To count or not to count?
Dietary needs differ daily depending on age, sex, weight, activity levels, hormones and other lifestyle factors. A specific way of eating designed for everyone (or number of calories to aim for) is unrealistic since our bodies and what we need as individuals each day will differ. What works for one, doesn’t necessarily work for another.
An approx guide for calorie consumption here in the UK for weight maintenance is 2000kcal for women and 2500kcal for men. However, it is not always as simple as following this recommended guidance to maintain weight, or a deficit of this to lose. We need to consider our individual needs, lifestyle and personal goals. Some days we might need more, and others less.
Calories do have a role; however it’s all about meeting someone where they are. If you regularly eat fast food or highly processed ‘calorific’ meals, being mindful of the lower calorie option (by checking packaging etc) could be helpful. However, tracking this daily and / or religiously can create behaviours which could lead to developing a poor relationship with food.
Not all calories are created equal
200kcal worth of broccoli is going to have a very different impact on our body than 200kcal of chocolate. The broccoli will provide fibre, fullness and many other beneficial micronutrients, whereas the chocolate, although the same number of calories, will not offer the same level of nutrition.
Quality over calories
Unfortunately, due to diet culture, as a society we get caught up in calorie counting, often opting for the lowest calorie item no matter what it might be.
Consider this, which contains more calories, an avocado or a packet of Haribo?
Now, which is more nutritious?
Think about which option is going to provide more nutritional value, whilst being mindful of the calories.
Accuracy of calorie counting?
Calories on packaging and in tracking apps are not always accurate due to the combination of nutrients in the particular food and how this impacts the way that the calories are absorbed. Moving away from counting calories can encourage us to eat more intuitively and tune into our hunger and fullness cues, rather than feeling the need to stop once we reach a certain number, or continue because it hasn’t been reached. It can also encourage a more positive relationship with food.
Some tips to move away from counting calories and numbers…
- Count plants
Rather than focusing on counting calories, why not challenge yourself to count plant sources instead? Recent recommendations have suggested aiming to consume 30 different plant foods per week! Are you up for the challenge?
Remember, plant sources aren’t just fruits and vegetables, but beans and pulses, legumes, oats, wholegrains and nuts and seeds too!
- Count nutrients
As well as carbs, proteins and fats, can you focus on adding micronutrients too? Do you include a wide variety of vitamins and minerals and if not, how could you begin to do so?
Doing your research and gradually adding more nutritious foods will be a positive focus, rather than constantly thinking about calories that you need to count / restrict.
- Measure with hands instead of scales
Weighing out certain foods before consumption can lead to a focus on numbers / counting, which can promote a more restrictive approach. Rather than focusing on the numbers, try measuring your portions with your hands. Follow hunger and fullness cues and work to find a portion which suits you and your individual needs each day. E.g. 1 handful of rice / 2 handfuls of vegetables – alter as and when needed.
- Compassion over calories
There is more to a healthy lifestyle than solely what we eat, we need to consider the other areas of our lives which work to make us feel our best – and our relationships / socialising are a huge part of this too.
There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods. Food should not be associated with guilt or shame but enjoyed in the moment. While I wholly encourage a healthy diet and lifestyle; the healthiest, or lowest calorie choice isn’t always the most ‘nutritious’. We need to think about whether our meals are enjoyable, satisfying, convenient and compassionate.
Include foods that bring you joy, with less of a focus on calories and numbers and by promoting a non-restrictive and intuitive approach, which considers your health and happiness as a whole.
Holistic Health Coach - Anna Whyte
The ‘Wellness with Anna’ philosophy focuses on taking a more balanced and holistic approach to health. Often, the tools needed to make a lasting change are already in your toolbox. I offer client led guidance in order to support the progress of an individual working to meet their personal wellness goals. I will not diagnose, treat or take responsibility for bringing about wellness change, but direct, listen and support development.
We work together on a journey to make health a main priority, both physically and mentally.