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How calorie counting can backfire

Life is short and precious, sometimes (very) difficult but full of simple pleasures. What is better then sitting with people you love and sharing a beautiful meal? A table filled with colourful, natural foods made with of my greatest joys!

Unfortunately, many people have disconnected from their ability to relax in such an environment. Instead of seeing vibrant nourishment emanating from the food, they see numbers. They worry and try to estimate the calorie content of the dishes and wish they had came packaged, so that the label could tell them what they were eating. It is a negative, stress ridden comfort zone to be stuck in. On this nutritional plane the food's worthiness is defined by it's calories, not it's nutrient density. A bit like a person's self worth being tied up in the numbers on the weighing scale instead of being in touch with how they feel. Is this how we're supposed to live? Does it even work? And if it does work for some people, what's the cost?

One of my main goals in realigning people to a healthy, mindful attitude to food is to enable the development of a higher relationship with eating; letting go of a focus on calorie counting is often part of this. One of my favourite ways to achieve this is through positive dietary displacement.

Positive dietary displacement is something I like a patient to learn through practice (I don't often tell them that I am practicing it). It can be a truly awakening experience. It goes like this: we live in this strange society where we have a tendency to feel self destructive when things haven't turned out as we wished. If we have become overweight, we talk to ourselves (and each other) about alllllll the things we are going to remove from our diet. We restrict, we deny, we entertain the idea of willpower as the ultimate force in creating dietary success. How negative is that? Just thinking about it makes me want to eat a pie. It doesn't work. How about thinking in the opposite way?

I like it like this: Over Christmas (or whenever) we went a bit out of balance with respect to how much actual nutrition we were giving ourselves. We ate a lot of energy dense foods (calories) but perhaps not enough nutrient (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants etc) dense foods. Let's work on adding in as much nutrient dense food as possible: intact grains, nuts, seeds, fruit, vegetables, oily fish etc.

Instead of thinking about all the things you can't have, start eating all the things you should have to enable a healthy body and mind: count nutrients not calories. This method will automatically create a displacement of most processed food from the diet. The nuts will replace the cereal bar which boasted about how few calories (but not how much crap) it contained. The fruit will replace the fruit flavoured diet yogurt which was as satisfying as eating polystyrene. The beans, rice and greens will replace the soggy, overpriced sandwich which was made with no love at all. You will feel the love in the food, and oooops, all by itself your weight and health has improved to more optimal levels. How fun!

Calories are not created equally: the human body does not burn energy with the efficiency of a bunsen burner. Many, many factors effect how many calories are absorbed from food into the bloodstream. The oversimplification of how calories work in the human body has created unbelievable levels of stress to countless people. Almond calories do not digest like haribo calories. Beyond the numbers, eating a diet of 2000kcal of 'food-like-products' will generate behaviours which further deny the body positive dietary displacement, whereas 2000kcal of nutrient dense foods will push a person further towards a higher plane of conscious and happy eating (generating health).

Food-like-products (e.g. diet 'foods', processed 'foods') are much more likely to cause blood sugar spikes, which promote inflammation and fat storage (worsening disease processes). They degrade, rather then build, health and vitality. They do not provide a sense of satiety (fullness/satisfaction) causing an incessant craving for more food - promoting obsessive thoughts about food (person then thinks they have an issue - lowering self worth - when really they are just hungry for nutrients! - more self destructive eating ensues). They also lower our energy levels causing more cravings for a quick sweet hit. And so on.

It can be helpful to know the average calorie content of certain foods, but detailed calorie counting is not a good practice for a happy, sensual and connected life. It can be helpful to know a lot of things but not to the point of allowing it to disturb inherent instincts we were born with. In this case, reconnecting to eating foods from nature, as close to how nature made them, is the best route - for us and our planet.

Happy week to you all :-)



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