One of the first things I hear when someone is trying to lose weight is that they need to start counting or watching their calories. It goes back to the the old saying of "calories in, calories out." If you eat less, and exercise more you'll lose weight guaranteed. Makes sense right? Well, not so much.
A calorie is a measure of energy and everything you eat has calories in it. We need those calories to survive. Most Americans are consuming way too many calories and they are mainly the heavily processed, refined types. I see so many food diaries that have a ton of sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats in them. Let's face it, you can be eating a restricted diet of only 1,100 calories and still end up with Diabetes and Hypertension. Why is this? Because all calories are not created equal! It really boils down to the food quality. Let's say you have 100 calorie pack of baked chips and 100 calorie pack of roasted almonds. You would probably say that the almonds are better for you (and your right); however, would your answer change if I gave you a 150 calorie serving of almonds? Maybe. The reality is, your body processes these foods differently. Fat and protein are slower digesting, which means you stay fuller for longer (and more satisfied). Refined carbohydrates (like in the chips) have little to no fiber, minimal nutrients and basically just spike and drop your blood sugar levels leaving you hungry an hour (or less).
I often think of calorie counting as restriction, free-range to eat the overly processed food-like-products, and a band aid on the true issues. Let's explore those points. I have a lot of people tracking their intake for appointments**. One big thing I see with clients is that they get to the end of the day, have "no calories left" and end up going to bed hungry without eating dinner. Skipping meals and eating super low calorie won't help with continued weight loss. You are just slowing down your metabolism to compensate for the minimal calories, burning calories less efficiently, and probably making yourself miserable.
On to the overly processed food-like-products. Again, we are talking about food quality. Ever think or hear something like this before, "I have 100 calories left for the day. A piece of chocolate is only 40 calories. I can eat that instead of a medium apple, which has 120 calories and save myself 80 calories, while sticking with my recommended intake." Better yet, "I can eat a to go breakfast sandwich, a bagel with cream cheese and a frozen dinner meal AND stay within my calories." No. NO. NO!
Lastly, most clients I see are overeating from stress, boredom, or heightened emotions. Just counting calories and sticking to a magic number isn't going to fix these issues. Eventually, you may end up stopping the calorie counting and returning to your old habits. You have to focus on changing these behaviors first before any healthy eating plan can stick.
While you do want to watch how much food you are eating, think of calories as more of a reference than the end-all-be-all. So, ditch the calorie counters and go for the whole foods approach. Focus more on adding quality foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Skip the processed junk and your body will be sure to thank you later!
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**Food journaling and tracking your intake can be a great tool for identifying areas of missing nutrients, meal skipping, and overall food quality. I don't want this to be mistaken for the ridge calorie counts.