What are Calories and Should We be Counting Them?
A calorie is the unit measure we use to determine the amount of energy that is in the foods we consume. Calories help you perform everyday tasks like walking, thinking, and breathing. It is common for society to judge the health of foods based on the amount of calories that are in them. An apple has about 95 calories, a 4oz steak has 307 calories, and your average protein bar would have about 200 calories.
Now knowing the calories content in these foods, do you feel informed about the health and nutrition value of each item?
Calories simply communicate a numerical value about the food you eat and should not be the sole determinant when selecting nutrient rich meals that will keep you satisfied and fueled for the day ahead. Counting calories is an organized approach to nutrition that some people prefer to use in order to stay on track with their goals. Although it can be a helpful method when beginning to inform oneself about nutrition and wellness, it is a task that is difficult to maintain and there are many factors to consider when deciding if tracking calories would be beneficial for you.
Factors Influencing Accuracy
Yes, tracking calories can aid in maintaining one's weight by only taking in the amount of calories you burned throughout the day or help one lose weight through a slight calorie deficit. When tallying these values it can get tricky and the results that the fitness apps are notifying you should be seeing by now, are not always the reality you may be experiencing. Precisely counting calories consumed or calories lost throughout the day can be made difficult due to the numerous variables manipulating the total.
Factoring Influencing the Accuracy of Tracking Calories:
- Inaccurate gym equipment
- Inaccurate fitness watches/ devices
- Inaccurate calorie reporting on labels/ restaurant menus
- Having to guess the calorie content on unlabeled items
- Inaccurate guess of what kind of food consumed or portion size
Even for those who have a very routine schedule, it is not often that you do the same exact thing everyday. The number of steps we take, hours of sleep we get, amount of food we eat, or number of days we make it to the gym tend to vary day to day. The variation of each day corresponds to a variance in calorie needs. Monday could have been a busy day where you needed to rely on more fuel to keep you going compared to your relaxed Sunday where you got to stay home with your family most of the day. Having a calorie set point you try to meet each day can often leave you under or over fueled depending on the type of day you had. Intuitively listening to your body’s natural hunger cues will usually provide you exactly what you need.
Quality NOT Quantity
Calories from different food groups are processed differently and utilized by the body for specific functions. Macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fats) require separate amounts of energy to be digested and the digestion itself occurs in various locations of the body. Our body’s have a lot more to consider aside from calorie content when deciding how to make use of the food we eat in the most efficient way possible.
All calories are not created equal.
Say you have 400 calories in your imaginary calorie bank. With this “budget” you could get a can of coke (140kcal), a small bag of potato chips (160kcal), and with 100 kcals left you could either get the sandwich meat or the bread… you probably won’t have enough for both. Also with a 400 calorie budget you could have a 4oz chicken breast (186 kcal), 1 cup squash (19kcal), 1 medium sized baked potato (163kcal), and have enough left over for ½ cup of strawberries and whipped cream for dessert. Both meals add up to around 400 calories… but one would probably leave you quite hungry and dissatisfied after eating.
When deciding what foods we want to incorporate into our meals, the focus should be on quality not quantity.
The first meal is very high in added sugar and sodium while providing little vitamins, minerals, or fiber. The second meal includes many more whole foods that are high in protein, fiber, antioxidants, and nutrients such as Vitamins A and B6. When choosing whole foods through Pure Plates meal delivery service, the volume of food you can achieve compared to high processed foods is substantial. When putting yourself on a calorie budget, you should at least get the most bang for your buck.
The Cost of Calorie Counting
There are many possible consequences to counting calories and it may not be weight loss. Tracking calories can trigger unhealthy habits such as restrictive/ disordered eating, anxiety, and stress. The desire to accurately fit a day’s worth of food into your self allotted number of calories can quickly become a compulsion that can affect many areas of your life.
Maybe you can no longer enjoy meals out with loved ones because the food is harder to track and constantly having to calculate your calories can cause more stress than bring relief. With these constraints around your food, meal time can become an anxiety inducing period of your day. Food, nutrition, and overall wellness are all things to be enjoyed and help you be your best self.
You can even further better your life by reducing stress and anxiety around meal prepping and healthy eating by choosing a meal prep service that helps to prepare whole foods for you, like Pure Plates.
Trust your Gut
The number of Calories offers only a small portion of information that does not provide the full value and health each food has to offer. There is still room for Fitness trackers, smart watches, and mobile applications to be used as wellness tools in one’s life, but should be used as support rather than the dominant decision makers. Paying attention to our own body’s wants and needs first and foremost will usually leave us feeling the best. Focusing on mindful eating, variety, and consistency are practices that provide much more value than the number on the back of the box.
Choosing a meal delivery service like Pure Plates can help you do all of the above. Plus the meals are delicious!