Calories Schmalories

Calories are kind of useless.

I know, I know. I’m a dietitian so how can I say that?! I mean, counting calories is the basis of what every dietitian does.

Over the years, my views on counting calories have changed dramatically. When I began this journey in college 15 years ago, I would have told you the only way you would be healthier is by counting calories. How naive I was. Because here’s the deal – your ability to meticulous count calories and follow a nutrition prescription has a very small role in your ability to improve your overall health. Why are calories so meaningless?

  1. Calorie counts aren’t accurate – regulations give a 20% variance in the calorie count of a food item. That’s HUGE! That means you recording an exact 2000 calorie diet could be anywhere from 1600 to 2400 calories. Crazy right? Especially when 100 extra calories a day can lead to a 10 pound weight gain in a year…
  2. Your ability to count calories is usually off – most people don’t use a scale to meticulously measure all their food. Many people eye-ball it or just dry measuring cups which aren’t as accurate, making an item have even more variability in the amount you are consuming.
  3. Metabolism is always changing – your metabolism today is different than it will be in a year and different than it will be in 20 years. A variety of factors play into what your body needs to survive and what it would need to lose weight. Our bodies are programmed to not lose weight (survival) so most people’s metabolisms will slow down when they start restricting and losing weight.

So now what? Well, I am a firm believer that knowledge is power. I am not giving you permission to just ignore calories all together. Instead, look at it in a more global perspective.

  1. You know deep down what is more and less healthy. Everyone knows this. But if you’re still trying to convince yourself that cheez-whiz or chocolate special K are healthy, then look at the label to get a general idea of how many calories are in a serving.
  2. Along the same lines, it’s important to have a general idea of what a serving size is. If we didn’t live in a world of processed food, people wouldn’t over eat because they would eat whole foods, instead of foods that are created to get us to want more. So, it will empower you to know what a serving of chips or cereal are. That way you will have a general idea if you are eating about 1 serving or 3 servings. You’ll often be surprised at how small a serving is when you first try this exercise. Measure your food for a week just to give you an idea of portion sizes.

please please please please please DON’T FOLLOW A CALORIE COUNT DIET! Yes, you read that right. I’ll do a post soon about intuitive eating and balanced meal planning. But in the mean time just remember, a calorie count diet may give you a general idea of how to plan out your day, but being rigid will just cause problems. I can almost guarantee that  you’ll be frustrated with your ability to stick with it and you’ll be driving everyone around you crazy “no, I can only have 9 roasted, unsalted almonds. No peanuts.” And in 3 months you won’t be following it anymore anyway.

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