• February 7, 2023

Episode 25 – Help! I Can’t Stop Calorie Counting

Today Kiah and Meg talk all about calorie counting and how to stop calorie counting if it’s starting to rule […]

Today Kiah and Meg talk all about calorie counting and how to stop calorie counting if it’s starting to rule your life.



Before we get into it…

Our rants and raves for the week!


Rant: A popular Instagram account, who previously promoted intuitive eating, started promoting weight loss.

Rave: My Instagram has started growing more recently after changing things up a little bit.



Rant: I can’t seem to keep any of my plants alive.

Rave: We both got credentialed as Eating Disorder Dietitians.


Now to get into today’s episode topic.


Firstly, are there benefits to calorie counting?

There are some benefits of calorie counting for SOME people. These include:

  • It can help provide some objective information and understanding of what their baseline requirements are.
  • Tracking can provide motivation to meet goals and help habits stick.
  • Help provide a better understanding of nutrition


An example of when you may benefit from tracking your food for a period of time is if you have recently transitioned onto a plant-based diet. Tracking may help make sure you are meeting requirements for things like protein and iron. It can also help give you a better understanding of what foods provide certain nutrients.

We generally in clinic don’t promote calorie counting as it a huge trigger for disordered eating. In particular, there is even research that backs up links between My Fitness Pal users and disordered eating.



Red flags that calorie counting may not be a good idea for you

  • If you are someone who starts to get obsessed about numbers and what you eat.
  • If you feel out of control with your diet when you aren’t calorie counting.
  • If you feel restricted or deprived.
  • If it starts to cause black and white thoughts around food – g. “I can’t eat over x number of calories.”
  • If you regularly eat less than your calorie budget.
  • If it increases your anxiety around food – particularly if it comes to the extent that you avoid eating out and social occasions because you can’t tack it accurately.
  • If you feel guilty for eating over your set number of calories even if you are still hungry.**


**A few notes on this point – If your body is giving you an urge to eat more food, generally we need to respect or honour it. Just because an app says you need a certain number of calories each day, doesn’t make it true. In fact, these apps are often wildly inaccurate when it comes calorie requirement estimates because there are so many factors that it doesn’t take into account.



What even are calories?

Calories are a thing which seems relatively simple but actually can be quite confusing for a lot of people.


To break it down for you:

Everyday our bodies burn a certain amount of energy. This amount depends on many things like our genetics, age, biological gender and our physical activity. In order to keep it functioning, our body has to do many enzyme processes, and this burns energy. We measure this energy in calories.

Food also contains calories. These calories are in our macronutrients – protein, fats and carbohydrates. And when digested, they too provide us energy.

So, calories (kcal) are essentially a unit of energy. Or you may also see the energy in food measured in kilojoules (kJ). Kilojoules is just a different measure of energy in a similar way that centimetres and inches are both measures of distance.

Our bodies need the calories in food to give us the energy to function correctly and keep us alive and thriving.


However, things get a bit less clear when we break it down further…

Each of our macronutrients (fats, protein, and carbs, as well as alcohol) are ascribed a certain number of calories per gram. For example, carbs and protein are said to contain 4 calories per gram.

However, these amounts were identified over a hundred years ago, and nutrition science is still really not very well established. So since then, there has been some conflicting information and research that questions these amounts.

For example, there is currently a lot of questions coming up about whether the calories in alcohol are actually stored and used in the body in the same way as our other macronutrients.

Another recent study on nuts found that they actually may contain about 26% less calories than they previously thought.

This means that just because you put something into a calorie counting app, it isn’t necessarily at all accurate. In fact, in Australia the calories stated on food labels are actually allowed to be 20-25% more or less than what is actually in the food product which is a huge margin of error.


A step-by-step approach to stop calorie counting

1: If you don’t feel like you can go cold turkey and delete your calorie counting app, start by just increasing your calorie budget on the app.


2: If you are tracking every meal each day, try only not tracking one of them – ie. Track all meals but dinner.


3: To help reduce the anxiety – try incorporating some structure to your meals in a different way. For example, build your meal off the plate model where we aim for:

  • 1/3 of your plate as vegetables and/or fruits
  • 1/3 of your plate as protein rich foods
  • 1/3 of your plate as starches or grains
  • Then top with some healthy fats


4: Focus on nutrient density rather than numbers.

  • Start by focusing on getting enough of a certain nutrient – e.g. making sure you are getting enough protein or calcium or iron etc.


5: Try adding in more wholefoods and homecooked meals over packaged item.

  • When we are calorie counting, sometimes packaged foods feel safer as they have a nutrition label on the back which tell us how many calories are in it as opposed to say a homecooked meal or snack.



Other healthy habits to focus on instead of calorie counting

Disclaimer: you DON’T NEED to do ANY of these habits to be healthy if you don’t want to or they don’t align with your goals. They are just a few ideas that are more health promoting than calorie counting.


1: Add a source of protein at each meal (and most snacks)

  • These include: legumes, tofu, tempeh, fish, eggs, meat, Greek yoghurt


2: Add nourishing fats each day such as nuts and seeds, avocado and olive oil.

  • This is often a big fear food as fats are a bit higher in calories. However, even though yes, they are a bit higher in calories, they are very satiating foods and help keep us full.
  • They also help add flavour to make our meals taste good and have many important roles in the body such as hormone production and the absorption of our fat soluble nutrients like vitamins A, D, E and K.


3: Eating regularly: this means 3 meals + 2-3 snacks

  • Eating every 3-4 hours prevents becoming over hungry by your next meal.
  • When we aren’t starving by the time we get to our meal it is much easier to eat intuitively.


4: Try and include enough fruits and vegetables each day.

  • This shouldn’t be excessive or to the point where it takes up place for other important foods.
  • Tray eating 2 pieces of fruit each day and add some vegetables at lunch and dinner.


5: Focus on mindful eating

  • This is about being more present at the meal, eliminating distractions and actually enjoying the meal.
  • This can help bring us back to eating intuitively and stopping when we are full.
  • Take an attitude of gratitude – try and get as much joy as possible out of the meal. Food is amazing and can bring so much enjoyment to our lives.


6: Make sure you get enough sleep and incorporate stress management practices.

  • Stress and sleep play big roles in how we eat. For example, sleep deprivation can make us hungrier, and stress can lead to emotional eating.


7: Drink enough water

  • This might be adding small swaps like a glass of water rather than soft drink.
  • Drinking water is a habit that takes time to form.
  • Carrying a bottle of water with you and adding phone reminders to drink can help you form the habit of drinking.


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