If calories didn’t ‘count’ on the weekend you would be lying in bed, asleep, hangry and probably feeling awful. Not so cute, huh? So why do we love to say ‘calories don’t count’ before eating something delicious or on a holiday or weekend, as if that would be a positive thing?
For a minute, pretend that we called calories what they are: energy. Would you say “I’ll have the low energy special, please? I’m not trying to do very much today.” Probably not, but that’s basically what we’re saying when always choosing the ‘low-calorie’ dish. (Also what does ‘low’ mean? Lower than what? Do you know or we just blindly follow that message of ‘less’ = ‘better’?)
When we talk about calories counting or not counting, a lot of the time this falls into the black & white mentality that says we need to closely monitor and control everything that we put into our body. Sometimes you’ll see many “health” accounts or articles saying messages that ~sort of~ promote listening to your body but then hit ya with the “as long as you’re eating this many calories…”. It’s easy to walk away with the conclusion that you need to be counting or logging calories for the sake of your health – and not doing so is ‘bad’ for you or a disservice.
Here’s the deal:
Calories (energy) matters. Because it’s what provides us with the energy to get through our days – even if that day is netflix-ing or laying on the beach. So they do matter, but you don’t need to COUNT them.
1. Calorie nutrition labels are an estimate. They can actually vary +/- 20% of the printed calorie number on the package, so while this gives you a ballpark of how many calories are in something, spending so much time and energy stressing over this number, when you can’t even be sure how accurate it is, isn’t worth your mental health. Any equation you use to determine how many valors you need in a day is also an estimate. This isn’t to say that these equations or numbers don’t mean anything – but is to say that these are tools and not the end all be all or to be used as rigid rules. This is especially the case in apps like myfitnesspal- which is in fact NOT your pal because they notoriously underestimate your needs and boil down all of eating, food, bodies, into a way oversimplified equation. If you’re not familiar, you input what you’d like your calorie goal and weight to be and it computes how many weeks you’d need to reach that goal. After each day of logging it also tells you ‘if you ate like this every day you’d weight ____ in 4 weeks” – this is simplifying all of physiology, human behaviors and food as an enjoyable, pleasurable part of life into a simple math problem. It’s not accurate and sets you up to believe that the focus on numbers should trump all other aspects and influences on food and your body.
2. If you’re so focused on counting and tracking based on (those estimated) numbers then you are missing out on SO MANY other reasons that we eat: nutrients – yes we eat for energy but the nutrients in foods matter too – and if you’re only looking at calories (energy) you can miss that. Taste, pleasure, experience, food preference, convenience, social – are ALL valid, important reasons that we eat, too. And you can’t quantify all of those into an equation.
3. Finally, if you’re only focused on the # (calories, macros, weight) you’re losing sight of the big picture and losing touch with listening to your body and what it needs. If we zoom out and look at how your body feels, what foods you like, what your hunger feels like, which foods are satisfying, how the experience of eating with friends feels – those are all things you can lose when only doing the math.
It’s not that they don’t “count” but YOU don’t need to count them. Put those math skills to better use!
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