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Counting Calories vs. Making the Calories Count


"Nutrition is not low-fat. It's not being hungry and feeling deprived. It's nourishing your body with real, whole foods so that you are consistently satisfied and energized to live life to the fullest. After all, isn't that what life is about?" - Anonymous


We live in a society where calories are commonly viewed as “bad”. Whether it’s the magazine at the grocery store checkout line, a new cooking account on Facebook, or word of mouth, advertisements for low calorie meals, desserts, snacks, etc. are everywhere. Not only this, but due to the large rates of obesity in the United States, a lot of restaurants (think fast food and chains) have had to start listing calories on their menus next to each item. While this may be helpful to the individual who is dangerously overweight, the average healthy person does not need to associate their food with caloric numbers.


Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, we have all been shaped by the construed idea that we should avoid extra calories at all costs. What once was a form of pleasure and enjoyment, eating has now shifted into a game of golf – the lowest number “wins.” But in the bigger scheme of things, are you really winning? Advertisers and models on the covers of magazines want us to believe the answer is yes, however, I am writing this article today to play devil’s advocate. Behind every malnourished person, there is someone suffering. Whether it is psychologically through an eating disorder or not, at the bare minimum, that person’s body is put under an enormous amount of unhealthy stress caused by their organs trying to perform without the necessarily fuel. 


Let’s start with the basics and go back to what calories actually are: a unit of energy. When something on a food package gives a number for how many calories you are consuming, you should think of this number as the amount of energy you will get. Of course, there are both good and bad types of calories – think Twinkies vs. apples and peanut butter. Next week’s article is focused on how to read nutrition labels, so I won’t dive too deep into this, but looking at the amount of sugar versus protein, fiber, and carbs will help you determine this. Anyways, if your body does not get enough calories on a regular basis, then you run the risk of suffering from lower bone density, lower muscle mass, difficulty concentrating, low energy and motivation… the list goes on. Our bodies physically cannot survive without enough calories, and they struggle to perform day to day tasks without a regular supply. 


So how do we find the right balance between supplying our body the energy we need and avoiding overeating? This is where the mindset of making the calories count comes into play. If you go through your entire day, eating only foods that are low in calorie count, there’s a good chance you are frequently hungry, always coming back to the kitchen, and never satisfied. When you try and starve yourself, your body’s subconscious crave for calories only increases. Does the common short-lived diet followed by a dessert binge sound familiar at all? This is a direct result of not eating enough – you may try and fight your cravings for a short time, but in the long run you will never be successful. Unless you are truly living on a desert with no food, your body will win every time; you will end up eating that cake (and much more than you originally intended) after a while. It is only a part of our nature. 


The best thing you can do is just sit down and have a full meal. Get a healthy portion of fats, carbs, and protein. This way you will actually end up eating less and feeling more satisfied. You will probably also end up consuming fewer calories too, but try to work on getting your mindset away from this arbitrary game of golf we call eating. And as an added bonus, you will be wildly more successful when it comes to getting your work done (good food = brain power), exercising, and even just keeping yourself in a better mood overall. 

When thinking about food, attitude is everything. If you try and restrain yourself from getting the nutrients you need, you can easily influence yourself to think that food is bad. And that is where things get dangerous – both physically and mentally. Research out there discuss how detrimental counting calories can be: it adds a heavy burden to one’s daily routine, increases stress, and forces people to associate their health with arbitrary numbers. #SmartGirls are worth more than their outside appearance, and you owe yourself this reminder.  


So next time you are in the kitchen and taunted by the big scary number of calories written on a food package, take a moment and reset your trained mindset. Think about what that food will do for your body, think about how your body needs energy to be successful, and think about how to make the calories count. It is far too easy to count calories today, especially with all of the help we get through advertisements. Your homework for this week is to pay attention to how the food you eat makes you feel, and ask yourself next time you avoid the high-calorie, yet nutrient-dense food, is it really worth it? 


Betsy Blitch, 4/20/2020

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