Why Counting Calories Isn’t the Only Key to Losing Weight

squashskillet

I’ve always been skeptical of/annoyed by calories. I read a lot about them, how to count them, why to count them and how your body craves them and will stock up on them. That’s why you can inhale a sleeve of Oreos, which are full of calorie-dense fats and sugar: your body naturally senses life-sustaining calories when such things touch your tongue. But why is it only calories that our bodies crave, and not the nutrients? Doesn’t my body really need fiber, vitamins, and fatty acids? Shouldn’t my body be craving those? And why have we been told for so long that it doesn’t matter what kind of food we eat that we should be able to maintain a healthy weight if we stay within the calorie guidelines no matter what kind of food those calories come from? Certainly, there is more to food than calories.

And there is. Of course there is. We can’t just have two 300-calorie cookies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and have the strength and energy we need to live our lives happily and healthily. Not only would our tummies feel empty for much of the day, but there’s the sugar crash to think about, the lack of dietary fiber, and the fact that much of our brain would be fixated on getting more of those sugary/fatty calories. I know that I, for one, would turn into a witch before too long if I strictly counted calories and disregarded nutritional content.

I was grateful, then, to come across the book The Calorie Myth, in which author Jonathan Bailor argues that it’s not the number of calories we eat that matters, but the kinds of calories and that eating calories from high-quality, nutrient-dense food will not only make our bodies and brains healthier and stronger, they’ll help us maintain a healthy weight because our bodies will naturally tell us to stop eating when we’ve had enough. (However, I don’t necessarily subscribe to all of Bailor’s wisdom. For example, I don’t consider protein powder a real food. And I think that we still should exercise more because it’s a valuable form of play.)

But this “stop counting calories” thing makes so much more sense to me. Quality calories from whole, natural foods are certainly going to help your body be healthier than any random 1,500-2,000 calories you find throughout the grocery store and they won’t leave you dissatisfied and craving more until you make yourself sick.

And, in fact, without exactly meaning to, I’ve been test-driving the theory for the past several weeks: I stocked my fridge with veggies, acquired some more whole grains, and decided that if I “needed” something sweet, a bit of dark chocolate would do the trick. I started at the beginning of the month, and three weeks in I can say that I don’t crave sweets at the end of the day like I used to. My body is satisfied with the bowlful of (delicious) brown rice and roasted veggies topped with a little sesame sauce. I don’t want more than my stomach can hold.

I’m not actually trying to lose weight, but I am interested in fueling my body well and not having to think or worry or wonder if I’m getting the right amount of energy for my body type and my activity level. And I think this approach, the one where I eat whole foods (lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains) is a solid one. I feel more aware and in tune with how much my body actually needs. I’ve even been able to kick my “it’s-9pm-and-the-kids-are-in-bed” celebratory treat habit and I’m leaving the guilt for not counting calories behind as well.

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