On the blog
WRITTEN BY HEIDI HAUER
A calorie is a calorie, right? Yes and no… It all boils down to the important difference between theory and practice. The calorie-focussed concept follows the calorie in, calorie out rule. Which basically means, health is achieved by burning off the excess calories that we eat.
While it’s easy to assume that this approach is age-old common sense, you may be surprised to discover that it’s actually a theory based upon Isaac Newton’s theory of energy balance. This theory states that energy can’t be destroyed, only transformed.
The problem with using this concept for the human diet is that it overlooks an important factor that’s part of Newton’s theory: energy balance is only always true within an isolated system.
This means a scientifically controlled environment that is completely void of matter and external forces. This is the place where 1kg of feathers falls at an equal speed to 1kg of gold.
But in the real world... not so much.
Within our Earthly atmosphere, natural elements such as air and wind have a significant effect on the outcome. The same goes for our body. Our metabolism is like the air through which the feathers float… But human biology is not an isolated system.
If we applied Newton’s theory in its literal sense to the food we choose to eat, what we’d be claiming is that 1,000 calories of broccoli is the same as 1,000 calories of ice cream.
On an Excel sheet, this is true. In your body, it is not. Even applying common sense tells us that this common mantra of “energy in, energy out” cannot be accurate.
If you consumed only 100 calories more per day than what you burnt off, this would mean, in over 20 years, you’d be completely out of shape. This isn’t how it works.
Eating less by counting calories and moving more is not the best answer. While it can be an effective approach to short-term weight loss, in the long-run, it isn’t. It’s not the calories, but the composition of our food that is the key to successful and permanent weight loss.
Where we get our calories from makes a huge difference. Broccoli activates processes in our body in a very different way compared to ice cream. The changes in our metabolic rate, fat storage and hunger depend on the quality of our diet, not the number of calories.
Everything we eat affects our hormones, neurotransmitters, and inflammatory cytokines. These sound complex, but simply put, they are responsible for driving change in our brain function and metabolism – in every bite.
It’s the quality and nutritional level of our food that determines whether this change is positive or negative.
When we think calories above nutritional value, we run the risk of becoming nutritionally undernourished. This has nothing to do with weight. If our diet is consistently void of the full range of nutrients our body needs, we can activate biological survival mechanisms that defend against starvation.
Meaning? Our metabolism slows down and our hunger increases. This can cause us to eat more and store greater fat than we really need.
Calorie counting will always be a short term fix
Calorie counting as an approach to health will always be a transitional process, not a long-term solution.
When we calorie count, weight loss is often the goal above long-term health. When we forget this, it can be easy to imagine that our life will drastically (and forever) change once we reach the 'finish line'.
It can nurture the restrictive internal narratives that say things like "Once I lose the weight I can do XYZ".
As a Health and Wellness Coach, I know the power of feeling good within our body. But extensive experience with my own health journey and those of the people I meet tells me that diet and exercise is never the full formula for ideal long-term health.
Being ‘thin’ on its own is rarely a joyful goal. The simple mathematical equation of calorie counting can never heal or transform the very real, emotional and complex connection we have with our food and body.
This connection is a relationship, so we have to treat it as such..
Let's nurture a relationship with food that's rooted in nourishment, not lack.
When we focus on what our body needs in order to be nutritionally nourished, we totally reframe our mindset.
The food we eat becomes a loving process of giving our body what it needs. It allows us to enter into a conversation of self-care, not one of calculations and restrictions centred on the question, “How many calories am I allowed?” For the clients I work with, this is truly transformational.
Focusing on the nutritional level of food makes you feel free and abundant, not restrictive and closed off. It’s all about bringing in, not leaving out. It allows us to rebalance our often high-sugar, processed diets so our bodies can start to talk to us and tell us what we need. Instead of through the lens of addiction or cravings, our body speaks to us in a way that truly serves us. This paves the way to ‘intuitive eating’, an approach I teach and follow myself.
Reaching our own ideal weight and health ambitions become natural by-products of intuitive eating, not obsessive ‘end-goals’. This relationship-centred approach allows us to honor our individual body and draw upon the other aspects that deeply affect our health and happiness, such as our lifestyle, work and relationships with others.
It stops us from postponing joy after an achievement and truly works to build positive connections to our food and body that are empowering, not self-depreciating.
This is where the magic happens. We arrive at a state of being where health, happiness and deep fulfillment become a natural part of our lives.
If you are feeling called to to access individualised support and advice about your health and nutrition, I offer a 90-minute consultation. Please click here for further information.