What is wrong with counting calories?
That could legitimately be the end of the story. Because that’s why I’m not a fan of counting calories. Life!
Do calories matter? Yes but not in the way they are mostly spoken about. Weight loss and body composition are far more heavily influenced by genetics and hormones than calories. Think about it. If every single person on the planet ate the same amount of calories everyday and did the same amount of exercise, does that mean we would all look the same? Obviously we would not.
Another thing. You know I like to talk about insulin a lot. Insulin is a hormone and it’s one of many factors that influence weight. In fact it’s main purpose is to manage the glucose in the blood. It’s job is to take the glucose in the blood and put it where it needs to go (this may be the skeletal muscle which moves with voluntary contraction, digestive muscle which moves without us having to control it, and of course our organs like the brain which need a constant supply of energy so that we stay alive), but sometimes there are extras! So where does this go? Again, it’s insulin’s job to store it correctly – it goes to the muscle, liver and body fat to be stored for later use. It’s a very important hormone, and without it, well that’s what Type 1 Diabetes is (the body is not producing insulin).
Did you know that all the macronutrients and different kinds of foods have different insulin responses once eaten? So really a calorie is not in fact a calorie. They are processed very differently and used for different things within the body.
Insulin is not the only hormone that affects weight, but the fact that it plays a well established role in the process of storing and releasing energy surely shows that there is more to weight than simply calories.
Can calorie restriction work for weight loss? Yes absolutely.
Does is work every time? No. And I’m sure many of you have been there. Counting every gram and calorie, not eating much and wondering why nothing is happening. Even worse if you then go to a nutritionist, doctor or PT and they tell you that you must be lying or overeating by accident.
UGH. What a way to not live.
It’s not that calories don’t matter, it’s that counting them isn’t an effective way of managing how much of them you eat.
There is not one part of me that believes you need to count calories to be healthy or to stick to healthy eating or to effectively manage your weight.
There is also not one part of me that believes that the only other option is the “screw it” diet, where you think “screw it I’m just going to eat whatever”.
I decided long ago that I refused to accept this. I wanted both! I wanted to feel in control, I wanted to feel in flow, I wanted to make food choices with ease, I wanted to maintain my weight and I wanted my mental health to be in tip top shape. I wanted to feel good!
There is a beautiful happy medium in the middle where you can feel in flow with your eating choices, not having to measure or count, where you are still in control of easily turning down anything that doesn’t align with your physical and mental health.
I used to be one of those people who would count all my calories in an app. I would weigh oats, chia seeds, count nuts and choose low fat options because ya know “every little bit of saved calories adds up!” even if it’s just like 30 calories or something nonsignificant.
The first problem with this is that food now becomes so reductionist, where any time you can not eat calories or hacks to eat less calories is the goal. It’s as if you are trying to get as close as possible to not eating at all, and what it does is create a mindset that food is only inhibiting you from getting to that goal (of as little calories as possible).
And now food becomes this negative thing in the way of where you are trying to be, instead of something to be cherished and loved. Eating food is our deepest connection to the earth and it’s the way in which we are alive, and it should be treated as such! Something we should not only look forward to but something we enjoy and find pleasure in! Food is pleasurable, and there is no denying that.
Back to the story. Back in my counting calories days, most of my mind most of the day was thinking about what I was and wasn’t going to eat. But what was flooding my thoughts was mostly how I was going to resist whatever it was I had told myself not to eat.
We know now that whatever you are focusing your attention towards, you get more of. So the more I thought about saying no to things that I wanted, of course the more it became a thing. Rather than focusing my mind on all the amazing delicious food I was eating. I was only appreciating the food I was eating for fitting into a certain calorie number. And the number value of a food is just not it’s value to you. It’s energy, it’s vitality, it’s pleasure, it’s connection – that is the real value.
So of course I very much got tired of this way of living. And I would look at people around me who enjoyed food, and loved it and found pleasure in it. And it was jealous. I wanted freedom to cook, to go out, to be flexible with my diet, to enjoy all foods. So I set out on a quest to find that.
Weighing food and counting it was not serving me because it made any food outside of that a source of anxiety and stress.
The biggest pivot here was changing my mindset, and creating my own code of what felt good and what didn’t. Counting grams of seeds did not feel good. I like to be in flow with life and this was not in flow. I wanted to be excited about going out to eat, about events, about socialising and yes even drinking alcohol and of course travelling!
But here’s the catch. I also knew that I wanted to maintain a certain physicality. When I don’t feel fit and sexy, my mental health goes down the drain, so this was not something I was willing to forgo. It wasn’t a case of “screw what I look like, I’ll just eat whatever I want”. Being the Aries perfectionist that I am, I wanted the best of both worlds and I wasn’t going to let anything stand in my way.
And so I did it! It didn’t happen over night (quite the opposite actually it was years of trial and error). But man when I look back at photos and think of how consumed I was with how I looked and how many calories I was eating, I can’t help but think, what a waste of brain power!
I’m grateful to not only have the freedom I have with food now, but the pleasure in it too. I’ve built my entire career around my favourite thing to do which is being in the kitchen. And that’s something I wouldn’t have been able to do had I still been trapped in calorie jail.
But I don’t want this to be a joy that only I feel. And that’s exactly why I created The Sweetness Beyond Sugar, so you can get there a lot quicker than I did. And I’d love to allow that transformation for you. Next round begins in 2021! Are you joining me?