisfied.

Calories do not need to be feared, and can be a great way of helping you stay prepared for hunger, anticipate the need to eat more, and understand your body better.

Your body’s need for energy is not evil.

Adapted from the original article.

Victoria Yates, RN is a Registered Nurse & Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor based in Westchester, NY who focuses on helping women reach a healthier relationship with food and their bodies. She is passionate about guiding others reprogram negative thoughts around food and body image so they may experience a truly joyful life. Learn more about Victoria Yates Nutrition.

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