Photo from US Department of Health and Human Services https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm423082.htm
Want to completely zap the joy from eating? Then try focusing on calories. There are plenty of apps and websites to help you do just that. Or, simply glance at the menu or the product label. Calorie information is NOT hard to find… which must mean it’s pretty important to know these numbers right? Not so fast!
Let’s set the record straight: Calories DO matter.
A steady stream of excess calories is NOT healthy in terms of diabetes risk and weight management. BUT here is the funny thing… studies have found that the best way to control calories is to avoid counting them! As it turns out, we humans are far better at self - regulating our food intake (and therefore our calories) by eating whole, real foods. Heavily processed food items on the other hand, such as packaged carb based “snacks”, fast food, most boxed cereals, “helper” meals, etc. seem to promote over-eating. A 2015 University of Michigan study was the first to actually identify qualities of certain heavily processed foods which seemed to promote addictive eating / over-eating in some people. More recently, a Stanford University study published in JAMA in February 2018 reinforced the value of dietary quality (over calorie counting).
Reasons NOT to Focus on Calorie Counting:
1. Sticking with a strict calorie level doesn’t allow for mindful eating.
The meal is over when the arbitrary calorie level has been met. Never mind that you are still hungry!
Instead of counting calories, try sitting at the table (with NO electronics) and slowly savoring each bite of delicious food. STOP eating when comfortably satisfied.
2. Counting calories can promote a dieting mentality. The guilt that comes with exceeding the “calorie goal” is especially unhealthy for kids and teens.
The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly supports an overall healthy lifestyle…NOT “dieting” or calorie counting.
3. Meeting a certain calorie goal does NOT guarantee a balanced and healthy diet. It is quite possible to remain within the specified calorie range while eating only heavily processed, factory produced food items.
Instead of choosing meals and snacks based on calories, eat REAL food that actually tastes good and satisfies. For example, the 164 calorie serving of almonds is a WAY better choice than the 120 calorie bag of baked chips!
Jenny Favret, MS, RD, LDN
Nutritionist, Duke Pediatrics Healthy Lifestyles Program