Happy Friday! Be sure to head over to my Instagram (handle is @lauryannraik) to enter to win a FREE jar of Primal Kitchen Mayo. Look for the picture of it on my feed, comment and follow the other steps! I will be picking a random winner next Friday!
I loved some of the feedback I got on my last post, whether it was in the comments, on Facebook, or via snapchat texts. Dogma is everywhere and we definitely need to be careful of that fine line between passion and judgement!
With that said, in today’s Friday Five I am offering up some information on calorie counting. People have been using this method as a way to lose weight forever. I remember a time in my life where I carefully counted, recorded, and obsessed over every bite of food that went into my mouth. It was not a fun way to live. I am not saying everyone that counts calories is like that, I think there are definitely people who have used it as a measuring tool in a very level-headed and productive way, but I do think there may be a better method for long-term healthy body composition.
The whole idea of calorie counting makes sense, right? Our bodies need calories to live, and if we eat too much we store fat. If we move we burn it off, right? Well … it isn’t that simple.
For years we have consistently tried the “eat less and exercise more” mantra with very little success. In fact, it seems that weight loss and health has become more complicated than ever.
Here are five reasons you may watch to let go of calorie counting, and some information on when it may be helpful to you … if you do it right!
A “calorie” is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius (ºC). In other words, it’s basically the amount of energy that the food you eat will produce in your body when consumed and metabolized.
1. It goes deeper than “calories in, calories out.”
How our bodies use food goes much deeper than a simple calorie count of what you are eating and burning. Our metabolism is driven by so many complex interactions of elements such as vitamins, minerals, hormones, and things like ATP (adenosine triphosphate), and BMR (basal metabolic rate). Everything our bodies do require energy, and food provides the raw materials for that energy. In nutrition courses I have taken I learned how to calculate someone’s recommended calorie intake for weight loss using BMR, but in fact, BMR is just an approximate measure of the bare minimum of calories needed to help our bodies with the millions of chemical reactions it needs to fuel our metabolisms when we are resting!
Running a half marathon requires less energy than what our bodies need in a day for those chemical reactions alone! Crazy, right?
2. Counting can come with “guilt” and “shame” if you aren’t in the right mindset.
Counting calories is stressful. Constantly worrying about measuring every bite of food you eat may actually derail your progress and raise your stress hormones (causing you to hang on to excess weight). Also, what if you use up all of your recommended calories before dinner? What then? Do you starve yourself the rest of the day, do you agonize over the thought of “over eating” or do you listen to your body and accept that calorie counts are just an estimated tool to give you a guideline of information?
Guilt and shame should not be attached to food, eating should be enjoyable and an experience of nourishment and self love.
3. The math is off.
As mentioned above, your BMR is the approximate number of calories your body “burns” at rest.
In truth, no calorie calculator can accurately account for your age, gender, activity level, nutrition, hormones, amount of sleep you get and so on. Every person responds differently to the food eaten. With all of these variables at play your metabolic rate is going to change from day-to-day as we work to maintain homeostasis. Additionally, it is important to note that we don’t even absorb all of the calories we are eating! Food has to go through the whole digestive process before we can even measure it, and gut bacteria may also play a factor in how you absorb and assimilate food as well.
As far as the actual food goes, depending on where it came from the nutritional value can vary so much. A calorie is not necessarily a calorie: there’s a functional difference between plant species, plant families, harvest, or how an animal was raised and the animal’s personal makeup. Finally, when it comes to packaged foods labels can flat-out lie (by 20% actually). We really can’t accurately measure what is in our food all of the time … so basically we have to look at it how it is, as loose guideline.
4. It may take away from eating more quality, nutrient-dense foods.
I remember back in the day when I used to count everything I put in my mouth (My Fitness Pal and cell phone apps didn’t even exist yet), I relied more on low-calorie packaged foods that I could measure than real, whole un-processed foods. I had this little calorie counter book for “real food” calories, but it was easier to read off a label. I am not saying that is the case for you or most people today, but my point is, we should just be filling up space in our diets for nutrient-dense foods, and not worrying about math equations.
Even if you eat mostly “real food” counting calories may cause you to skimp on fats since fats are more caloric than carbs. This will get you into trouble since fat satiates, and eating a diet where you restrict calories can cause you to over-eat in the long term (which is why “diets” don’t work). Fats also help you to digest, absorb and assimilate all the good nutrition in the food you are eating, so it’s a bummer all around if you find yourself restricting your intake.
5. Intuitive eating is the goal, and it may take away from it (but it may also help depending on the person).
Intuitive eating is such a freeing way to look at food. Truly listening to your body when it is hungry is the goal … but it’s not easy for everyone (especially when your body’s cues are “off”). Being present for your meals is crucial. Use your senses to tune into what you are doing, not eating mindlessly in front of a TV or a computer. Look, smell, taste, and chew thoroughly. Focus on eating fresh, whole foods and “calorie counting” won’t matter (in most cases).
I will say that initially this approach may not work for everyone. If you struggle with compulsive overeating, any type of eating disorder, blood sugar issues, hormone issues, or are making a big dietary change from processed and fast foods to whole foods, high carb to lower carb, or have any other type of medical issue that causes lack of appetite or an overactive appetite, etc. Anyone who has struggled with disordered eating of any type, or has medical issues should see a dietician and medical professionals that specializes in your individual needs to help.
For the average person, calorie counting may be useful as an informative tool to give you some sort of guideline as to where to be. We can certainly underestimate or overestimate our intake for our personal needs, so look at the guideline as “information” not a hard-set place to be (read the above points as to why it should be flexible), and take the intuitive eating approach from there.
I believe “macro-counting” (focusing on percentage of carbs, protein, and fat from quality food) is more effective than “calorie counting” in terms of improving body composition (if this is something you aren’t going to obsess over). Use that tool for “information” if you think it may be helpful to you. Again, the numbers can always be “off” so just use is as a guideline to give you the data you need to tweak your nutrition. I have used programs like “My Fitness Pal” or “My Net Diary” in the past, when I was breastfeeding mostly (the information was helpful to me then since my body needed more to feed another human!), but I found that those programs default to a too low fat, and too high carb, and too low calorie for me (so I would manually tweak it myself since this is what I was trained in doing). Eating high carb makes me ravenous, I do better on a moderate to higher fat diet, moderate protein and lower carb (carbs coming from fruits and vegetables, not breads and pasta). It is wise to find someone that can help you with your particular needs based off your lifestyle and many other factors if you feel this is what you need to get started.
I say let go of counting for lifestyle and long-term health, and embrace your intuition or work towards getting there.
The quality of the nutrition you are taking in is important! I have seen clients do program like “Weight Watchers” in the past, and of course it works while you are doing it (because eating low calorie will help most people lose weight initially, it’s not healthy, but it will work in the short-term), but I have yet to meet someone who has not had to go back on it several times. It seems the calories are very low and the quality of food I see people eating is poor. This is not the key to long-term success!
Change your mindset to nourishing your body, not counting! My 10-Day Flowtox program focuses on cutting out foods for a short-period of time that could be blocking you from communicating with your body’s needs, so you can eat more mindfully. There are other programs like Whole 30 that I have seen people do with success.
I HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend Robb Wolf’s new book “Wired To Eat” –I am going to review it soon but he has a 30-Day program and it really digs DEEP into finding the foods that work for your individual body!
Have a great weekend!
What methods have you used in the past for improving your nutrition or body composition? Did they work for you long-term?
I think I spent so many years counting so many different ways (and seeing specialists along the way to help me), that when I finally found the intuitive eating approach it was so freeing. I feel I am healthier, happier and more in tune with my body than ever in my life!