I don’t count calories: in life, nor as part of my practice.
I believe in consuming a variety of flavours and textures and colours and quantities. It makes me crazy to hear women talking about food as if it were a number. That said, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to know how many calories it takes to sustain your body.
Let me explain why calories are not something to fear and a 2-step approach to weight loss without counting them.
A calorie is a unit of energy. That’s it.
The number of calories you need in a day is simple math. Energy in = Energy out = Energy needed to maintain health & fuel daily activities.
The ONLY reason it’s important to know how many calories you need is to keep your body humming and carry out your day’s activities, without depleting your system.
Activity here can be exercise, work, thinking, bodily functions, emotional stability, proper sleep, strong immunity, being present to your life in every way.
Without the right amount of energy, your body will start compensating in all sorts of ways that impact your health and ability to perform. Think of how you get all irrational when your blood sugar’s low. With too few calories to maintain the basics, your body will start to cut out “non-essential services” such as reproduction (messing with sex drive, your period, bone density and fertility). I don’t need to tell you all the issues you get into from excess.
Let me put this another way:
We women do a shitload of stuff every day. We need to nourish our bodies properly to keep up with ourselves.
You can’t be the best possible you and show up fully for your life on a latte and a salad.
To determine how much you need to eat in a day, depending on your size and activity level, there are apps for your phone, or you can find an online calorie calculator, such as calculator.net. To give you a general idea, the average person needs about 26 kcal/kg of body weight. For endurance athletes, that could go up to 50 kcal/kg. (If you’re 135 lbs, you’re looking at a minimum of 1600 calories just to maintain healthy functioning of your body.)
Check it out as a reference point. You may learn that you’re taking in too many… or too few calories to sustain your health.
At this point, I invite you to consider this quote from a quote from Albert Einstein:
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
What does this means for you here?
Take some time to count calories and get a sense of how many you need in a day, then throw it all out the window and listen to what your body needs. It’s like when you have your first child, and you read the baby book so much, it’s falling apart. After a few weeks & months, you start to trust yourself as a parent, and one day you “forget” to look in the book, and just go with your gut.
Same with food.
The recommended numbers (calories, grams, servings) are averages. Very few of us do the same thing day in & day out – some days you think more, some days you stay up late. Some days you exercise and others you stay in bed. You can’t expect to need an identical number of calories, grams of protein or whatever nutrient every single day.
How, then, do you get enough to eat in a day?
Two Rules of Eating:
1. Cup your hands in front of you. The size of the bowl it forms is your stomach’s capacity. No matter how often you eat in a day, never eat more at one sitting than can fit in there. It’s the quality and proportion of what you put in the bowl that makes the difference. (Read details in my articles about protein, carbohydrates and fats.)
2. I believe in eating when you’re hungry, and stopping before you feel full. The beauty of this principle is that it forces you to slow down and pay attention to your body, aka putting the emphasis on how you eat.
Learn to listen to what your body needs at a given moment. Are you hungry? What for? Are you thirsty?
We spend so much time worrying about what we should do, that we don’t always listen to what we want & need. What would be completely yummy in this moment? Is it even food?
The biggest focus on calories, of course, is weight loss. And I don’t deny that for some of us, this is a necessary step. (Many of us, however, just need to improve the distribution of our pounds.) Mathematically, the equation changes temporarily: input < output.
Two steps to reducing calories without counting them:
A. Move your body more and in any way that feels good – even if it’s not terribly fun while you’re in the middle of it! Before changing your eating habits, your metabolism, hunger and body composition will shift.
Bear in mind, the scale won’t budge as quickly, so better to judge by your favourite jeans.
B. Put the emphasis of every meal on vegetables, always eating according to your hunger and stomach capacity (Rules 1 & 2 above). Fill half your plate with these gems that are high in vitamins, minerals, water and fibre, and you automatically displace higher calorie choices. As a bonus you boost elimination of the bits you don’t want.
Make sure to get adequate protein and fat into your day, throw in some whole grains and you’re on your way!
The best part: Once you start making conscious choices according to need, on a regular basis, your body, having felt the difference, will start to ask for the healthy things.
What food rules do you follow when it comes to healthy choices? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.
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Thank you for this information. I am Vegan, I eat only fruits and vegetables. I may not count calories but I do try to stay aware of the things we are putting into our bodies every day. The increase of fruits and veggies in your diet will not only keep you healthy but become a way of life. I think its important to make even small steps to get to a place where your input and output match up or try to make yourself aware what you are putting into your body so you are making healthier choices.
Excellent article Cathy- thanks!
what a lovely way to talk about calories! thank you, cathy, from this eating disorders aftercare coach. i especially love the emphasis on “eating when you’re hungry, stopping before you feel full” and “moving your body more and in any way that feels good.” that’s it. perfect.
My favourite “Food Rules” are written in a book by Michael Pollan with that exact title. The rules are : EAT FOOD, NOT TOO MUCH, MOSTLY PLANTS!
That’s it!! Simple!
Oh yes! I love those rules too, and quote them often with students and clients.
No food rules here. Unless you call eating ‘real’ food a rule. I let my appetite guide me. There are days I eat more and days I eat less. When I listen to my body, my food intake pretty much matches the level of activity I am engaged in. I ate a whole lot more food in France than I do now at home. I walked everywhere in France. Here, my activity is vastly different as I rely on a car to get me from place to place. I have to ‘schedule’ exercise. *sigh*
My favorite definition of calories: (noun) Tiny creatures that live in your closet and sew your clothes a little bit tighter every night.
Cute. Fortunately, they can scurry away just as easily when we match the eating to the activity.