If you missed the first two posts in my 3 Digits to Ditch Blog Series be sure to check them out HERE and HERE. In them, I challenge you to let go of preoccupation with weight and clothing size. While neither measurement accurately indicates physical well-being, both are frequently implicated in poor mental and emotional health – causing or continuing harmful relationships with food and body.
The third nagging number is no different. Control of it has been touted as the optimal solution for achieving weight loss and physical fitness. But, the complexities of this digit and its interactions with human biology are not yet fully understood, even by the experts. The math, though seemingly simple – doesn’t compute. And while we often focus on this figure in order to drop a few pounds, the very act of monitoring it can put our bodies into a starvation state and elevate the hormones responsible for weight gain instead.
That is why it’s time to cut ties with CALORIES.
If you want to move beyond distressing food scenarios and destructive body woes it’s time to stop the CALORIE COUNTING, respect your body and learn to trust your innate hunger and fullness signals instead.
I am sure this sounds ABSURD to many long time dieters, “fitness” app addicts, food scale owners and other innocent targets of the 500-billion-dollars-a-year diet industry (THAT’S US). The very idea of not turning over a package to view nutritional information before chowing down has rocked many a well-planned world. In fact, it once rocked mine. But, the more I learned about metabolic rate and studied the political and cultural influences on our nation’s ever-changing health theories, the less I was convinced by dogmatic diet authorities.
Diet promoters often ignore the research that correlates restrictive eating behaviors (like calorie counting and food measuring) with long-term weight GAIN. But. the association exists. Studies show that cutting food consumption to lose unwanted pounds often results in packing them on later. Diet again, and a pattern called “weight cycling” develops wherein a person will lose and gain the same weight (plus some) repeatedly over time. This yo-yo dieting has been linked to more detrimental health conditions than remaining moderately overweight without ever cutting calories to begin with.
The truth is that for the majority of people – DIETS DON’T WORK LONG-TERM. If they did, the industry would be obsolete and dieters wouldn’t continue to search for a permanent solution. If a perpetually effective diet existed, it would prove successful, go viral, and everyone looking for lasting health and weight loss would practice it. There’d be nothing more to sell nor anyone to sell it to. But, that’s not the case. Instead, we’re sold a zillion different “revolutionary” programs and dietary theories to “lose the last ten pounds” each with conflicting recommendations on counting macros, calories or number of grapes in a serving size (if grapes are even allowed, of course).
With so many voices vying for our attention the confusion is overwhelming. And chances are we’re ignoring the only authority who really can tell us what to eat and how to move in order to be healthy – OUR BODIES.The longer our inborn signals regarding eating and exercise have been stifled (by diets with fixed meal plans or strict calorie counts) the harder they will be to hear – but our physiological cues ARE speaking and they CAN guide us to optimal health more accurately (and gently) than any outside resource.
As I mentioned in PART 2, no other mammals (and that’s precisely what we are) rely on outside sources to dictate eating conduct. NO OTHER MAMMALS DIET. Bears don’t flip their fish over searching for serving size and measuring macros before swallowing. They hunt, they eat, and if they’re still hungry – they hunt and eat again. They know when to go in search of meat, when to gather berries and when to rest – all in reaction to instinctive cues, not external conditioning. Like our furry friends, we don’t need prescribed numbers and ratios. We do, in fact, possess a natural awareness of what is pleasurable and essential for our personal health, vitality and longevity. And it may be dramatically different than what we read in a magazine or observe on a friend’s plate.
That’s because our bodies are as various (even more so) as the automobile options in the world. We differ in color, shape and size. And, like cars, we don’t all require the same type or amount of fuel. Nor do we average the same “miles per gallon.” What’s more, our environment, our age, and our distances traveled on various terrains (think duration and form of physical activity) affect how we use the fuel we consume. Diets that prescribe a certain number of calories or a specific macro nutrient ratio know nothing of our unique body composition, emotional/mental stress, eating history, health conditions, hormone levels and other factors affecting individual metabolic rate. It’s like recommending that 10 gallons of diesel fuel per week will make EVERY car run optimally. IT’S UNTRUE!
So it goes with the human body – a numerical recommendation of energy intake and output (aka CALORIES) that promises peak fitness and health for every person is a myth. Such advice is imprecise at best and dangerous at worse. And, while restricting calories may produce momentary success in terms of manipulating body composition – restriction is also commonly implicated in the development of disordered eating behaviors and plummeting self-image. There is a better way to food and body freedom and it’s not in the numbers.
Can’t seem to shake the desire for digits? Then count your blessings instead. Start a gratitude journal and record the moments, things or people that make you thankful. Next time you are tempted to tabulate the calories in your latte redirect your mind to your blessings list and add another line in your journal instead. Gratitude is an excellent way to positively affect your health and metabolism. So, start counting the joy in your moments, not the calories in your meal.
Do you count calories? Why or why not? How do you feel about yourself when you “break” your diet or skip a workout? Has counting calories worked for you long term or do you find yourself having periods of “success” followed by eventual letdowns and shame? Let me know in the comment section or send me an email.