Counting calories or making your calories count?

Calorie counting is a relatively new invention that was developed to tell us how much food to eat in a day/week.  Some of us have become out of touch with what true hunger feels like and have to rely of keeping track of what we eat mathematically  to control our weight.  I have been counting calories for over a decade.  Even though I know the difference between true hunger, boredom eating  and emotional eating and I know if I have eaten too much or too little, my brain is so programmed to mentally keep track.  It’s a habit of sorts that has become a reflex.  I’m trying to break it.  Maybe you can relate.

Calorie counting can be helpful in the following circumstances:

  1. If someone is making a major diet/lifestyle overhaul and needs to be aware of what and when they eat, tracking calories can make them more aware of how much or little they are eating.
  2. If someone is training for an intense endurance event such as a marathon, Ironman etc.  When someone expends this many calories it may be difficult to consume enough because the person may not feel hungry even though he/she need to eat/drink more.

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Otherwise we should try to eat based on what our bodies are telling us.  Here are some tips for controlling calories naturally and making the most of what you eat:

  1. Eat minimally processed foods without added preservatives, flavor enhancers other chemicals that the body cannot process.  The less processed the food the more bio-available the nutrients are.  When your body is adequately nourished it will let you know it’s satisfied.  Food with added chemicals can also create addictions and some companies even add substances that make your brain think you aren’t full so you keep eating and buying more.
  2. Eat more nutritionally dense foods instead of calorie-dense foods.  For example fresh fruits an vegetables have fewer calories and more volume than concentrated foods like nuts, seeds, oils, cheese and red meat.  The fruits and vegetables contain water and fiber which make you feel full.  There are calorie-dense foods that are very healthy like raw nuts, seeds, avocado and coconut.  Do not exclude them from your diet but limit them to one/two servings per day.  Starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and yams and whole grains like quinoa and brown rice are also filling because they contain fiber and the water they absorb when they are cooked.
  3. Cut back on snacking.  There are experts that recommend small meals throughout the day and some that say three square meals.  Snacks are appropriate in some circumstances but in general I think eating 3-4 meals per day is beneficial because your body has time to fully digest the meal before you pile more food into your system.  The key is to eat enough at each meal so you don’t have to snack.  When I was on vacation this summer, not snacking was my saving grace for not gaining weight after 8 days on a cruise with little exercise compared to my normal routine of five spin classes/week and Bikram yoga six times per week.  I had a huge breakfast and lunch and a light dinner.  If I did snack it was a piece of fruit.  There were days where I went for 7-8 hours in between lunch and dinner because I was on a tour off the ship without access to anything healthy to eat.
  4. Stay hydrated with water.  The best time to drink water is in between meals so that it does not disrupt digestion by diluting digestive juices.  If you are properly hydrated, you are less likely to mistake thirst for hunger.
  5. Make eating time sacred.  This is not the time to multitask which includes watching TV, working or reading while eating. Slow down and really chew and savor your food.  When the mind is distracted while you are eating or does not fully process your food intake it tells you need to eat more because what you already ate, does ‘not count’ in a sense.
  6. Minimize or avoid eating only for pleasure.  It is possible to et a healthy diet that is also tasty and enjoyable.  Eat healthy foods that you actually enjoy.  Minimize the times when you eat and drink only for pleasure such as having dessert or beverage at a restaurant or catered event.  There are some healthy foods I dislike such as artichokes, green beans and eggplant.  But there are so many I truly love.  On a regular basis I crave raw salads, avocado, brown rice and kale chips to name a few.  If you’re not quite there yet, give your taste buds time to adapt.
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