Counting Calories: Helpful or Harmful?

Rise and shine. It’s six AM, the sun is out, birds are chirping, and calories are waiting to be counted. As you rub the sleep out of your eyes and groggily make your way to prepare your breakfast, the calculations begin. You pour your freshly brewed dark roast Peet’s Coffee into your favorite glass mug, drizzle in a dash of hazelnut creamer, and just a touch of honey, 55 calories. In a yellow polka dot bowl, half of a cup of oatmeal pours in, 150 calories, instead of water, you add in almond milk and half a banana, 275 calories. It’s noon and you're sitting in your second to last class of the day and your stomach is grumbling, you pull out a chocolate power bar, 240 calories. By the end of the day, the only thing you want to be adding up is how many hours of sleep you’ll be able to get, and most certainly not the delicious dinner waiting for you devour.

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As many people begin their journey towards fitness and a healthier lifestyle, calorie counting often stands out as one of the more achievable approaches. It’s one of those things that looks like a shortcut, like if we just count up all the foods we eat throughout the day and stay in this predetermined limit, our bodies will magically tone and transform into our dream physiques. But what about macros? Protein? Carbs? Fats? There is so much more to consider when we begin to think about counting calories. Many people overlook the nutrients they are in taking and only focus on the caloric number. However, this may be the easier approach it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the better one.

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We won’t dismiss the obvious fact, that people must consume a certain number of calories in order to get through the day and to mentally and physically function. For some people counting calories helps them control their weight, and manage the foods they consume. For some, measuring portion sizes, deliberately meal prepping and setting limits on their consumption is a good thing, it works for them and it works for their bodies. But for some, counting calories grows into this dark form of self restriction, followed closely by guilt and an unhealthy obsession. You progress from skipping a glass of orange juice at breakfast, to skipping out on your favorite foods, one day your wanting to work out and the next you feel as though you have to. It happens slowly, and often without your knowledge, what started as a new “healthy” habit leaves you with your stomach grumbling as you lay in bed recounting every calorie you took in throughout the day. If the thought of standing on a scale weighs more on your mind than beneath your feet, stop. Calorie counting is not for everyone, in fact, it’s important to understand that it has the potential to create a very unhealthy relationship between you and the food you eat. Once you start, often there’s no going back, the incessant nagging in the back of your brain, counting calories before they reach your lips and dreading the resulting number on the scale, isn’t a light-switch, and it’s not a simple matter of turning it off.

I advise walking into to any new health kick with caution, just because it works for your friends doesn’t imply it’ll work for you. Our bodies are one of a kind, each is individually built, they are different, but they are ours to love, care for, and nourish. Numbers don’t define you. Your caloric intake, is only that. The number on the scale is only your weight, it does not measure your compassion, it can not gauge your empathy. Don’t give it the power to dictate how you feel about yourself, you are so much more than that. Striving to improve your body is never a negative thing, after all we are only given one and we should treat it the best we possibly can. But, be wary of letting a new healthy lifestyle transform into an unhealthy mindset. Feeling like you “have to” workout, or that you simply “can’t” go out for a 2AM taco bell run every once in a while, will grow tiresome on both your mind and body. Your mental well being is just as important as your physical health. Balance is key in any health journey and in every aspect of your life. Eat your greens, but have a little chocolate too, just as we only have one body, we only have one life as well, and I don’t know about you, but a life without sweet treats, and Sunday-french-toast-brunchin’ is no life for me.

 

PSA: If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, there is help available. National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) hotline: (800) 931-2237 National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders’ (630) 577-1330