Count your blessings, not your calories
I've been counting calories for a veeery long time in my life: to control my bodyweight, my appetite, my cravings.
Like so many other people I thought that weight, health and my value as a person were all closely connected. I also thought that weight was a linear function of x number of calories resulting into a certain weight. It makes sense to hold those beliefs, since everywhere we look we are bombarded with calorie information, reinforcing the idea that they are very important and the key to a healthy bodyweight. Little did I know that this is actually an outdated and potentially dangerous message.
- To start with, being skinny doesn't increase my value as a person, nor does it necessarily mean that I am healthy.
- It's not so much about calories, but about hormones. Coke zero has 0 calories and still triggers certain hormonal reactions and inflammation that trigger weight gain. Coffee has 0 calories, yet increases cortisol (stress hormone), which signals the body to increase fat storage and decrease calorie burning (negative thoughts can do the same thing!). Fat has more calories than carbs or proteins, but helps balance blood sugar and nourish important hormone-producing glands, as such helping to stabilize or even lose weight. It also is much more satiating, so overall food intake is often less.
- If people choose meals based on calories or fat grams, they might easily omit fat and go for more carbohydrate-rich dishes (carbs have less calories than fat - 4kcal vs. 9kcal per 100g). Yet excessive carbs are converted into fat and stored around the belly and the liver, where they interfere with detox and fuel inflammation rather than being available for important metabolic functions. This can happen even in thin people (they are called TOFIs, thin on the outside, fat on the inside). So we can carry excess fat while being deficient in essential fats. This deficiencies might then lead to binge eating or overeating at some later point, or simply to health problems in the long run (i.e. burnout due to nutrient depletion). Excess carbs (also from grains or potatoes) or carbs that are not balanced with proteins/fats also lead to blood sugar instability and energy crashes, which are often followed by sugar and caffeine cravings later (vicious cycle).
- Eating less calories usually only slows down metabolism (incl. calorie burning), since the body adjusts to the reduced energy supply (you might notice that by feeling cold more often for example - the heating is turned down to save energy). This changes the so-called "set-point", and if people then eat "normal" again, they gain even more weight than before. There are so many people eating very little calories or low fat and still not losing weight ...
- Calorie counting is never an exact science: Depending on the season an apple might have more or less calories. The minced meat might contain more fat today than yesterday. When eating out, we never know exactly how much fats and oils have been used for cooking. Certain foods make the body burn more calories just to digest them, then they actually provide. Furthermore, it's not just about the calories or nutrients a food contains, but how well we can actually digest and assimilate them.
- Even if I was able to know exactly how many calories I ingested, I never know exactly how many I burn. Stress of all kind, incl. fast eating, while increasing calorie burning in the short run, decreases calorie burning in the long run.
- And last but not least: Too many people are obsessed with calorie or fat counting, basically living in a "Food Prison" that controls them more than they control it. Apart from occupying important brain resources and costing a lot of energy that could be used for much more productive things (like work), this obsession is a huge stressor, and as mentioned above, stress increases fat storage and decreases calorie burning (and also increases inflammation and lowers immunity)....
Rather than trying to control our health and weight through counting calories, the real lesson to learn is that our bodies are perfectly able to self-regulate. Our only task is to provide the body with meals that are high quality and balanced from a nutritional point of view and to slow down enough to be able to listen to the signals it sends us. And then trust those signals. Then the body will only take in the calories it needs, without us having to control it. I know that's rather unpopular advice, esp. in the highly analytical world we live in, with people being used to rely on numbers, but that doesn't make it less true...
It took a long time to learn and integrate all of that myself, but eventually I managed to get myself out of this "mind-prison". I now look at food as a friend who nourishes me and keeps me alive - and no longer as my enemy who only wants to make me fat and constantly challenges my will power. I listen to my body and trust it to tell me when, what and how much I need to eat - rather than letting a number of calories determine that.
This shift in mindset is a blessing I am deeply grateful for - especially since it extends far beyond food. As such, having suffered from an eating disorder actually becomes a blessing, too, because it was the road that led me here - and even allows me to share my learnings and help others with their personal body & mind issues through my work as a holistic nutrition coach. I created a free 3 part audio series to help you break free from food prison, too.
The very first thing you can do is starting to count your blessings, instead of your calories - even if you are not at your "perfect" bodyweight or health yet!
By focusing on all the good you already have in your life and being thankful for it, you shift your mindset from negative to positive - from a place of scarcity, restriction & lack to a place of freedom & abundance.
The more you start to look for your blessings, the more you will actually notice them and the more you will invite the Universe to send even more of them your way! This is the law of attraction in action!
The easiest and most effective way to tap into this powerful energy, is by keeping a gratitude diary. Every evening take a couple of minutes to list all the things, happenings, experiences, feelings... that you are thankful for in this day. Over time, you might find that even "negative" events had a very positive consequence and thus you can list those in your diary as well, just as I would list my eating disorder!
This being said, I want to thank YOU for reading me! It is a blessing to know that someone - YOU - actually reads what I write and might even get inspired! So feel free to leave my a comment or drop me a line! Thank you ;).