by Julie Cornelius, MS
As a nutrition professional, I am not a fan of keeping track of certain numbers. The one that I get asked about most frequently- how many calories should I be eating? Calories are the energy we get from our food. We burn calories throughout to maintain the normal functions of our body, as well as any activity we do. But I really hate keeping track of calories or worrying about them. Here are my top 5 reasons why:
5 reasons why you should NOT count calories!
- Who really has time for that anyway?
Counting calories takes time. Yes, there are apps like MyFitness Pal that help you track the foods you eat. But the short of it is that counting calories takes time. This is time that you could be riding your bike or foam rolling (right Tricia??). It’s a tedious process that requires you to know exactly what you are eating and how much of it. How much sauce was on that pasta? How much chicken was in that soup? What it really comes down to is the types of food you eat. Which brings me to point number 2…
- Calories don’t tell you anything about how healthy a food is.
Calories are units of energy. We get energy from the food that we eat. This energy is used as fuel in our body to carry out all of the things in our body that keep us alive. That’s a good thing. Any calories over an above what we need for these functions get stored as fat. That can be a good or a bad thing. We need some fat in our body to cushion our organs, help our nerves function, and keep us warm. Too much fat is linked to health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even cancer.
The main thing that calories don’t tell you about it a food is how healthy it actually is for you. Healthier foods are nutrient dense- meaning they have vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients and all sorts of things that keep us healthy and help prevent disease. You can eat 100 calories worth of watermelon or you can eat 100 calories worth of a cookie. The watermelon is chock full of potassium that is important for muscle and heart function, lycopene to prevent heart disease and protect the skin from UV rays, and vitamin A, an essential vitamin for vision. The 100 calories of a cookie will provide you with added sugar, saturated fat, probably trans fat, and refined carbohydrates. All of these things have been linked to an increased risk for heart disease and other chronic diseases.
So what should you be paying attention to instead of calories? The types of foods you eat- grab unprocessed foods like fruits and vegetables. If you are shopping at the grocery store, skip the nutrition facts panel, and read the ingredient list. Look for ingredients you can pronounce and know what they are. Also try to look for foods with short ingredient lists. These tend to be the healthier choices.
- Eating a really low calorie diet will not necessarily help you lost weight.
Cutting calories drastically will actually slow down your metabolism. Your body has a lot of built in mechanisms to help you survive. When you really cut calories, it thinks there is famine and doesn’t know when you will be getting food next. It will slow down your metabolism to conserve energy. This can actually lead to weight gain in the long run and is the main reason why yo-yo dieting ends up leading to packing on extra pounds.
- The best foods for you don’t have nutrition facts panels on them that list calories.
The best foods you can eat don’t have labels- they are things like fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. One of the best ways to pick healthier foods is to shop the perimeter of the grocery store. This is where you will find fruits, vegetables, seafood, lean meats, and healthy dairy like yogurt. The middle of the grocery store contains processed foods that have added sugar and unhealthy fats.
- Counting calories causes you to ignore your innate cues.
Your body has lots of different hormones and mechanisms that send cues about when to eat and when to stop. Most of us have learned to ignore those cues. We eat out of stress, because we only have 30 minutes for lunch, we are bored, its a social time, the list goes on… Learning to listen to those internal cues can make counting calories unnecessary and help to maintain a healthy weight for the long run!
Julie Cornelius, MS is Co-founder of Potential Energy Training & Nutrition. She has an extensive background in nutrition and graduated from the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ with both her Bachelors of Science and Masters of Science in Nutrition. She has worked in fitness studios helping clients achieve their nutrition goals, spent two years teaching college nutrition courses, and was the founder of Julie Bar, an energy bar company. Julie is a long time cyclist and mountain biker who loves being outdoors. Julie helps individuals to meet their nutrition goals, whether it is eating to win an endurance mountain bike race, losing weight, or just eating to be healthier. Connect with Julie: firstname.lastname@example.org.