I recently joined a workshop about well-being and nutrition, and the nutritionist recommended an App to count calories and track micronutrient intake to meet your ideal body shape. Let me tell you that I felt very sorry for all the women in this webinar who will now put everything they eat in this App several times a day. Don't get me wrong, it's excellent to understand what you put in your body, but tracking your food is far from a solution. I'm not ashamed to say that counting calories and diets don't work. Now that I shared my position on this topic, let me explain why counting calories is useless, if not counterproductive and why diets are a myth.
Understanding the Truth about Calories: It's More than Just Numbers
First, let's understand what a calorie is.
A calorie is a unit of energy supplied by food. And no matter the source, a calorie is a calorie. Foods are a combination of three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat and proteins. The caloric breakdown of each macronutrient is constant:
Fat – 9 calorie per gram
Carbohydrate – 4 calorie per gram
Protein – 4 calorie per gram
We often hear that when it comes to weight management or when you want to get beach-ready, you have to meet your calorie needs, meaning you have to balance the number of calories your body use or "burn off". You can try to count calories following the daily guidelines (women 18+: 1800-2000 calories – men 18+: 2400-3200 calories), but your needs may not match these recommendations. First, the daily guidelines are based on an average height and weight that does not necessarily represent you. And second, calorie intake needs to match your daily activities and exercise. But how to interpret your physical activity levels? For example, I consider myself an active person as I walk my 10000 steps every day, but a triathlete who trains every day might also consider himself an active person. Practicing energy balance is impossible. Nobody can match calories in and calories out.
There are so many factors that contribute to your body weight than simply the amount of calories you consume. And sadly, we tend to focus on food and weight, but the food you put in your body impacts your health significantly. In the end, what do we want? A beach body or living a healthy, happy life?
It's not the 'quantity' of calories that matters. It's the quality of calories that matters.
Food's Role in Wellness: Beyond Diets and Calorie Counting
Food is much more than calories and fuel for your body. I often have clients who tell me they have been Yo-Yo dieting their whole life jumping from one diet to another with all the disappointment and shame that goes with failure every time they give up. Instead of focusing on diets, focus on the bigger picture.
All calories are not equal, so we need to look at food and nutrients in terms of function. Understanding that healthy foods make your body's cells work properly and that unhealthy foods can damage the body, creating poor cellular function and inflammation.
There is no perfect diet.
Ask yourself. What works for me? What makes this precious body of mine feel good? What food make me thrive, and what food makes me sick? What food nourishes me?
We are all unique, and we all have different needs, and that's why diets don't work. Restricting what you eat, yo-yo dieting, trying the latest diet and shaming yourself because it doesn't work won't make you feel good. Remember, food is not the enemy. Food is supposed to nourish you and keep you alive. My goal is to make you understand that you need to reconnect with your body and that following a diet won't help you in any way to develop the intuition of your own unique needs.
Reconnect With Your Body's Unique Needs
Here are my recommendations to reconnect with your body, develop intuition and deeply nourish and honor your body:
- Eat real food and keep it whole. As most of the food we find in grocery shops is not food anymore, choose food with minimum transformation, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, grass-fed and free-range meats, dairy, and eggs. When you stick to real food, you are more likely to keep your caloric intake at an appropriate level without worrying about it. Plus, you won't need supplements anymore as you get all the vitamins and minerals from real food.
- Avoid industrial food. Refined or processed foods are often rich in sugar, unhealthy fat, white grains and many other unhealthy compounds. They tend to keep your cravings on, resulting in consuming more food. Eating a whole bag of chips or cookies is easy, but eating several apples in a raw would be difficult.
- Experiment. Be curious. Focus on quality over quantity.
Once you reconnect with real food and your unique body, you might see changes in your life – energy levels, sleep, mood, behavior… Putting proper food in our bodies is an act of self-care and self-love. And once you start to engage in that direction, you might notice that it becomes easier to also engage in self-care, such as exercise, meditation or any other practice that make your life vibrant and rich.