Hello out there! I know this title is a little weird but I had two topics on my mind: week 29’s healthy habit and calorie counting pros & cons. In reality, they are absolutely connected. Some people think that calorie counting is the opposite of focusing on healthy eating. I don’t think that is necessarily true, but you can decide for yourself.
Are you guys ready to continue your veggie challenge? How did breakfast go this week? Were you able to get in veggies at breakfast? With traveling I definitely did not get in as many veggies as I could. Okay, like zero, I totally failed but that happens sometimes. At least I got some in last week with that amazing Healthy Breakfast Casserole.
Week 29: Two Fistfuls of Veggies at Lunch & Dinner
We practiced getting veggies in at the hardest times of the day: breakfast and snacks. Most people have an easier time getting in veggies at lunch and dinner than other meals.
However, we have to focus on it because in general it is easy to skip the veggies and go for a carbohydrate based meals such as sandwiches, pasta, and rice bowls. I coach my Hungry Hobby RD clients to swap the base of the meals to veggies and try to get at least two fistfuls per meal. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go on a low carbohydrate diet, but the majority of your carbohydrates should come from non-starchy vegetables.
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Calorie Counting: A Love-Hate Relationship
I’ve talked several times on the blog about my experience with calorie counting. If you are new to Hungry Hobby you can read more about how I wrecked my metabolism, how it ended up working against me, and how I finally transitioned to a life without it. In fact, I started Hungry Hobby to show others you could live your life trim and tone without it. That doesn’t mean that I hate calorie counting and think it is evil, not by any means. There is a time and place for everything, and how someone implements their nutrition plan must fit their needs.
That doesn’t mean that I hate calorie counting or think it is evil, not by any means. There is a time and place for everything, and how someone takes control of their nutrition plan must fit their individual needs.
Calorie Counting Benefits
Teaches portion size. The fact is that America has super-sized everything, so we have no idea what appropriate portion sizes are. When I say appropriate, I mean the portion size that will keep you full for a few hours and satisfy YOU.
Teaches energy density of food. I don’t care how healthy it is for you peanut butter is an energy dense food. One spoonful could be 200-300 calories and don’t lie, there are times you (meaning I) have gone for two spoonfuls.
Teaches you the macronutrients in food. Most calorie counting programs also include a breakdown of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. This will start to give you an idea of what certain foods contain so you can begin to balance your meals better.
Teaches you balance and trade-off. When you have a finite number of calories per day, you tend to not waste them on foods that aren’t really worth it. You realize you can’t have everything all at once, you have to make trade-offs.
Helps you stay focused and accountable. When you record food intake in a food diary you are accountable to your choices. However, this applies to simply recording typical food intake as well.
It allows flexibility. When you want to lose weight there is significant pressure to have a perfect diet. Counting calories can give you the flexibility to have a cookie or glass of wine if you want it, leading to fewer feelings of deprivation.
Calorie Counting Concerns
Calories are inaccurate, up to 20%. Calories are the amount of energy released when combustible, but a food label has a 20% margin of error when it comes to reporting calorie numbers.
They don’t take into account the thermic effect of food. It is estimated it takes between 20-25% of the calories coming from protein simply to break it down and digest it, in contrast, it takes 5-8% for carbs and 1-3% for fat.
They don’t take into account the metabolic effect on the body. Fat, protein, and fiber stimulate satiety cues and satiety hormones that signal our brains that we are full. Carbohydrates provide energy but too much can lead to increased blood sugar levels and fat storage (just as excess calories in any form can.) We need carbohydrates, but the amount and timing are important factors.
They don’t emphasize food quality. When I was counting calories I ate a ton of those 100 calorie packs leaving me feeling deprived and hungry. 100 calories of refined carbohydrates will never be metabolically the same as 100 calories from a fiber and nutrient-rich banana.
The body will adapt. The most important concern you should have with calorie counting is what you chose that number to be. For instance, if a person that typically requires 2,000 calories for maintenance drops to 1,200, 1,400 or even 1,500 calories per day they may lose weight initially but eventually their body will adapt to that calorie level. This is what happened to me when I started gaining weight eating only 1,200 calories a day and working out.
You may learn to override hunger and satiety cues. You may choose to ignore being hungry to save calories for later, and eat when you are not hungry because you have calories left for the day. This can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and a reliance on outside cues to tell you when to eat, versus your body telling you what you need.
The point is, calorie counting is often shamed in the healthy living blog world. It is my opinion that the way someone chooses to manage their nutrition plan should never be shamed, it is a personal decision. Similar to how we often look at someone who is overweight and assume they aren’t eating healthy enough or working out enough, when in fact, they could be working out too much and eating too little causing stress and damage to the metabolism, preventing them from losing weight.
I’m not totally against it, I still use calorie counting one or two times a month to get back on track from an indulgent weekend, or track my protein intake and then stop.
With my Hungry Hobby RD clients I ask them to consider:
- How long they have been calorie counting.
- How long they want to continue calorie counting.
- What their relationship with food is like.
- What the ultimate goal is.
Then we map out a plan that makes the most sense for them, with or without calorie counting. It isn’t a one size fits all thing, the body and especially the metabolism needs to be nurtured and take care of. However, regardless of whether they continue to calorie count, I am going to make sure they have the foundational skills to live their lives with or without it, like the habits outlined in this series!
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