Why I LOVE calories but don’t count them!
I went out for dinner on Friday night. It’s been a while since I had a meal out, so I don’t know if this is a new thing, but I found that all the menus now show the calories in each dish. How do you feel about that? Do you find it helpful or unhelpful?
I know I didn’t want to see the calories listed, I wasn’t interested, and I didn’t want them to sway my decision, so I tried not to look. Does it make you feel bad if you choose something that’s not the lowest calorie thing on the menu? Does it influence your decision in a good way, or perhaps in a bad way?
In my teaching at Fitfish and through the Healthy Whole and Free course, I help you to work out what choices you really want to make, why you are not making them already, and then I give you the tools to make them. It’s those choices that you, as an adult looking at the bigger picture want to make, and not the decisions you perhaps make in the moment, especially about food.
God could have made us to self-renew, to not need to eat food but instead to get everything that we need from our own bodies. Or he could have made food simpler: maybe he could have made it so we would just eat leaves, or simple pellets, available all around us, that gave us everything we need.
But he didn’t; he made all kinds of different foods. And I believe that he made food for our nourishment, for nutrition, for replenishment (because sometimes we can’t eat when we need it but afterwards, we replenish), for enjoyment and for energy. And calories, of course, come into that. Foods that don’t have calories and aren’t nutritious aren’t enjoyable and don’t offer anything. For example, sometimes I see ‘zero calorie noodles’ or ‘zero calorie pasta’, things that aren’t bringing anything to the table, and I think ‘what’s the point of those’? These kinds of foods can lead you down a strange road, where you’re trying to fill yourself up with things that aren’t good for you at all, and this can lead to quite skewed and imbalanced eating.
And the same goes for a calorie-controlled diets. There is a caveat here: sometimes you might need to lose weight for medical reasons, such as before an operation, and a medic has advised you to stick to a certain diet to do that quickly. But in the main, I believe calorie-controlled diets are like putting a sticking plaster over what’s really going on underneath. And we end up using calories as an indicator for what’s healthy, as with the menu example, where we might be led to believe that the lowest calorie item is the healthiest. But of course, that’s not true! If you want to become healthier and more balanced, looking at the calorie content of food isn’t going to help you; it’s just not what calories are or what calories aren’t.
And on a menu, calories might steer you in in the wrong direction; they might lead you to eat something you don’t really want, eating it for the sake of it, or eating it because you think you should eat it. Or it might steer you towards choices that aren’t good for you because believe it or not, some healthy, nutritious foods that are brilliant for you are also higher in calories than those that aren’t.
So, calories are not the whole picture and focusing on the numbers doesn’t help. Seeing the calories can make you feel guilty, either at the time, or afterwards. It can mask the real reasons why you’re not eating in a healthy balanced way and stop you from moving forward. And so it’s really important to work out what’s really going on underneath, why are you making choices in the moment that go against what you really want? It could be emotional eating, self-sabotage, or it’s just habits that have become what you do, and you don’t really know how to break them.
There was a time when I was on a well-known diet plan, where butternut squash counted as zero points. And so, I really overdosed on butternut squash at that point in my life. I used it as pasta, spiralizing it; I used it as mash and as the equivalent of chips and wedges. The boyfriend I was with at the time joked that I should plough my small garden and just plant butternut squash in rows and rows. And I ate so much of it that for a few years, I couldn’t even eat it at all; I just went off it completely. But because it was very low calorie and zero points, I thought it was the thing to eat. Of course, as part of a varied and balanced diet, it does have nutritional value, but it made me off balance and out of kilter, it made me eat for the wrong reasons because I thought, “well, it’s low calorie”. While its helpful to have an awareness of calories – you know that a Mars Bar doesn’t have much nutritional value and its quite high in energy – you don’t need to get so far into the detail that it affects your choices and takes away freedom.
So, what can you do instead? What if you do need to lose some weight? What if you do want to be healthier?
I recommend doing something quite loose, that encourages you to be healthier and more balanced, but doesn’t have such strict lines that will lead you into a guilt trip. You could try saying: “80% of the time I eat natural unprocessed foods, 20% the time I’ll enjoy other things”. Or you could commit to eating mainly from God’s plate, or mainly eating vegetables and then filling up with a few other things. Whatever works for you so you can see you are getting more of a healthy balance in body, spirit and soul and where food doesn’t have so much power over you.
if you’d like to find out a bit more, or if you’d like my help with some of this, I’d love to have you join us on the next Healthy Whole and Free course. It starts on Wednesday, 4th of May and runs for 12 weeks, with live teaching at 8pm every Wednesday evening. If you can’t make the live sessions, you can catch up with the recordings. You’ll get my emails and Bible passages, you’ll have access to a portal full of lots of helpful information, and you get the support of a group too. Registration is open and you can sign up here. I will help you to work out what’s going on for you, so you can move forward into freedom!