If you are out of control and overeating lots of processed foods, then counting calories for a few days, can help you be more aware of approximately how much you are putting in your body and help you get back on track. Counting calories is a temporary tool to assess your dietary intake and give you an idea of what you are consuming. It is not a permanent solution for weight maintenance or for getting fit.
There a few reasons why I say this...
Reason #1: Counting calories is not a sustainable method. It's difficult to count calories when life gets busy, you have a party to go to, or friends invite you out to a restaurant. It's also a real pain when you are cooking a batch of something with lots of ingredients. Trust me, I have spent a ton of time in the past, measuring, and weighing, and portioning out servings of food that I have cooked, and it's tedious.
Reason #2: Calorie needs fluctuate. If you crushed a killer workout, you probably need more that day. Other days, you might not have much of an appetite so you might need less. To try to adhere to a certain number each and every day does not take into account what you really need on a particular day.
Reason #3: Counting calories does not give you the whole picture of what you are eating because calories are not created equal. I know, I know…you might have heard things like 100 calories of broccoli is the same as 100 calories of chocolate cake. And on paper, yes, 100 calories IS 100 calories. But in our bodies, that is not true. Our bodies are complex, fascinating systems that process nutrients in a different way than on paper.
What happens in our bodies after eating 100 calories of broccoli is dramatically different than after eating 100 calories of chocolate cake. The excess refined sugar and unhealthy fats in the cake, all spike your blood sugar, and will be stored as fat in your body. The broccoli, which has fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and lots of phytonutrients is utilized by your body in a more efficient way. Without going into the detailed scientific explanation of how the various nutrients are broken down and absorbed in your body, please be mindful that the nutrient composition of the foods you eat makes a difference in your health and weight maintenance.
What are those calories made of??
So, instead of asking "How many calories are in this food?", the important and useful question is "WHAT are those calories made of?" Are they mostly refined sugar, salt, chemical additives, and preservatives? Or are they whole food ingredients that will be utilized by your body in a better way? 100 calories of a fresh apple is going to be broken down in your body differently than 100 calories of pretzels. Pretzels are made with white flour, refined salt, and usually have refined sugars too. An apple has fiber, vitamins, and many phytonutrients that fuel your body.
Eat REAL food, and throw the calculator away
If your calories are mostly coming from whole foods that are unprocessed you do not have to waste time calculating and counting. It is difficult to overeat whole foods, whereas processed foods with added sugar, salt, and chemical garbage are addictive and will you trigger you to want to eat more and more.
Eating whole foods that are unprocessed will naturally bring your weight down to what is a healthy weight for you. It will reset your internal hunger cues. You will actually stop eating when you are full!
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Megan Ántoni Placa, MS, CNS