Eating Healthily Without Counting the Calories
How many of you do this, or have done this at some point, when you are trying to “eat healthy”?
For me, counting calories is a time-consuming, soul-sucking practice. I have watched friends, clients and others pull out their calorie-tracking apps and plug in whatever foods they’ve eaten, feel guilty when they go over their “recommended” calorie amounts, then run off to the gym to try to undo it all.
I totally understand the idea – counting calories for weight loss is popular. Don’t get me wrong- there’s value in paying attention to what you eat and understanding relative calories (example, cake is high- apple is low). However, the danger comes when you start monitoring every single calorie that passes your lips. Not only does it get you focusing on numbers instead of enjoying the food you’re eating, it can be a slippery slope from being mindful about the calories you consume to obsessing over them. When eating becomes solely a numbers game, it distracts from noticing how food makes your body feel.
Healthy eating is about so much more than calories. Here is my ideal concept of healthy eating:
“To nourish your body with fresh and whole foods and allowing yourself to enjoy what you are putting into your body by tuning in to your body’s wants and needs.”
Because I am such a ‘non-advocate’ of calorie counting, here are a few alternative methods to support healthy eating (in no particular order) that you may like to tryout:
Eat fresh, whole foods: Eat foods that are grown naturally in our beautiful soil. Think fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts and grains. Whole foods contain a wide range of nutrients. A a bonus, many are rich in antioxidants. When we include more fresh, whole foods in our diet, we automatically reduce the amount of processed foods that we consume (therefore also reducing other junk like excessive sugar, strange preservatives and other artificial chemical compounds that are foreign to our bodies).
Eat mindfully: In our fast paced lives, so many of us experience non-mindful (or “mindless”) eating. This happens when we rush through meals or eat whilst surrounded by distractions- which leads to eating until we are overly full, or grazing on food without really tasting it. Practicing mindful eating can help reduce overeating as well as improve your digestion and anxiety about food. Maybe try to schedule 10-15 minutes for each meal. Sit down instead of standing up. Try to take note of how different types of food affect your mood and vitality as you eat them and after. We spend our hard earned money and time on purchasing and preparing food… let’s enjoy it!
Enjoy your food: Choose foods that you love to eat and put the joy back into eating. Don’t stress about getting a huge variety of fresh produce into your body – even if you only enjoy a certain range of healthy produce then start playing with new recipes or preparation techniques for those! Put a new spin on your favourite produce.
Make your plate Insta-worthy: This one might be a little left-field but is very reflective of the time we are living in. The old saying that ‘we eat first with our eyes’ rings true. Posting food on social media can reframe the ways that we interact with food on a fundamental level. Think about when you dine out- half the fun is how it looks! When we take time to decorate, prepare, share and be proud of what we make at home- we are being much more mindful. If you have a couple moments prior to eating, think about what your plate looks like- would you be happy if a restaurant served it to you? Would you take a picture of it? Then take a second to make your plate look pretty – (maybe just start with a sprinkle of fresh herbs) and beg to be eaten. The process of visual embellishment allows you to savour, respect and enjoy your food more holistically.
Create food values and ditch your food rules: Think about what is important to you when you are eating. Do you value a colourful plate? Do you prefer to have some protein at every meal? Do you aim to incorporate a certain number of veggies on your plate for variety? Food values can help to guide eating decisions and shape your meals. By contrast, food rules often cause guilt and feelings of self judgement (I am being ‘good’… I am being ‘bad’) which can become all-consuming.
Understand your body: When you really tune into your body’s reactions to food, you can activate your five senses along with subtler bodily sensations and emotions. By honing this type of awareness, you can discover how different foods impact your body, mind, and day to day experiences. You might discover that a certain food always makes you groggy and another food energizes you. Or you might realise that you only eat a particular food when you’re anxious or only overeat when you’re sad. The goal is simply to listen, learn, and then take actions that better support your body’s needs. Wrap #2 in – sit and mindfully eat a #3- beautifully prepared plate of #1 whole foods… and you are on your way to healthy eating!
Respect your cultural heritage: This is a seemingly straightforward one but how often do we think about it. We are bombarded with overwhelming choice and a vast array of food on offer. Australia cuisine has benefited from amazing cultural diversity- introducing all of us to a variety of foods we could never have imagined all in one place! As wonderful as this is- occasionally it can be overwhelming and steer us away from what our bodies were designed to eat. For example, my Asian heritage means that I can very happily survive off bowls of rice and vegetables! There is definitely truth in the way your family and ancestors have eaten for generations and generations. When your body starts to struggle, maybe go back to basics and think about how you used to eat when you were a child.
I hope these tips encourage you to steer away from conventional calorie counting. There is a time and place for calorie counting – it isn’t necessarily the enemy. However if your goal is a healthy lifestyle, it may not be right for you. Keep nourishing your bodies and here’s hoping that the food on your plates always bring you joy.