As far back as I can recall, calories and weight loss diets were always used practically in the same sentence at all times. I even had a doctor (doctor of nursing practice aka DNP) tell me that the only way for me to lose weight was to count my calories and only consume 1000 calories a day for my height and size because I was gordita, chubby. She boasted about how she lost 30 pounds by calorie counting and that’s all she recommended for every one of her patients.
Fast-forward to a couple of weeks after my appointment where I had been eating 1000 calories a day. Did I lose the weight? Sure, I lost 10 pounds, but it was not noticeable to everyone and I felt so fatigued and I was ALWAYS hungry. At the time I thought that’s what I needed to do to be healthy especially that a DNP told me I HAD TO do it for my health. The bottom line…I still didn’t feel healthy or satisfied.
As I mentioned in my first blog post, How Health Culture Changed My Life, diet culture is toxic. To my DNP at the time, calorie counting equaled to optimal health because to her, optimal health equaled to being thin. How do I know this? Well when talking to her during my exam, she kept using the words thin or perfect weight interchangeably with healthy or healthy individual. This is a toxic mindset, especially if you are practicing in the healthcare field. REPEAT AFTER ME: ONE SHOE DOES NOT FIT ALL, meaning that just because calorie counting worked for one person does not mean it will help the health of others. Of course I continued on and off with calorie counting and more often than not I fell off the bandwagon and ended up gaining more weight and developing an extremely unhealthy relationship with food by being caught up in toxic diet culture. Little did I know that it would take me nearly 2 years after this experience to finally take on my own journey to overall health. This would be a journey where calories were not dictating what I could or could not eat.
What Are Calories?
Calories are units of energy that our bodies need for input and output of energy
Who Benefits the Most from Counting Their Calories?
If you’re an average Joe, you probably will not be benefiting much from counting your calories. People who count calories mainly have a set weight goal to reach and once they reach it, their weight loss is most likely unsustainable. The cycle is as follows: Set a weight goal, implement calorie counting full of restrictions, reach goal or not reach goal, weight gain because you are eating to treat yourself or because you couldn’t take the restrictions any longer, repeat cycle. How is this making your body healthier and the weight loss sustainable? It’s an empty toxic cycle.
However, if you are a body builder or athlete, calorie counting may benefit you. Staying at a certain calorie intake per day for these people will allow them to reach their optimal physical goals for better built and/or performance. Calorie counting is key for this set of individuals.
Calorie Counting VS. Nutrient Density
If calorie counting works for you and you are able to maintain your weight and your overall health for the long term, then you do you! If it’s working, continue. For those of you who resonate with the cycle I mentioned earlier or you feel restricted, hungry, and sluggish all the time from counting your calories, listen up.
Nutrients feed your cells and nourish your body. They give your body energy and keep your satiated so that you will not need to be snacking every hour of the day. So, what are nutrient dense foods? Nutrient dense foods are unprocessed whole foods. They are not full of “filler ingredients” such as sugars, chemicals, and other unnecessary ingredients. Think about it. A Coke Zero has zero calories, but look at the ingredients. You will not get any nutritional value out of drinking that zero calorie soda. If anything it will harm you in the long run because they are made with ingredients that your body is not created to process naturally the way it would process freshly squeezed or pressed juice. The freshly squeezed or pressed juices will give you a much higher nutritional payoff than any soda including Coke Zero.
Nutrient dense foods are not only beneficial based on many testimonials, but there was also a study published that suggested that there are better ways to lose weight and gain overall health that did not include counting calories or even setting a weight goal. The study tested two samples of overweight individuals. One group was following a low-carb food program and the other was following a low-fat food program. Both groups were told to eat whole, nutrient dense foods, cut out refined sugars, grains, and processed foods. They were not told how much weight they needed to lose. The end result was that the participants in both groups lost weight and built a healthier relationship with food. I will link the New York Times article about this study here.
When I started eating clean nutrient dense foods, I noticed a difference in my energy levels and my eating habits. I felt fuller sooner which lead to smaller portions and less snacking in between meals. My skin also looked more vibrant and some symptoms of my autoimmune disease subsided. I also built up a healthy relationship with food. I learned how to read ingredient labels and listen to my gut. If I felt hungry I would eat. If I felt like eating something because I was bored or because I saw or smelled something that made me want to eat even if I was not hungry, I would tell myself that I am not hungry and proceed to find something else to do. Stress eating was something I also used to do quite often before I changed my lifestyle. If I am feeling anxious or stressed, I try praying or going on a nature walk before reaching for food.
It has been over a year since I have counted calories and I will never go back to measuring my nutrition and health via calories. Remember, calories are just units of energy. They should not dictate your eating habits if you feel that it is not making you feel healthy overall. Hopefully you found this information helpful! Will you be eating more nutrient dense foods this year?