• Mandy Raff

Eat Your Way to Better Health - Tip 4 - Forget Counting Calories

OK I get the whole 'energy in, energy out' thing, but in my opinion, counting calories (or kilojoules) is a waste of time. It can also lead to obsessive ‘dieting’ behaviours, and a twisted relationship with exercise as the way to burn up any excess calories you’ve eaten.

Counting calories places no emphasis on the types of food you eat, just the amount of calories the food contains. According to the calorie myth, in order to lose weight all you need to do is follow the equation of ‘eat less, move more’, but this simply isn't true. Calorie counts are completely misleading because they don’t factor in that your body processes different foods in different ways. Not even calories from different kinds of sugar are treated identically by your body. I think we (the collective we – us and the scientists lol) have only scratched the surface of understanding the full implications of this. It’s complicated, and like lots of nutritional information out there, can be confusing. So I say, let it go! Concentrate instead on the nutrient quality of food. Think in terms of the quality of the food you’re eating, rather than its calorie count.

There are lots of foods that are part of general consumption for most people that contain what I call ‘hollow’ or ‘empty’ calories. They’re over-processed, so there’s precious little goodness left in them. They have lots of additives including sugar, salt, chemicals and preservatives to create flavour and improve shelf life. They’re also often literally inflated in size by air. Think most supermarket breads and breakfast cereals. Then of course there’s the whole range of manufactured ‘snack’ foods that fit this picture too. And that’s just for starters. You can judge how well these products satisfy your body by the fact that you’re hungry again soon after consuming them. These nutrient-poor foods can spike insulin levels, increase cravings, supress feelings of fullness, cause hormonal dysfunction, and encourage overeating. Yikes!

Alternatively, if you consume nutrient dense-foods, your body feels satisfied. You don’t feel the need to eat more and more because healthy, nutrient-dense foods will keep hunger at bay, help maintain stable blood glucose levels, reduce cravings, and allow your brain to signal to your stomach that it's full. Often the portion of food required is far less to give you all the energy you need. So what does nutrient-dense mean? Food contains macronutrients like fat, protein and carbohydrates, along with micronutrients like vitamins, minerals and other phytochemicals. Nutrient-dense foods have more nutrients per calorie. They’re rich in nutrients. The best source is whole foods, which simply means foods closest to their natural state. The less processed a food is usually means the more nutrient-dense it is. In other words, it’s ‘real’ food.

If you're diabetic or have a serious medical condition, there may be a requirement for measuring and recording in relation to the food you consume. If you're not in this category, I would suggest that you focus on the nutrient value of the food you eat and develop a greater awareness of what you’re buying and eating. Unfortunately in modern Western society we’ve become totally disconnected from our food sources and have a limited understanding of the way food is produced. Most of us would be horrified at some of the things that go on in large scale food production. (Watch the documentaries ‘Food, Inc’ or ‘Food Matters’ if you'd like to find out.) We’ve been so focussed on convenience that we’ve forgotten what real food is about. Our lives are so busy we think we don’t have time to cook from scratch using real ingredients, or we don’t know how to. This disconnect from real food has enormous repercussions for our health.

If you can, try to access your fresh whole foods locally, from small conscious suppliers. Know where your food comes from and what it is you’re actually eating. Fill your shopping basket with fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, quality protein sources, and as few processed foods as possible. Organic is always the optimal - free range and grain free for eggs and meat. I totally understand this is not always accessible or affordable for everyone. Just keep in mind when you’re budgeting that you’ll actually need less when you eat nutrient-dense foods as they’re premium fuel for your body. And you won’t be spending money on all that processed stuff. For those who say it’s too expensive to eat healthy food, I totally dispute that. I regularly cook healthful meals for myself that don’t cost as much as takeaway, nutrient-poor food.

I’m an example of what can happen when you focus on the quality of what you’re eating and how it can fuel your body. By doing this I’ve been able to maintain my natural weight for over 5 years, after spending a lifetime yo-yo dieting and being totally disconnected from my body’s needs. I also lost over 20 kilos doing this and I didn’t count a single calorie to do it. And I ate, and still eat, plenty of food. My blood sugar and hormone levels are balanced. I don’t crave nutrient-poor foods and in fact, I don’t even think about them anymore. And this from a girl who used to eat a bag of sweets for a snack – truly.

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(Please note, the content of this blog is based on personal experience and is for informational purposes only. It’s not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health care provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, dietary supplement, exercise, or other health program.)

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