The Dietitian Dishes: I Don't Count Calories

I confess! I have absolutely no clue EXACTLY how many more calories a quarter cup of almonds provides compared to a quarter cup of pistachios. Daily, people ask me how many calories are in a food and I typically have to answer, "I don't know, I'll have to look it up." They then usually look at me with an expression of shock and dismay. Oh, the scandal!

It's expected that as a dietitian-nutritionist I have a database of calorie counts for every food under the sun in my mind. It's also assumed I count calories myself to guide my dietary choices and teach others to do the same. But honestly, none of these three are true.

Do I think calorie counting has value? Absolutely! Do I stress it when I meet with patients? Rarely. Why not? Because low calorie does not necessarily equal healthful or beneficial. From what I have seen, focusing on calories breeds (or maybe it is the result of) a mindset of deprivation and punishment.

Many of the women I meet with loathe their bodies. Rarely are my patients looking to change their eating habits because they recognize what an amazing miracle the human body is. Rarely are they looking to nurture, nourish, and give their bodies what they need to be healthy, energized, and strong. Rather, they see their bodies as something bad that needs to be whipped into shape. And if that means starving it and giving it only food like products that are low in calories (and often devoid of any other redeeming qualities,) so be it.

I often wonder how much different women's (and men's) approach to healthy eating and weight management would be if it came from a place of genuine love, appreciation, and wonder for the masterpiece that is the human body. If we truly recognized the value of our bodies and the wonderful person residing there, I believe choosing to pick up a piece of fruit in place of a fried Twinkie wouldn't feel like punishment.  It would feel like the natural choice to provide sustenance that truly benefits and builds up. Choosing water, fruit, vegetables, legumes and other lean protein source, nuts, seeds, and calcium rich foods full of nutrients are the natural choice when our goal is to strengthen and care for ourselves.

I strongly believe when the focus turns from disliking one's body to cherishing one's life, healthier choices are easier to make. Is it still possible to overeat? Absolutely! But it is a lot more difficult to do. I don't know about you, but if I ate one of those 100 calorie cookie snack packs, I would be the furthest thing from satisfied; there is a really good chance I would eat two more packages and still crave a REAL cookie. Now, if you gave me a tablespoon of peanut butter and an apple, you would have one happy camper on your hands. Or, here's a novel idea, if I just ate the cookie I really wanted I would have saved myself from the torture of eating 3 bags of cardboard parading as cookies.

Let's learn to love ourselves and cherish our health. Healthy eating is no about depriving ourselves and trying to live off the smallest amount of food possible; it is about showering ourselves with foods that replenish, heal, and fortify.