I have a wee bit of a confession to make.
I feel like I’m in an AA meeting here (except I don’t know that I would wear footy pyjamas to an AA meeting).
“Hello, my name is Isobel, and I’m a calorie count-aholic.”
I used to spend my evenings entering my days worth of food into an app on my phone. I would painstakingly try to find exact replicas of brands I ate on the programmes food database and be very frustrated with myself if I couldn’t remember the exact quantities or weight of what I consumed. I got disheartened if I was over my ‘recommended intake’ and it turned into a game. A very dangerous game. Each day I would try to ‘beat’ myself, and eat fewer calories than the day before. Despite being intelligent and well educated (especially on the likes of not skipping breakfast **glaring eyes towards mum**) I found myself not eating meals to try to get my count lower. The goal wasn’t to loose weight. For me, it was purely a competitive thing. Just like every time I lace up my runners and hope to go further than the last time I ran, each day I tried to ‘win’ at eating fewer calories.
I think it was something born from the idea that is fed to us all these days. Less calories = more healthy. Products hugely promote being “only XXX calories” along side a low fat percentage and the label HEALTHY (often with a bad illustration of a leaf or something).
Our lives are full of people who want things fast, and don’t want to read the fine print (who has time for that anyway). So when they have a quick and simple message put in front of them, like “don’t eat too many calories”, they take it, run with it, and don’t investigate any further as to what else they may, or may not need to take into consideration when choosing what to eat. Much like the fairly outdated (but still widely portrayed) message that “fat is bad”.
The problem with calorie counting is that it’s like picking your wardrobe based purely on price. Sure, we would all love it if everything we wore could come in at bargain prices, but the truth is, we all know there is a balance. You can’t simply look at the price of that LBD, you have to consider the quality of the fabric, the workmanship, how you feel in it and sometimes even who designed it (and then, yes, the price too). Food is the same.
Calories are a brilliant tool. But they should only be a small part of an array of tools you use to help you create beautiful, tasty and nourishing food for yourself. The problem is, the way the diet industry has celebrated them. They have held up calories as the supreme winner. They’ve thrown confetti at them, blown those (really annoying) vuvuzelas and singled them out as the “key to weight loss”. They have become, unfortunately, the only thing people look to to make the decisions about what they will eat.
It’s really hard not to be bought in by the idea that we MUST eat a certain number of calories per day. And this was where my problem lay when using my calorie counter. You see, I have a very high calorie diet. I eat nuts, avocados, coconut oil and often full fat dairy. Each of these can add up to a calorie equivalent of someone chowing down on piles of McDonalds fairly quickly. It came down to me either having to change my diet to include things that were less calories (and often less nutritious) to fill me up or to ditch the counter.
I think I made the right choice.
Check out these shots from one of my favourite daily read, Fitsugar. Each image depicts roughly 100 calories. Yes, in general the salty snacks are hugely reduced in quantity – making calories seem like a great way to track what you are shoving in your gob. But, if you are ruled by your calorie counter, then all of these foods are the same. They are on an equal playing ground. Counting calories clouds your judgement and only takes one small part of foods total sum into consideration. We all know that asparagus is going to be better for us than a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, but according to calories – these snacks are the same (not that I would really call 30 stalks of asparagus a snack).
So, stop checking that calorie marker and try looking at what else that label is telling you. Is what your holding high is sugar? Salt? Maybe it has heaps of protein? or a good amount of fibre? Yes, it isn’t as easy (or as quick) as looking at the calories, but learning how best your body responds to certain things, and what your body needs (not every other person vaguely your height and build in the entire world) is something we all need to learn.
I’ve learnt that my body doesn’t respond well chowing down on processed grains. I’ve learnt that I can eat nuts till the cows come home, but if I over do it (and oh boy can I over do it sometimes), then my gut responds fairly quickly (yes, I am admitting to constipation on the internet). Most importantly however, I’ve learnt that pilling my plate high with foods that make me feel great, and pushing aside my pesky phone is working a complete treat for my self confidence and happiness.
I genuinly love the way I eat (so much so, that I bore you all to tears with pictures of my noms all the time – like a new mum, but with spinach rather than a cute 3 month old). The way I nourish myself makes me feel great. It makes me feel satisfied and energised. Sometimes it cab be a battle when I get confusing messages about how many calories are in the avocado fuelled breakfast I just ate… but then I remember that “quality not quantity” is a saying that has survived the test of time – which is more than a fair amount of those supposedly ‘revolutionary’ diet tricks can say.
It’s a pretty invaluable lesson, that can be adapted to, really, any aspect of life.
Except a shoe collection.
That baby is all about quality and quantity and more, more, more.
And then some more. Duh.