Everyone has to make choices about what they eat and healthy efforts can be extremely misguided by ‘the calorie’. Calories have been associated with weight loss and dieting so it’s easy to develop calorie tunnel vision where only this number matters. I know that when I was eating more sugar, I was conscious of calories and over time realised how this thinking was working against me. I’ve fallen down ALL of these traps myself so be aware of the following 5 ways that counting calories can backfire on you:
1. You eat less nutritious food to save calories
For example, you decide to swap 1/2 avocado (140 calories) for a Ryvita (40 calories). Your avocado is supremely more nutritious, natural and filling but you’ve got caught up in a small numbers game. Calorie counting works better as a larger ball park figure so small differences aren’t worth worrying about, especially if they deprive you of nutrients.
2. You chose artificial sweeteners over natural sources
This can be a grey area, particularly if you try to stick to a low sugar (or fructose diet). Whilst you can argue some natural sources are higher in sugar, continually replacing them with artificial chemicals is not the long term healthy answer. A whole apple with some nuts, whilst containing more calories and a little fructose, will undoubtedly serve your body better than a Diet Coke. You also need to weigh up where you are with your self control around fructose at that time.
3. You don’t eat enough calories so you compensate later
This classic downfall where strictly counting calories works against your natural hunger. Common problems are ‘healthy’ calorie-controlled lunch salads or sandwiches. These items fill you for only a few hours but you end up starving at 4pm. The protein and fat (& thus calories) just weren’t able to sustain you. Suddenly high energy or sugary foods become either tempting or convenient, so you fall of the wagon with unhealthy food thanks to your low calorie lunch.
4. You choose low fat products to save calories
Low fat foods don’t sustain your hunger for as long as full fat and you can end up compensating as mentioned previously. Low fat foods also increase the chances that you need to add sugar to make something taste edible. Ever tried to eat skimmed milk porridge with nothing added to it? I will also add that a low fat yoghurt for example, even if it’s got zero sugar in it, is more processed than it’s full fat counterpart.
5. You simply lose sight of the big picture
Sometimes you focus so much on counting calories to keep within a range that you fail to consider the nourishment perspective of eating real food. Ideally you should be eating whole foods and meals that don’t have a label informing you of the exact calories. If you’re carefully counting calories, you might also forget that you need at least 5 (ideally 7-8) colourful portions of vegetables or fruit a day to keep your body efficiently metabolising and processing the food you are eating.
Have you fallen into the calorie-counting trap to the detriment of your wider health or do you relate to any of these like I did? Do you look at calories more than you look at sugar? Let me know in a comment or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org – I always love to hear from you.