Low calorie, zero-calorie, negative calories, 100 calorie packs – these are just some of the popular terms used to sell diet food. Not surprisingly, we’re conditioned to choose and value food by its calorie content instead of its nutrient content. This is a hard habit to break, especially if you diet. But truly changing your relationship with food means understanding food for the nourishment it provides, rather than the numbers on its label.
I remember a time in my own life when I tirelessly counted how many calories I consumed and subtracted the number I burned, day after day. It’s a reality that many women face. But, letting go of the need to count calories, is a big step toward truly enjoying and feeling nourished by food. You’ll even find that you settle into your ideal weight as a result.
My suggestion may seem extreme to some because calorie counting can be like a roadmap or safety net for eating. Yet, keep in mind, I’m not recommending bowl after bowl of ice cream eaten with reckless abandon.
A calorie is a unit of energy, and the body needs energy to function. With this in mind, let’s look at some guidelines for how to eat without calorie counting:
Eat whole foods :
Remember that 1,000 calories of soda are much different than 1,000 calories of kale. Eating mostly nutrient-dense vegetables (especially leafy greens), whole grains and lean proteins undoubtedly fuels the body with energy. In other words, whole, unprocessed foods are easily recognized as energy and the body uses them efficiently as fuel. Your body will treat white sugars, white flours and highly processed, chemical-filled and manufactured foods like foreign substances and store them as fat.
Try one new vegetable each week to broaden your horizons and your palate.
Read a different part of the label :
Buy unpackaged foods in their natural state as often as possible, however when a label is involved, pay less attention to the nutrition facts and check out the ingredients first. There should be no more than five ingredients, each of which should be recognizable and easy to pronounce. If not, put it down. Many packaged foods have hidden sugars and other ingredients manufactured to keep you addicted to them without offering any nourishment.
Listen to how your body feels :
For some, counting calories is an easy way to manage portion control. But an even better way is to pay attention to your body. Learn to recognize signs of true hunger, fullness and satiety. Your body will tell you when it’s time to eat or when it’s had enough. Likewise, your body tells you what foods it needs to eat and what it can’t digest. Cravings, physical reactions and energy levels are the body’s way of communicating important information about its nutrition needs. Learn to listen to these important signals and respond accordingly.
Keep a food journal :
Beyond just keeping a record of everything you eat in a day, a food journal is an invaluable tool for accountability. It can help identify food allergies and insensitivities as well as highlight unhealthy patterns and habits that should be addressed.
Ready to put down your calculator and end the crazy-making, unsustainable habit of counting calories?
Start slowly by discovering healthy recipes and by adding more natural foods and identifying where and why you may be relying on foods that aren’t nutrient dense. If you already eat these foods but still feel compelled to count calories, try to trust your body to know what and how much it needs. Healthy habits aren’t created overnight but day by day you can make better choices and experience big shifts over time.