TO COUNT OR NOT TO COUNT — BY NUTRTIONISTA
…Calories, that is.
Arguments for counting:
- Accurate calorie counting prevents weight gain and can lead to weight loss.
- It can help people learn what about portion size and what constitutes a single portion of various foods.
- It provides a reality check for people who have no clue how much they’re consuming.
Arguments against counting:
- Focusing on calories often means ignoring nutritional composition of foods.
- It can be tedious and time-consuming, even discouraging.
- It can desensitize natural hunger and satiety cues.
SO… WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
- Get A Budget
Calorie counting works for some people and not for others, but everyone should know about how much they can consume to lose, gain, or maintain their weight. One of my six Nutritionista principles is “Get a calorie budget.” That doesn’t mean you have to count calories, it just means get a sense of how much you can eat to meet your individual goals.
- Portion Control
For people who’ve never paid much attention to calories, I’d recommend starting to figure out what a single portion looks like for the foods you eat regularly. It may surprise you. If you like the idea of counting calories rather than just paying attention to portion size, there are several free websites that will do it for you including SparkPeople, Calorie King, and The Daily Plate. If you do decide to log your intake, make sure you’re accurately reporting your portions since many people underestimate by as much as 25%. Overestimate slightly if you don’t have a food scale or other way of precisely measuring.
- Establish A Range
Once you have a calorie budget, subtract 100 or 200 from it. Now add 100 or 200 to the original number. Those numbers represent your target calorie range. On days that you work out intensely, your intake should be on the high end of that range. On days you don’t work out, your consumption should fall on the low end. Some of the free calorie counting sites also include exercise logs that automatically update this information, but sometimes that makes things too complicated. Having a calorie range instead of a precise number gives you flexibility without having to do a lot of calculations.
It doesn’t matter how good you are about sticking to a calorie budget if you don’t spend it wisely. The 25/25/50 principle (25% lean protein, 25% whole grains or unrefined carbohydrates, 50% fruits and vegetables) will help you with this one. Focus on eating food that’s as unprocessed and close to its natural state as possible.
I’m not saying eliminate all empty calories, I’m just saying take a look at your budget and spend it wisely. If you spend most of your budget on things that will fill you up while giving you energy and nutrients, you can afford to spend a little on treats.
HONOR YOUR HUNGER
Whether or not you’re counting calories, you should always practice intuitive eating. I read recently that if you have the urge to eat but a bowl of steamed vegetables and lean protein like chicken or tofu doesn’t sound at all appetizing, then you’re probably not actually hungry. That might not hold true for everyone, but I think it’s a good measuring stick. Obviously, sometimes we’re only in the mood for chocolate, or carbs, or sweets, and we have to honor those cravings, too. We just need to do it in a way that doesn’t completely derail our health. Never swear off a food or food group forever. It just doesn’t work!
DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU
Lastly, calorie counting and everything associated with it (measuring food, logging exercise, etc.) is a tricky business and for some people, it triggers deep-rooted issues regarding disordered eating or body image. I’m not a mental health professional and I recommend that anyone who has serious issues with emotional eating, binging, or eating disorders seek professional help immediately. The techniques outlined here have worked for me, but they may not work for you. But for everyone: Be kind to your body. It does so much for you every single day.