There’s a reason we don’t watch television in our house - what you feed your mind is as important as what you feed your body. Fortunately, my mom watches the news, or I wouldn't have been clued-in to the story that spurred this blog post.
Last week, she said to me, “You’re going to love this, Char. They are talking about putting something on food labels to reflect how much exercise you would have to do to burn off that particular food.”
HA! I Googled it and sure enough, she wasn’t making this up. I am going to tell you two reasons why calorie counting is total bullshit.
#1 – The calories in, calories out theory of managing weight is preposterous from a scientific standpoint.
#2 – You can’t outrun your fork.
So let’s start with number one. We have been taught that if you want to lose weight, then you need to reduce the number of calories consumed. Makes sense, right? Sure it does. On the surface. Let’s dive deeper…
First of all, counting calories sucks. You are not a mathematical equation. You are a dynamic human being who is alive and forever evolving. Looking at food from a caloric standpoint is disrespectful to Nature and our bodies. I know because I used to be an obsessive calorie-counter, and it made me sick when I thought I was being healthy!
One day you may have a strong appetite and then a few days go by and you feel sort of indifferent towards food. Your appetite can change with the weather, your workload, your menstrual cycle and your stress level. Can we trust these fluctuations and trust ourselves to respond accordingly? I say, YES!
Restricting calories also slows down your metabolism and makes you hungry, which in turn makes you depressed and miserable.
Third, it is not the calories that matter, but your hormonal response to the food that you eat. You can wake up in the morning and have 300 calories of cornflakes and skim milk, or you can eat 300 calories of eggs and sausage.
Guess what is fattening?
The cereal and skim milk!
Because when you eat all those carbohydrates, your pancreas releases insulin to regulate your blood sugar. Insulin is a storage hormone. Your blood sugar goes up. Insulin goes up. And then you crash, ready for your next carbohydrate hit.
I know because I used to live in this vicious cycle, and it wasn’t living. It was a unique form of torture.
Insulin isn’t the only hormone at play here. You also have cortisol. The adrenal glands release cortisol to deal with stress and to create a circadian rhythm for the day. Cortisol is highest in the morning because the most stressful thing we do all day is get out of bed! Cortisol also raises low blood sugar. So after your blood sugar crashes from your cereal and skim milk breakfast, in comes cortisol and the stress response. Emergency! Emergency! Increase the blood sugar and go eat something sweet!
Not to mention that cortisol is also our body’s fire department, and that cereal and skim milk are inflammatory foods. No wonder our endocrine systems are so tired.
Isn’t life challenging enough? Why do we have to make it harder by counting calories, pretending that that’s all that matters? It’s not the deciding factor!
Calories don’t satiate us. They don’t satisfy us. REAL FOOD is what does that. When you eat REAL FOOD, you don’t need to be concerned about calories because your body will self-regulate. It is a beautiful way of being in the world where you access your own internal power and that power spreads out to your whole life. That’s how changing what you eat changes your life.
When you read a label on food, don’t even look at the caloric count, carbohydrate, protein, or fat content. Who cares! Look at the ingredients and ask yourself the following questions:
Can I find these foods in Nature?
Could I theoretically make this at home?
If the answer is yes, great! It qualifies as food. Eat it. Enjoy it. And trust that your body knows what to do with it.
Whatever you do, don’t buy a 100-calorie snack pack of crap. It won’t help you reach your goals.
Eating 300 calories of eggs and sausage, on the other hand, not only satisfies your appetite, but it sets you up for good energy levels ALL DAY LONG. No insulin released. No blood sugar crashes. No inflammation. You are actually teaching your body to burn fat for fuel, which is like putting a Yule log on your metabolic fire. Along with eating the right combination of fats and protein, cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens also set you up to feel your best.
Let’s move on to number two: you can’t outrun your fork. The notion that we can exercise off what we eat is a huge problem. First of all, if I exercise more, I will be hungrier. That’s no fun, especially if I am counting calories. What a disaster!
Exercising your food off also leads to exhaustion. Exercise to feel good, not to punish yourself.
Counting calories and exercising them off are not long-term solutions to your health and fitness goals.
Eating and exercising are not intellectual experiences. They are visceral, bodily experiences. Counting calories and how many we have burned off perpetuate our need for control and erode trust in ourselves. We give our power away. The goal is to consciously choose what foods we eat and how to move our bodies. This will vary greatly because you are unique!
If you are interested more in these two conversations about calories and exercise, read Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes and Body By Science by Doug McGuff. Also, for more recipes and in-depth nutrition/herbal support beyond the blog, subscribe to my weekly newsletter!
Don’t fall for the hype. Don’t trust the food labels.
Embrace the wisdom of your body and eat the foods we evolved on.
Eat in Peace!