Stop Counting Calories

I give you permission…..seriously, just stop.

This is going to be hard for most of us to swallow. It’s a huge shift from the diet culture we live in today. As a nation we have been counting calories for decades, right? It’s not working, right? Our bodies are getting bigger, not smaller. We’re tired. We’re sick. We’re frustrated. We’re STILL dieting. We’re on a new diet. We’re confused. We now have more food allergies and sensitivities than ever before. Our food supply is more modified, engineered and processed than ever before. Just writing that all out I feel defeated and overwhelmed.

The rules we have been following are simple:

Eat as little as possible.

Burn as much energy as possible.

Take up as little space as possible.

Eat like you are a chemical equation.

So we track our calories, track our “macros”, our weight dances up and down the scale. We feel guilty when we don’t hit our numbers. We deprive our cravings, we ignore our hunger cues. We wake up tired early in the morning so we can exercise when we really need to be sleeping. We believe our self worth is directly related to how clean we can eat, how much control we have over our food and weight. We meal prep. We eat the same damn thing every single day. We get fatter. We binge. We give up. We start again. We cycle through a punishment-reward cycle and eat emotionally. We feel good when we lose weight and we feel bad when we gain. People talk about our weight gain and loss and equate it with status.

Let me show you a quick equation. I hope this illustrates how much impact calories in vs. calories out SHOULD have on our bodies. Remember that according to this theory for every 3500 EXTRA calories we consume, we should gain 1 pound. And on the flip side for every 3500 FEWER calories we consume, we should lose 1 pound.

So that first image is setting up the equation. It is telling us that if we are equally burning what we are consuming our weight should remain the same. But what if we simply eat 20 extra calories per day. ONLY 20….

That slide shows how 20 extra calories per day over 10 years will lead to 21 pounds of weight gain. 20 calories– that’s about equivalent to a lifesaver…. A LIFESAVER!!!!!! Seems like we’re doomed right? That is also one bite of pizza, one extra sip of a mocha latte. How carefully do you track your calories? Do you think you’re really that good at measuring? You’re not….you’re not that exact. And you don’t need to be.

Let me tell you a true story….well, two stories….

An athlete had just finished up 18 months marathon training. Eating for energy, feeling amazing, performing at an elite level. She tracked what she ate to be sure she was getting the proper MICRO nutrients (vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc) and the proper balance of MACRO nutrients (carbs, fats and proteins). If the calories in vs. calories out theory was accurate, based on the calories she consumed and the calories she burned during training she SHOULD have lost a tremendous amount of weight. HOWEVER, she gained almost 20 pounds!!! And now that she had stopped her marathon training she took up Tai Chi, yoga, swimming and weight training. Along with introducing some supplementation of pre and probiotics, omega 3’s, a multivitamin and some digestive enzymes, she stopped actively tracking her macros and started intuitively eating a fresh, home made, nutrient dense, rich in healthy fat, mostly plant based diet. She lost all of her gained weight.

A second client was generally healthy as far as diet and exercise was concerned. He went to the gym 5 days a week and ate a diet I would consider 80/20 (80% clean and healthy and 20% processed and indulgent). He did track his calories in vs calories out and hit his numbers every day by 6pm. He maintained his weight just fine. But at 6pm every night he stopped tracking his calories. After 6pm he drank 4-6 beers every single night. If we’re saying the average beer has 150 calories, that is then about 900 EXTRA calories PER DAY that he wasn’t tracking. And remember his weight remained unchanged. When this man stopped drinking, and still kept his diet unchanged, at first he lost 5 pounds but within 6 months he ended up gaining back the 5 plus 10 more, while never changing his diet.

Why am I telling you this…why does this matter. Because calories are only a small piece to the complex puzzle that is the human body.

Sleep, stress, age, gut microbiome and intestinal flora, nutrient absorption, effective digestion, metabolic rate, past diet history, food sensitivities, allergies, proper amount and type of exercise….all of these things come into play. And your needs are totally and completely individual. If someone giving you a diet to follow and they aren’t asking about those other factors, then you aren’t getting the proper care. They are doing you a mis-service.

It would be weird if you wanted to eat exactly the same amount every day. It would be weird if you experienced the same amount of hunger every day. It would be weird if you had the same energy level every day. It would be weird if we all had the same body and looked the same. It would be weird if we really improved our self worth in relation to the number on the scale. Weird- because it doesn’t work like this.

While nutrition is a science, with chemicals and numbers and proven requirements, our bodies are not all the same. And our minds, our souls. our hormones and our moods change by the day, by the minute. Our rest, the seasons, our stress, the weather is changes every day. So should our food intake.

Nutritionists who have a formal Nutrition Sciences education, knowledge and experience, as well as Registered Dietitians, are a great resource. Dietitians typically have more clinical experience in medical nutrition therapy and disease processes, while University trained Nutritionist have more community wellness experience. That is not always the case though. You must decide who is best for you and your current health status. Ask what their credentials are, ask what continuing education they have completed, ask about the type of clients they work with and ask how they will help you!