Health Education

Counting Calories: What You Need to Know

By January 21, 2018 No Comments

Over the last few decades, counting calories has been a common practice for those looking to lose weight.  The concept of consuming only enough of food for your daily needs is fundamentally sound.  However calorie counting has become an outdated practice that ignores the fundamental principles of metabolism, hormone balance, and macronutrients.  Let’s take a further look.

A calorie is a unit of energy and simply put, we get our energy from food.  Calories are used for physical activity, metabolism, digestion, and all of our systemic functions.  The amount of calories each of us needs is dependent upon how active we are, how healthy we are, and how efficient we are at using food for fuel.  Fats, proteins, and carbohydrates all have different “calorie” counts, as they all have a different role in metabolism.  A balanced meal, higher in fats and protein will make you feel fuller.  Vegetables and whole grains loaded with fiber are going to digest differently than soda and cookies.  Hormones play a huge role in digestion, hunger, appetite, and often dictate our relationship with food.

Because we use calories, or energy, when we exercise, it’s easy to understand how the concept of ‘counting calories’ began.  Burn more than you consume, and you will lose weight.  Simple, right?  It’s a little more complicated.  Our world is dominated by processed foods.  Many estimates have American diets made up of somewhere between 60-70% processed foods.  A diet based on real foods like vegetables, fruits, meats, fish, nuts, and whole grains provides us with a healthy foundation of energy to operate.  Unfortunately, most of us don’t eat like this.

Those who count calories to lose weight have to sacrifice healthy fats and proteins, because they have the highest calorie count.  The typical replacements have been low-fat, highly processed foods, the kinds of foods that contribute to every major chronic disease.  Sacrificing nutrients for the sake of losing a few quick pounds will have long term consequences.  Counting calories can also be a major distraction to what is really important.  It robs you from paying attention to how you feel.  Feedback from your body is the most important part of a long term healthy relationship with food.  Notice how you feel after you eat, how are you energy levels, and how your digestion may be affected by certain foods.  Nutrient dense foods, regardless of calorie count, are going to promote healthier hormone regulation and communication.

Counting calories for weight management is a common practice, but it is outdated.  It’s next to impossible (and exhausting) to accurately document the amount of food you eat.  Food journaling is a great exercise for an overview of what you are eating and it doesn’t have to include calorie counting.  Increasing your awareness is what counts the most.  It allows you to focus on how much real food you are eating, how many times a day you eat, portion sizes, and how you feel before and after you eat.

In summary, eat more real food, be mindful of your portions, and exercise regularly.  A simple formula for success!

Sean Fitzpatrick

Author Sean Fitzpatrick

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