Don’t Count Calories, Make the Calories Count!

This blog post was written by Kristin West

Does anyone really want to count calories? In my experience working with patients over the last 8 years, I would say no. Have you ever wondered if calorie counting is really the best approach for weight loss or maintenance? While monitoring portion sizes can certainly be important, the obsession with calorie counting is simply not necessary and in many cases can be your biggest downfall.

One of the most effective things you can do as you pursue a healthy pattern of eating is to become an intuitive eater. What I mean by that is to begin eating according to your personal hunger cues and not the clock, or a stressful situation, or your calorie restraints. Learning to differentiate between true hunger and cravings can be key. Food is fuel, and just as your car needs to be re-fueled with gasoline, your body needs to be re-fueled with calories. Your gas light notifies you when your car needs to re-fuely, and your hunger cues will let you know when your body needs to re-fuel!

The quality of the calories you are eating can be much more important than the quantity. If you are only eating 1200 calories per day, but those calories are all coming from highly processed foods with preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and highly refined flours and syrups you can be assured that your metabolism, energy level and mood will suffer.

One of the most important principles of healthy eating is to eat real food. When you see an ingredient list that takes you longer than 5 seconds to read, chances are it doesn’t belong in your body. Consider fruits and vegetables. There is no ingredient list that you have to dissect. You get what you see, and this is a simple yet highly effective approach to healthy eating. Many of the processed foods on the shelves come with up to 30 different ingredients most of which can negatively affect our health in some way.

An avocado and a bagel have similar calorie counts, but their nutrient density differs significantly. The avocado is rich in fiber, anti-inflammatory fats, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals whereas the bagel doesn’t give you much other than a blood sugar rollercoaster.

Actually pausing to think about how a certain food will affect your body can really help improve your decisions.

Maximizing nutrient density should be the primary goal of our diet. Balancing your meals and snacks with protein, fat, and fiber can be a great way to ensure that your calories keep you full and satisfied, resulting in fewer cravings. A great example would be a grilled chicken salad with as many veggies as you like drizzled with olive oil dressing and avocado or a simple snack like apple and natural peanut butter. Filling half of your plate up with non-starchy vegetables is a great way to keep your diet rich in nutritional benefits.

If you struggle to eat vegetables try things like cauliflower rice instead of rice or spaghetti squash instead of noodles. Live and enjoy life and don’t spend another minute stressing about how many calories you ate for the day. When you eat something that isn’t so great for your health, that’s fine as long as you “recalculate” and make your next eating choice a good one.

Food is medicine, and healthy food choices can have profound benefits for your energy levels, mood, digestive system, and overall health so be sure to make those calories count!