In a recent social media post I made it clear that I believe calorie counting, for many is an unhealthy practice. To be honest, I was surprised by the number of medical professionals that showed their support. There was of course the messages that showed their… not support. This post is to clarify my view point, show how/why I’ve built it, and hopefully offer some needed guidance to those looking for nutrition advice.
Far too often the first nutrition question I get asked is: “How many calories should I eat a day?” Starting in 2012 during consults, when the person I was sitting with would ask about calories I would ask them if they knew what a calorie was. Roughly 1% of the population knows. The subsequent conversation goes like this:
Me: “Do you know what a calories is?”
M: “Ok, what is it?”
P: The “umm”s & “err”s fill the air.
For the record, its the measurement of energy it takes to heat one gram of water one degree Celsius.
But here’s the thing… The healthiest people in the world don’t count calories… Did you hear that? People who see their plates the way Neo sees the matrix just screamed “You mutherfucker!” at me all at once. (Oh well, I always felt like a uniter.) But its true. Now, many may want to point to their favorite Insta Fitspo hashtagger, games athlete, or sponsored influencing calorie counter as a beacon of health but they’re most likely wrong. I’ll give you that they’re fit. As “fit” denotes that they are conditioned to perform well at X task; get likes, perform athletically, and sell you products, respectively. But are they healthy? Maybe (and that’s a big maybe). One of the healthiest in the world? Not likely.
If you’re looking to find the healthiest people in the world, look to the blue zones. These are the sections of our globe where the population lives full, active lives with the highest percentage over the age of 100. Allow me to repeat the key words there: active lives… over 100. These centurions are as active and capable in their 90s and beyond as most Americans are in their 20s. And they were found to be fulfilling lives too. Deep with purpose, real social engagement, and vitality. Compare this to your average American senior. They’re out living everyone on the X and the Y axises. While they all had some things in common, counting calories wasn’t in the mix… at all.
They did, however have a good relationship with food. But what the hell does that even mean? Let’s look at it this way; What does a healthy relationship with sex look like? (Stay with me here) Late nights with no info on the source? As much as possible as fast as possible? Cheap & easy? You’re not agreeing with any of these, right? Its OBVIOUS that these are unhealthy traits, right? OK, how about these; Sex by tally? Stroke count? Score of any type? Those can be great ways to identify a problems, for sure. But using it as a method to guide action quickly becomes a world of “have tos” & “can’t do’s”. It creates scarcity mindset and only highlights failure.
On the flip side, a healthy relationship is knowing where it’s coming from, cultivating its production, adding the spice that brings the flavor you’re looking for and BAM! You have a meal! … Oh… we’re you still thinking about sex? Get your mind (and your food) out of the gutter.
Furthermore, Dr John Berardi of Precision Nutrition studied the success rates of adherence to nutrition changes. Participants were given 1, 2, or 3 changes to make in their eating over 30 days. The group with 1 assigned change had a 55% success rate after 30 days; the group with 2 changes dropped to 15% and the group with 3 was below 1% success rate. Meal plans do. not. work. And any plan built around a measure that the follower doesn’t understand?… If I were a betting man…
Look, you wouldn’t plan a cross country trip by feet traveled. You would drive to check points along the way and enjoy the trip. So do that. And you wouldn’t pack it up and head home if/WHEN you make a wrong turn, right? So don’t do that either. Make a note, take the lesson and get back on your journey.
So here’s the deal; focus on actions and make them good habits. You don’t need to buy all your groceries direct from the farmer, but there’s probably a farmer’s market near you where you can get some much better choices and support your local community. You don’t need to cook every one of your meals, but if you don’t know how to cook, there are services that will deliver ingredients to your door with “Cooking for dummies” level instructions. If you’re already doing some of that, try growing your own food. You don’t need to grow all of it, but starting a garden is not a bad idea. It may sound daunting, but that’s also an activity that can bring a couple/family closer together. How’s that for a healthy a relationship… with food?
Food for thought.