As a dietitian, many clients come to me with a preconception that counting calories (or points) is absolutely necessary for health and weight loss. This, I feel, is a major misconception. I fully believe that counting calories is not only a waste of your precious life’s time but also a practice that leads to unhealthy thinking patterns and even a tendency towards obsessive behaviors in relation to food and diet. I have seen people come to me in near panic because they were unable to figure out exactly how many calories or points were in their dinner out at a restaurant. They not only feel as though they overate, but they are ridden with guilt and anxiety, and truthfully, did not even enjoy their evening out with friends and family as they were so distracted with the idea of counting calories.
On a side note, I’m not a proponent of putting calorie information on every menu in America. I have always felt that this practice only drives our obsession with calories and fat rather than looking further into the quality and true nutritional benefit of foods—even in choosing a meal out at a restaurant. A pasta dish with tomato sauce will likely contain less calories and fat than broiled salmon with prosciutto wrapped asparagus. What’s the more nutritional choice? The salmon dish WINS.
I recently taught a nutrition lesson to a class of kids at an inner city elementary school. Some of them were slightly familiar with the USDA’s concept of MyPlate. Rather than focusing on this imbalanced picture of what our meals ought to look like, I like to focus on a different plate method: the macronutrient concept. Each category contains various types of foods.
Protein: Chicken, fish, meats, pork, turkey, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, unprocessed cheeses, eggs. (Organic is preferable and grass-fed meats and dairy are best.)
Carbohydrate: Grains, fruits, vegetables, milk, yogurt, sweets. (Minimize grains and when you do consume them, choose ancient grains, such as quinoa and millet. Avoid sweets on a regular basis and consume them only on special occasions.)
Fat: Olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, grass-fed butter, avocados, olives, cream cheese, sour cream, mayo, nuts, seeds, nut butters. (Avoid vegetable oils and refined, heat-treated oils as much as possible. Mayo made with olive oil is best.)
Oh, and alcohol (for adults): Limit your consumption. Have a drink 1-2 times per week, if desired. Don’t rely on alcohol for emotional comfort or relaxation on a daily basis, but do enjoy an occasional drink with friends, family, or your couch on a cozy evening in with your cat :)
Usually, I bring some paper plates and markers and have kids (or adults) draw three sections on their plate. They then have to write or draw pictures/words of their favorite foods in those sections. For older kids and adults, I have them create actual meal ideas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s something that seems quite simple, but it really gets you thinking about balancing your meals.
Your body runs on these three macronutrients. Biochemically and metabolically, these are the nutrients that your body requires. It also requires a whole slew of vitamins, minerals, and water. By choosing the highest quality sources of PCF, you will likely consume all of the nutrients that your body requires.
If you choose a low calorie cereal, such as honey nut cherrios with a cup of skim milk and ¾ cup of blueberries, will your breakfast be under 300 calories? Sure. Will it be balanced? Nope. Cereal=carb; skim milk=carb; blueberries=carb.
A better breakfast would be a few hard-boiled eggs and a banana with almond butter. Eggs=protein; banana= carb; almond butter=fat. PCF! And this breakfast would probably be around 440 calories, 27 grams of fat, 20 grams of protein, 33 grams of carbs, 6 grams of fiber. The cereal breakfast would be roughly 297 calories; 2 grams of fat; 10.5 grams of protein; 57 grams of carbs; 5 grams of fiber.
So when I read articles on the internet that eating less than 300 calories for breakfast is the secret to weight loss… well, you can surely guess how aggravated I feel. Sure, you may lose weight, but will you won’t be healthy. And you’re likely to put that weight right back on—and then some.
More important than losing weight fast is the process of healing your body. What do I want to see for you?
1. I want your body to truly begin healing from the inside-out, not from the outside-in. This means that you may not see weight loss immediately. That is OKAY! I want your symptoms of discomfort and imbalance to lessen (i.e. constipation, bloating, excessive gas, chronic headaches, consistent generalized anxiety, sleep disturbances, constant cravings for sugar, binge-eating habits, etc.)
2. I want you to eat REAL FOOD. Not fiber bars, not refined and enriched cereals, not bread with added inulin, not milk with all the naturally occurring fat removed. I want your diet to consist of food that is closest to its most natural form.
3. I want your body to get the nutrients that it actually needs: protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water. I want these coming from real food sources, not pills.
4. I want you to respect your body, no matter what shape or size it is.
5. I want you to focus on quality and quantity, not calories.
The good news: you can stop counting calories.
The better news: you can begin loving your body and accepting it for all its flaws and imbalances. It’s not your body’s fault that it’s not healthy, and you can heal it and feel better.
Until next time, happy, healthy, balanced eating.