The Case for Calories
Updated: Mar 1
Why tracking calories for periods of time can help you build health, freedom, and results
We've gotten both positive and negative feedback from calorie content in the past. Sometimes calories can be viewed in a negative light because of the stigma that surrounds it. However, just like anything in life, if you do it wrong it won't be beneficial. If you squat, deadlift, or press wrong you could get hurt. Does that mean we shouldn't engage in resistance training? Of course not. The same logic applies to calories and calorie counting. If we approach it with obsessive tendencies it can lead us further away from nutritional freedom. However, if we view it correctly through the right perspective and take action steps that help us align with freedom then it is by far the most powerful tool in our tool box. During this blog, I want to help address the power of tracking calories and how it can help you build results, health, and freedom.
First off, I understand that losing weight is multifactorial. There seems to be two camps when it comes to calories. The first camp overvalues calories and thinks it's the ONLY thing that matters. The second camp undervalues calories and ONLY thinks food quality matters. The reality of the situation is it is both. In fact, if you ever meet or work with a nutrition coach that thinks in absolutes it's usually a red flag. Nutrition is multifactorial and we need to have a healthy, wide view on PRINCIPLES. Once we understand principles we can then individualize it to specific lifestyles. From a principle perspective, energy balance (caloric intake) accounts for 70-80% (if not more) of weight manipulation. The quality of the food you eat accounts for either the fat loss or muscle gain of the weight manipulation. Personally and professionally, I have found that people spend their limited energy and will power on splitting 'wellness hairs' instead of hyper focusing on the few big principles that truly make the difference. This only leads to frustration, inconsistency, and yo-yo dieting. Okay now that we have some context let's dive into the case for calorie tracking.
Calorie tracking is only meant to be used as a method to build awareness. Awareness into something we call the Principle of Energy Balance. Simply put, this states in order to stay the same weight we need to input the same amount of energy (calories) that we output. If we want to lose weight we need to input less than we output. If we want to gain weight we need to input more than we output. This isn't complicated. We all have an individualized output number determined by metabolism and several other factors involved with our daily lifestyle. Once we understand that number, all we have to do is manipulate our input calories and align it with our specific goal. Counting calories is meant to build awareness around what this number looks like, feels like, and flows like inside of our daily lifestyle. Read that again.
Once we understand the end goal we can align ourselves with this proper perspective. In other words, we are not meant to track calories for the rest of our lives. We are not meant to be super compulsive and rigid when it comes to tracking calories throughout the entire year. Instead, we are to use it as a tool and have short periods of time where we can harness and build this skill. Just like performing any other skill in life (snatch, basketball, public speaking etc) it takes time and repetition. Once you have done it enough, it helps you build awareness into the right caloric level for your specific goals. This eventually leads to something called "Intuitive Eating". Essentially, being able to eat at a caloric level that supports your healthy goal without actually having to track calories.
*side note: if you have a history of bad relationships with food, disordered eating, or eating disorders reach out to a professional in that specific field as calorie counting is not a tool to use in these specific cases.
2.) Budgeting Energy
For some reason, calorie counting has gotten a bad reputation in the past which has always been curious to me. If you were having financial problems and you went to a financial advisor they would tell you to create a budget. Anyone that says otherwise would seem crazy right? Inside this budget would be what your income and outgo. When you have this "awareness" you can work towards building a favorable financial position. This is the same EXACT principle when it comes to counting calories, it's your energy budget. We need to understand our energy budget so we can create the right environment for our goals. This discipline is not a bad thing but rather a good thing. When you track your budget for a while you don't need to be as intense and dialed in because you understand the ball park figures and numbers. The same thing when it comes to tracking calories. You only need to be tracking intensely for a short period of time in order to build that skill. Once you have that skill you shift from intense to intentional and find a sustainable approach that allows life to ebb and flow.
Tracking calories actually helps you build healthy relationships with food and empowers you to enjoy food. Hear me out. When you have the right balance between eating 80% whole foods inside of your calorie budget you have 20% of those calories saved for your favorite treat meals such as ice cream, cookies, and cake. As long as you are following the Principle of Energy Balance you will still reach your goals while enjoying these foods. This helps build confidence and enjoyment when it comes to vacations, social outings, and holidays since you aren't demonizing certain foods resulting in the reduction of the stress, shame, guilt, and anxiety that so many of us carry around when it comes to certain nutrition choices.
This is exactly why I wrote our e-book called The Nutrition Baby Steps. My motivation was to bring people to a state of freedom with their nutrition instead of bondage created by misinformation and nutrition companies using biased studies to help sell their products. We take people through a series of steps that helps build this awareness through habits, calories, tools, tactics, and systems. Once we have created some progress and awareness we can then wean off of the intensity and settle into a sustainable, intentional, lifelong rhythm. I feel like a broken record for saying this in every blog but nutrition should be something that enhances your life. Take a minute tonight and really meditate on this. Is your nutrition bringing something into your life or is it taking something away? Do you enjoy it or is it a source of guilt, anxiety, and stress? Maybe it's time to reach out and start the process of prioritizing your health in 2023. Before we end this blog, I want to share a few resources with you. The first of which being our Nutrition E-Book (below).
This E-Book has the steps and knowledge to help you start creating the awareness that will lead to nutrition freedom. The second thing I want to encourage you with is our nutritional services at Sundown. Our goal is to champion you into the best version of yourself. Remember, your best is yet to come!