Are you still counting calories? Do you find yourself obsessing over how many calories you are “allowed” to eat in a day? Do you feel as though calorie counting is what you’re supposed to be doing? If you have answered yes to one or all of these questions then this article is perfect for you! As a Registered Dietitian and nutrition expert, I am here to tell you to put down your calorie-tracking apps right now and take a break from dieting.
I don’t count calories.
I know it’s seems odd right coming from a Registered Dietitian? But it’s true and I don’t recommend you do either. Not only does it teach you to get fixated on numbers but also you learn to be mindless and ignore your natural satiety cues. Now let me tell you how I really feel…calorie counting is a time-consuming, fun-sucking, energy-depleting waste of time. It takes the joy right out of eating and is just a real drag! Look at how many of your friends, family members, or even co-workers have tried calorie counting, yo-yo dieting, and are still struggling with their health. I want to help YOU redefine what it means to be healthy and break free from dieting and all the added stress that comes along with it.
Counting calories alone is not the answer to being healthier; instead I want you to redirect your focus toward mindful eating and fueling your body with quality food choices. Mindful eating encourages awareness of how the food we choose to eat affects our body physically, emotionally, and mentally. When eating mindfully, we are fully present and savor every single bite. Of course we all know that eating too little or too many calories will be detrimental to the body, however if you learn to be aware of the quality over quantity, then I can guarantee that you will never want to count calories again.
And just to make sure there is no confusion here, counting calories and food journaling are two separate things all together. Let me explain. In my private practice, I highlight the importance of a food journal; this is one effective way to raise my clients’ mind, body, and emotional awareness. Food journaling helps my clients identify daily eating patterns, emotions, energy levels, thoughts, and feelings. And guess what? It works. Just simply watching your own eating habits will create positive improvement.
So, instead of spending your day counting every single calorie and crunching all those numbers try applying my five essential nutrition principles:
1. Listen to your body. Hunger is an inborn instinct, that mild rumbling in your stomach, that slight decline in energy that signals you it’s time to refuel and recharge, Um hello…your body is trying to tell you something. Its empowering to acknowledge that your body knows best so please don’t ignore it.
Tip: Ask yourself these questions: Do I pay attention when my body says its hungry or when it says to stop eating? Or, do I ignore my body’s feedback?
2. Stick to the basics. Opt for real, fresh, and whole foods when you plan your next trip to the grocery store. Shop the perimeter of the store; this is where you will find most of your fresh seasonal produce, lean protein, and healthy fats.
Tip: Be sure to check out your local Farmer's Market this spring as an array of superfoods will be at your disposal. Choose a variety of colors as each color provides beneficial antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
3. Eat a balanced meal. I eat about 6 meals a day. Why? Because it keeps me balanced, my energy levels high, and I have found this method works best for my body. For each meal, I always aim to balance all three macronutrients. Recently, I have been boosting up my veggie game so that I can get all the nutrients possible!
Tip: Typically, I will start with a plate of veggies, then I will make sure to add a fist-size amount of lean protein, top that with a healthy fat, and add a small side of a high fiber carbohydrate like sweet potato…can I just say that I love sweet potatoes!
4. Be present. Eat mindfully and use all of your senses. Apparently many of us “zone-out” when its time to sit down and eat. Does this sound familiar to any of you? I admit I zone out at times. Whether it’s the morning news on TV, talking on the phone, or texting a friend; food is the only thing we are not thinking about when we actually eat. So, the next time you sit down for a meal try turning off the TV or putting down your phone, and merely enjoy the nutritious food that is right in front of you!
Tip: Try observing the taste, texture, smell, and sound of the food. See if you can identify whether your mindlessly snacking or in touch with every single bite.
5. Remember, it's a lifestyle NOT a diet. Diets don’t work, that’s right I said it. We like to think they do but they don’t. Instead, focus on a non-diet approach and eat mindfully. It’s okay to take a break from calorie counting, enjoy some cake on your birthday, and dine out with your girlfriends. Be flexible and allow yourself to mess up once in awhile, granted we are not perfect. The big take-away message here is to remember to be mindful and enjoy your food, see it as an opportunity to fuel, nourish, and balance your life.
Tip: A diet consumed of deprivation, starvation, and restriction will only lead you down a path of unhappiness and stress. I firmly believe that living a life that is balanced, enjoyable, and fulfilling will be something that can be sustainable over a lifetime. Think of your wellness journey as a marathon; not as a sprint.