Last week, I took to my soap box in an effort to show you how distorted nutrition advice can be when it comes from pretty reality stars. To further illustrate that point, I tweeted this:
— Kelly Clark, MS, RD (@thePocketRD) August 5, 2015
But I realized that it’s not enough to just roll my eyes and refute reality star Kardashley’s (real name: Ashley Iaconetti from my latest reality obsession, Bachelor in Paradise) bold and unfounded statement that “women should not be eating 2,000 calories a day”. I briefly explained how every individual woman requires a different amount of calories each day depending on her weight, height, activity level, etc. etc. But there’s a giant elephant in the room, and it needs to be addressed. This is something the public needs to know, so I’m just going to come out and say it…
…please stop counting calories.
There you have it. End of message. I believe it’s clear enough as stated, but I’ll still expand on what I mean here. We are a calorie-obsessed culture. We zero in on a single number rather than paying attention to the whole picture. We add up our calories and record them in fancy apps that tell us how many calories we’re supposed to eat in a day. We give ourselves a daily calorie allowance and make calculated withdrawals at every meal and snack. We feel guilty when we overdraw on our account. We pay a lot of money to weight loss programs in order for them to dictate how many calories we are allowed each day. Doesn’t this seem to be a little over the top?
I mean, this is getting a little ridiculous. But luckily, there’s a solution. I’m imploring all of you to adopt a calorie-free view on nutrition and focus on nutrient density instead. I guarantee you’ll feel liberated, and maybe even a little giddy.
Nutrient density tells us how rich foods are in all the good stuff – vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, healthy fat, and whole grains, to name a few. Notice I didn’t mention calories at all. Take avocado for example. Avocado is packed with fiber, vitamin C, folate and healthy omega-3 fatty acids; but one avocado boasts 322 calories. If you were strictly calorie counting, this would be off limits. You’d probably also be avoiding other nutrient-dense foods like nuts, healthy oils, seeds, and beans. You could certainly eat a sugar-free pudding for 60 calories instead, but this food doesn’t come close to the nutrient profile of avocado. Low-calorie crackers, cookies, and chips tend to be pretty low on the nutrient density totem pole. Your best bets for nutrient density are fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. That’s really all there is to it…simple enough, right? Yes, yes it is. It’s ok…put the calculator down.
So ditch the calorie counting – it’s just like a weight around your ankles made out of math. Focus on choosing nutrient-dense foods instead. Put your tracking app away, delete that Excel spreadsheet, and erase from your mind whatever number you conceived as your “required” calorie intake for the day. Most likely, you got that number out of a magazine detailing one of the Kardashians’ latest waist-slimming diets anyway. Nutrition is one giant puzzle; and I don’t know about you, but I did enough math in high school. It’s time to focus on the whole picture, not just the individual pieces.