Before I kick off this post, I want you to understand that when I say ‘The Problems with Calorie Counting’, I am referring to the only reason I ever counted calories, and that was to avoid eating too many of them. It was a pattern of behavior that plagued me throughout my modelling career and looking back, this is where all of my health problems started and where I constantly see so many others go wrong.
My first calorie counting mission began after reading a glossy magazine special on how to achieve the infamous body of a Victoria’s Secret model. As all glossy magazines do, they made the transformation look incredibly simple, complete with easy at home workouts and a restricted 1200 calories per day diet. At an impressionable age, that’s all it took for me to adopt this way and life and from that moment on, each and every day became consumed by calories. Whilst I always thought I was ‘healthy’, what eventuated was a whole host of health problems that can be attributed to my diet and lifestyle at that time. Having spent a long time repairing the damage I caused whilst struggling to flip my mindset on its head, in no way am I an advocate for calorie counting, and today I discuss why.
#1. YOU END UP EATING MORE PROCESSED FOOD
In order to fit as much “food” into my 1200 calorie day, I found myself eating a whole bunch of processed foods completely devoid of nutrition. This is where a lot of my problems started and where I see so many others go wrong.
When it comes to calorie counting, many of us are less likely to grab a banana (79 calories) than a low-fat, no added sugar, artificially sweetened, calcium enriched, vitamin d fortified (getting the picture?) cheesecake flavoured tub of yoghurt (89 calories). Why? I believe there are two reasons:
- Because you can have your ‘cake’ and eat it too, it’s yoghurt that tastes like cheesecake after all (looking back, this makes me cringe at the thought of how many chemicals they used to get it tasting this way without literally adding any cheesecake!)
- Because I was lazy. I knew that I wouldn’t have to whip out my phone and size up my banana (was it considered a small banana or a medium sized banana?) in order to make my calorie count accurate. When we eat processed foods, the calories are conveniently printed on the packaging and we don’t have to think (clever right?).
What we fail to realise is that when we count calories, we don’t see that a banana hosts a range of nutritional benefits like that of vitamins B6, vitamin C, folate, magnesium, potassium, fibre and antioxidants. We don’t see the bio-active compounds present in the banana playing a role in overall health. We don’t see that the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of an incredible number of health conditions including cancer… all we see is 79 calories. This is a big problem.
#2. YOU AVOID ALL FAT, EVEN THE HEALTHY KIND
Carbohydrates and protein have 4 calories per gram, while fats have more than twice as much — an entire 9 calories per gram. As you can imagine, in order to squeeze as much as I could into my daily calorie limit, I would skip any kind of fat and get a whole lot more bang for my buck elsewhere. Fat as we know is essential for good health, it helps build hormones, brain cells, it provides us with energy, it helps us assimilate vitamins… the list goes on. Without them I was in a constant state of brain fog, hormonal imbalance, energy deprivation and nutrient deficiency. We need fats and calorie counting lead me to believe otherwise.
#3. THE LIST OF INGREDIENTS BECOMES OBSOLETE
When we are calorie counting, we often get so excited at the fact we have found a low calorie alternative to an old ‘high calorie; favourite that we skip the list of ingredients all together. As a result, we fail to see the chemical concoction the manufacturers have added to the mix and as such, we fail to realise that this low calorie alternative isn’t a healthy option at all. What I wish someone had told me was that these nasty chemicals added to these low calorie foods not only cause a whole host of health problems, they also added to weight gain, brain fog, lethargy…. the list goes on.
#4. YOU STOP LISTENING TO YOUR BODY
When we start counting calories, we stop listening to the message our body is trying to tell us, instead we convince ourselves that even though we are craving salty foods, creamy foods or sweet foods, celery sticks are always going to be the answer. Our body communicates it’s needs to us in a number of ways and cravings can often be the first signs of malnutrition (yes, there is an underlying reason to your cravings). When we ignore those cravings, we ignore those nutrients that our body is screaming out for. As time goes on, our state of malnutrition only gets worse and we end up with a whole host of problems we wouldn’t have had if we just listened to our body in the first place.
#5 IT BECOMES ABOUT WILL POWER WHEN IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE
After a few days of calorie restricting, it is common for those subtle cravings for various foods turn into violent states of ‘hangry’ (a state of anger caused by hunger). This is when we believe we are testing our will power. We create a mental tug of war: do we or don’t we treat ourselves?
As women it tends to get a whole lot worse, we start to berate ourselves, feelings of guilt, fear of missing out, fear of appearing anti-social at the dinner table… the list goes on. All of these feelings start to present themselves in ways we never imagined all because we are committed to a calorie limitation. In a state of desperation, we turn to those magazine tear outs of sexy Victoria’s Secret models that we plastered all over our fridge or i-phone back screen in the search of motivation, but all we can think about is giving in. Ever gone to meet a friend for lunch and try so hard to engage in a conversation, but all you can think about is whether or not you should eat the food on your plate? What if I told you it didn’t have to be this way?
When you eat real, whole foods you consume enough nutrients (and calories) for your body to run effectively. This system triggers your hormones to transmit a signal to your brain saying, “You can stop eating now. I’m well nourished. I have got what I need to run optimally”. At that point, you no longer need will-power. You no longer think about food 24/7 and you gain a whole new perspective on what it really means to be healthy. After years in the modelling industry, it took me awhile to completely understand this, but once it clicks, you never ever look back.
Do you count calories? Have you counted calories in the past? What are you thoughts?