Stop Counting Calories

One of the first things I tell clients when I meet them is that I won’t be counting calories or watching the scales.

Sometimes I can see that this makes them feel a little uncomfortable and sometimes I see visible relief.

There are some really fundamental reasons why I believe that we should be moving away from the old fashioned measurements like weight, calories, BMI etc.

There are also some very important psychological reasons too, weighing yourself every day and checking the calorie content of every meal can be soul destroying, especially when you don’t see the results you perceive to be what you want.

What I do measure is how you feel, how you can move, your energy levels, your physical waist, hips and tummy measurements and if you can fit in the clothes you want to wear.

That’s why today I want to explore a little more why calorie counting may not be working for you.

I came across two great articles from Precision Nutrition which explain the science behind it. Here is my summary of what you need to know about calories in and calories out and what you should be doing instead.

We are told that if we take in more calories/energy than we expend, we gain weight.

If we take in fewer calories/energy than we expend, we lose weight.

Whilst this is absolutely true, here are a few top reasons why I believe that this simple rule may not be as accurate as we would like.

1. Calorie counting is not accurate

The calorie count you see on packaging and in online apps is basically averaged.

Have you ever used an online tracker to log your food? I typed “apple” into two such apps on my phone and came up with several options ranging from 100g chopped apple being 50 calories to one medium apple being either 72 calories on one app or 80 calories on the other.

OK, so this may be a minimal amount and you are just using this as a general guide so it may not matter to you but when it comes to packaged foods there are several different methods that food manufactures use to calculate calories so the difference could be up to 50%.

2. Absorption of calories is variable

Even if you overlook the fact that calories may not be accurately calculated then it is worth noting that the way we individually absorb calories can vary also.

What this means is that one formula is used to calculate how much of the calories in food are absorbed in our bodies.

The reality is that some foods pass through you undigested and therefore less of the calories are absorbed.

The rate at which you digest food will vary greatly depending on the health of your gut and simply how much you have chewed the food.

Nuts for example have always had a reputation for being high in calories, in reality we absorb far less of these calories than the calculations suggest.

3. Food preparation can change the calorie content

Chopping, blending and cooking food can mean that more of the calories are absorbed, this is not always reflected on the food labels.

4. Portion sizes are open to interpretation

A handful for me may be vastly different from a handful for you. A teaspoon measure may be flat for me and heaped for you.

The size of a portion can be very different, studies have shown that we mis-measure portions about two thirds of the time so who knows how accurate you actually are.

It is clear to me that the calorie in calculations are drastically flawed. Unfortunately the calories out calculations are just as inaccurate, here are some reasons why…

5. Estimates of calories burned

Just like the apps that tell you how many calories are in each item of food the ones that tell you how many calories are burned for every type of exercise are just as inaccurate.

There are three different ways to measure how many calories are burned with each different exercise meaning that fitness trackers can be off by up to 30%.

Then of course you have to ask how hard each individual has worked. To say that everyone in an exercise class has worked off the same amount of calories is obviously questionable, the amount you burn will depend on your body mass, your weight and of course how hard you worked.

As a fitness professional I can tell you that some clients will give every single ounce of their energy to an exercise programme and some will only give half.

Some days I will work out far harder than others depending on how I am feeling so I know that I won’t have burned the same amount in any two workouts.

6. We are all so different

Our genes, the type of fat we carry in our bodies, the amount of sleep we have had and our hormones can massively change the amount of calories we burn at any one time.

So really, step away from that food tracker and stop worrying about how many calories are in each item of food.

It’s time to trust in eating good honest nutritious food and listen to our bodies tell us when we are hungry and when we are not.

It’s time to stop looking at food labels to see how many calorie are in our food and cook with foods without labels that have grown from or lived on the earth not come from a factory.

I have a challenge for you if you are a calorie addict, step away from counting calories for a week or so and focus instead on eating natural food. Report back and let me know if you feel better.

If you would like to know more about moving away from calorie counting and about how eating more naturally can make you feel great email me now to register your interest in my next nutritional coaching programme.

Its not a diet or a prescriptive food plan it simply a way to teach yourself to value your strengths and use them to help you make healthier food choices.

I'll look forward to you joining the programme.

Kirsty xx

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