Why Calorie Counting Doesn’t Work
The problem with calorie counting is this: We focus on a number instead of the full nutritional value.
I’ll give you an example. Almost every morning after yoga, I bike over to the grocery store and snag a bag of raw cashews (I prefer the taste of raw over roasted), a couple bananas, a bag of grapes, and a GT’s kombucha. If class was extra challenging, I’ll probably also eat a Peanut Butter Cookie Larabar as I walk through the aisles because I’m ravenous.
And I feel amazing. Light, energized, not too full, just perfect. My body easily digests everything and within a couple hours I’m a bit hungry again, at which time I’ll stir fry some greens or make a salad or whatever else I’m craving. But all this is considered wrong if you adhere to marketed dietary restrictions and rules. A quick Google search of “How many calories should I eat at breakfast?” yields an answer of 400.
My typical breakfast consists of:
Toss in 1 Larabar = 220 calories, and I’ve just devoured 1,564 calories in a 30-minute period.
Welp, so much for that 400 mark!
When I did the math, I was shocked…and kind of humored. Until a month ago, I never thought about calorie counting and adding it up because I only care about three things when I consider if I’ll eat it. In other words, if you want to call them “rules”, I have 3 when it comes to food:
1. Does my body feel good eating it and not bloated and lethargic?
2. Is it free of animal products? (If you aren’t vegan, then obviously don’t follow #2. Just sharing what I personally consider.)
3. Is it made from natural ingredients, i.e. from the earth instead of containing manufactured, weird preservatives like maltodextrin?
If all three are yes’s, then I’m a go. I’m not calorie counting to decide.
The amount of sugar, fat, sodium, and calories plays almost no role in my decision to either fuel myself with a certain food or not. Because again, I almost only care if the food is natural and healthy. If a large banana has 17 grams of sugar, why should it matter? It’s straight from the earth, unprocessed, as natural as it gets. I’m not diabetic, my blood sugar is extremely healthy and balanced. As long as I’m not eating 100 bananas a day, I’m quite sure my usual 4-5 bananas a day won’t kill me; in fact, they make me feel great!
It’s taken me years to get to know my body so well. I’ve learned how to pay very close attention to how foods physically and emotionally affect me. I’ve spent a ton of time figuring out to what exactly I’m allergic (which is a handful of random foods that were wrecking havoc on my immune system). And what I’ve learned is to LISTEN to and RESPECT what my body is saying. It will tell you exactly what it needs.
Food is medicine; and it should heal and help us, not hinder us.
And yet, no matter how well we may know and respect our bodies, it’s hard to deny the power that calorie counting and the entire industry built around it has on us.
I may look at a package out of curiosity to know how many grams of each, but not because I’m actually calorie counting. It doesn’t really factor into my decision to eat the food. Sometimes I just like to know because it’s interesting. And then, when I see certain numbers, I even catch myself asking, Should I?
I want to point out the obvious: I’m very active. I workout daily, whether it be yoga or surfing or climbing or swimming. So yes, I burn more calories than the “average” person who isn’t active. I also realize, genetically speaking, my body metabolizes efficiently. But even if someone isn’t active and/or has a slow metabolism, we still need to intuitively learn to observe how foods affect our bodies and moods as opposed to following numerical guidelines set out by the FDA that determine what we eat. In other words, just because it’s a 100-calorie cookie pack, doesn’t mean it’s a healthy choice.
Moments before I decided to write this article, I was watching the TV show Shark Tank which mentioned Veggie Grill, an all-vegan, fast-food chain. I haven’t been yet, so I wanted to salivate while browsing through menu. I clicked on the nutritional value of one of their bowls which calculates the caloric value with or without certain ingredients and toppings. When I saw the number, I instinctively reconsidered my choice and thought maybe I should chose a lower-calorie item. As soon as I thought that, I said to myself, That’s ridiculous! To not choose to eat a dish that is rich in essential amino acids, vitamins, proteins, fats, and all the other good stuff AND that looks delicious JUST because it has more calories than another menu item is part of the problem. It’s why people are reaching for a Snickers instead of cup of almonds: because one has less calories. One also has processed chemicals and added sugars. Would you still reach for the candy bar just because of the calorie count? (Not to say that having an occasional Snickers is terrible. It’s about balance.)
Now, don’t misunderstand me: I’m not promoting eating as many calories as you like. Being somewhat mindful of calorie intake is important, because to maintain your body weight, you must put out what you put in. But calorie obsession can’t be everything. We must look at the full picture. Calories are simply measurements of energy. Our bodies run on them. They are not our enemy.
We must start reprograming our beliefs and learn to listen to our bodies instead of the numbers on labels and not focusing on calorie counting.
Eating intuitively is a learning process; it doesn’t just happen overnight, but it’s important to at least start to better understand the food industry and how marketing has manipulated our instinctual body intuition.
Comment below with what works best for you? Are you concerned with calorie counting? And if so, how has it affected your relationship with food?