Stop Letting Calories Tell You What to Do


I’ve been thinking a lot about calories lately.

Are they an accurate way to quantify what you’re eating?

Is counting calories worth while? Or is it just another obsessive behavior on the quest for thinness?

On the surface, counting calories is just a way of keeping track of what you’re eating.

But there’s so much more to it than that.

But why?

Is it because we were told that if we eat a certain number of calories, we’re guaranteed to lose weight? Maybe.

Calorie counting made weight loss into a mathematical formula, but the reality is that while calories (or the amount of food you eat) do count, there’s so much more to the weight loss equation than calories in and calories out.

It’s not the calories themselves that are the problem.

It’s how we think about them and interpret their worth.

What is a calorie?

A calorie is a unit of measurement, it measures the amount of energy in food.

Wilbur Olin Atwater was an American chemist who discovered what we call a calorie and its significance.  By placing food in a bomb calorimeter, he was able to measure the amount of heat given off then the food was burned. The amount of heat represents the amount of energy in the food.

Once we were able to quantify the amount of energy in food, we were able to also apply that same idea to the amount of energy we expended during exercise.

Thus calorie counting was born. The measure of calories in and calories out.

Seems so mathematical…it must work, right?

But there’s more to food than just calories.

There’s macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients) that make food what it really is: a source of nourishment.

Some of the most nutritious foods are high in calories.


Butter, coconut oil and organ meats may be higher in calories, but they’re also rich in all kinds of important nutrients like fat soluble vitamins and minerals.

As JJ Virgin likes to say “Your body is not a bank account: it’s a chemistry lab.” It’s not all about calories. It’s about the quality of food that you eat.

Yes, 500 calories of Ben & Jerry’s is the same as 500 calories of grass-fed beef.  (it’s the old “what weighs more– a pound of feathers or a pound of rocks?” thing.)

But in the long-term, eating 500 calories of grass-fed beef will leave you healthier than 500 calories of Ben & Jerry’s.

Knowing that there’s more to food than just calories, the calorie counting thing doesn’t really make sense anymore, does it?

If calorie counting doesn’t make sense, how do you keep track of what you eat?

Listening to your inner body cues.


When you’re getting your hunger/satisfaction information from somewhere other than your own inner body cues– like a little book in your pocket and a math equation–chances are you’ll never feel completely satisfied.

If you’re not counting calories, how will you know if you’re eating the right thing?

By listening to and trusting your inner body cues.

It’s not a bad thing to keep track of what you eat. 

Journaling can add mindfulness to your eating experience.

When I have a client keep a food journal,  I tell them that I don’t care so much about the quantity of food they’re eating.

I care more about what kinds of foods, and how hungry they are before and after they’ve eaten, how many hours they slept and how they’re handling stress.

To me, these are the important things.

I keep a food journal.

It’s a list of the foods I ate throughout the day followed by some comments about how I felt– if I noticed anything with digestion or energy levels.

I keep a food journal because I like to know what’s going on (I have a tendency to eat on the go). The journal helps me keep my eating mindful–it helps me pay attention to every aspect of my eating experience.

And it helps me pinpoint problem areas…when I’m having problems…like digestive issues, or energy dips.


Nix the calorie counting.

Stop letting calories tell you what to do.

Focus on letting your body tell you what to do.

Have you given up counting calories? If so, why? If not, what’s holding you back?

Feel free to share in the comments below, or email me at if you’re shy 😉

One Response to Stop Letting Calories Tell You What to Do

  1. Meghan July 11, 2013 at 8:43 AM #

    Love this! I hate when I start playing the numbers game (along with everyone else) and stop focusing on how I feel. It can become an unhealthy obsession and really doesn’t do anything positive for me.

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