Should We Count Calories? And how many do we really need anyway?

Oh boy, this topic…seriously?! Why would I even write about this?? The thought of it makes me roll my eyes. BUT! Believe it our not, this issue is still an issue, and it’s STILL confusing for many people. So I feel it is my duty to set some things straight.

(Most of the information below is geared toward women specifically.)

I’m a big advocate of food quality, NOT quantity. Meaning it matters more that you actually eat real whole food than it does your total caloric intake. I’m sure by now everyone should understand that a calorie is not a calorie. 100 calories worth of cookies does not have the same effect on the body that 100 calories of broccoli or grass fed beef does. RIGHT? So without even looking at how much food you’re eating, if you went from a Standard American processed diet, to eating 100% unprocessed foods you cooked in your own kitchen, you’d notice a HUGE change. You would most likely lose fat and have way more energy. SO, why bother even looking at calories if you’re feeling great and losing weight? Exactly! You don’t need to, you could easily just stop there. But…let’s say you plateau in your fat loss, or you decide to start training heavily for a marathon or weight lifting, or perhaps things feel a bit “off”, this is when we may need to dig a bit deeper.

It’s at this moment where I’d say we should start tracking things. This is really important to note: until you have consistently established a whole food based diet, tracking your calories is a waste of time! If this is you, go back and work on food quality first! Then start plugging your food into an app such as MyFitnessPal, or just google search each food, and get an idea of how much you’re eating. Do this consistently for a few days to get an average look at what you’re consuming. It is still shocking to me that women are aiming for 1200-1500 calories per day. Did you know that just to maintain basic metabolic function (i.e. sitting like a lump on the couch while your organs do their thing) takes a whopping 1200-1500 calories?!! Of course this depends on your age, sex, activity level, etc. But think about it, if people are consuming the same amount of calories as their BMR (basal metabolic rate) how do they expect to FUNCTION in daily life? How do you expect to have energy to play with your kids, go to the gym, take a walk, laugh, think, or wash the dishes?

Suggesting a number is risky because there are so many variables involved. But let’s say you’re an average female who is active/busy/working/taking are of kids/stressed out/etc, you should be aiming for 2000-2500 calories. That number may be shocking to many and seem very high, but I promise you it’s not. And quite frankly it’s easy to reach. I never understood how women can say “But I can’t eat that much!”. Seriously, give me license to eat more and I’m ALL over it, LOL. That being said, it’s also important to remember that we are all individuals and there is no one right answer here. You really must listen to your body and go by its cues. You may need only 1800, or you may need 2700. Your number is as individual and personal as your height or your bra size, and it will fluctuate over your lifetime. The amount you need in your 30’s will be very different from what you need in your 70’s.

So the bottom line here is that calories don’t really count, but they do still matter. Obsessing about how many calories are in something is missing the bigger picture. Instead, look at the quality. Is it packed full of vitamins, minerals, fibre, and antioxidants? How much sugar is in it? Is it a whole food? Does it contain rancid and damaged fats? Can you read and understand the ingredients? These are more important than the caloric value. From there, we can look at totals. Because yes, even on a healthy whole food plan it is possible to be eating way too much, or way too little for your body. So take a few days and measure everything, write it down, enter it into a program, and see what comes up. You may be surprised!

 

One last thing. Tracking and number crunching is VERY time consuming and not entirely accurate. So please don’t get stressed and obsessive about doing it. Like I said, if you want to know, just track for a few days to get an idea, and then leave it alone. Most people do not need to do this on a regular basis, if at all. Start with a healthy whole food plan and go from there.

If you would like to dive in a bit deeper with your nutrition plan, check out my nutrition coaching services.

In Strength & Wellness, Krista

P.S. Stay tuned for the next blog post where we will cover the ins and outs of tracking macronutrients – proteins, fats, and carbs!