Calories, Diets and Deprivation – Oh My!

Amanda Hunter

Amanda Hunter

Much like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz (with the lions, tigers and bears), these are three words that have me cowering in fear.

Convention wisdom told us that the equation was simple.

Calories in = calories out.

What we are learning nowadays, is that not all calories are created equally.

I mean, if I was to tell you that the number of calories in a small ‘fun size’ chocolate bar was the same as banana… could you honestly say that one is as good for you as the other? I know we sometimes opt to eat the chocolate, but we know that the banana would be the better option.

Whilst I certainly don’t agree with calorie counting, it is important to understand how calories are made up and used within our bodies. It may be more beneficial to think of calories as energy to allow us to view them through the eyes of holistic health.
So, let’s go back to basics really quickly!

Calories are essentially a unit of energy contained within food.
Food is made up of three macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates and fat – which are the ‘building blocks’ for our bodies.
Each of these macronutrients has a different number of calories per gram:
  • Protein = 4 calories per gram
  • Carbohydrates = 4 calories per gram
  • Fats = 9 calories per gram
Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram but is not considered a macronutrient as it doesn’t provide energy to the body (hence the term ‘empty calories’)
Once you know the number of grams of each macronutrient within a food, you can then calculate the number of calories (energy) the food contains.
Each of the three macronutrients are required by our bodies to function in varying amounts so it’s important to deprive ourselves entirely of any particular type. The fear of fat and the ‘low fat’ movement (which was replaced with high sugars) is thankfully a thing of the past!
So, I put it to you that it’s the quality of the calories over quantity of calories that really matters!
Opt for foods which are less calorie dense such as unprocessed plant foods. This allows you to consume a larger volume of food for the same number of calories, which in turn, helps to keep you fuller for longer.
How many calories do we require each day for our bodies to function?
There is not one correct answer for this. Bio-individuality comes into play, meaning we are all unique individuals and people’s needs may differ from the recommendations.
In case you were wondering, the estimated caloric requirement for women is 1800 – 2000 per day, however, is dependent on so many factors!
Our height, weight and activity levels may seem like obvious enough determinants, but also consider the following. Our state of health will also determine our caloric requirement – for example a pregnant or breastfeeding woman will require more calories to meet her nutritional requirements, as does someone who is ill.
What stage of life is our body at and what does it require – are we growing or getting older?
Culture is another major determinant in the amount of energy our bodies require and the types of foods we can process! Our bodies are amazing things and have a genetic predisposition to better processing the foods where our grandparents were from. We live in such a multi-cultural society with access to so many foods around the world that we often forget how it was back in our grandparent’s time. Our bodies typically metabolise foods better that our grandparents ate due to our genetic make-up. So, if your grandparents came from Italy, you may find yourself attracted to the Mediterranean diet and more easily able to process gluten and pasta.
We shouldn’t be counting calories, instead we need to focus on the bigger picture!
Which brings me to my next point – diets don’t work!
Not for your body. Not for your mind.
Sure, someone may start off following a strict way of eating but what happens next? Usually after a week or two of deprivation (maybe a month if you’re really committed), you’ll have a lapse in willpower, give into your cravings and ‘fall off the dieting wagon’.
Telling someone what they can and can’t eat is ineffective. Simply put, abstinence doesn’t work. In fact, it can evolve into fear around eating certain types of foods!
Whilst some people may view dieting as a way to control an aspect of their lives. This can be a destructive type behaviour. Dieting actually forces you to put the power in someone else’ hands rather than your own body which intuitively knows what it needs.
Instead, I like to flip the thinking and see that empowerment through food choices should then enable the person to feel more confident regarding choices they may in other areas of their life!
If we deconstruct our relationship with dieting, we begin to realise – as humans we’re taught from a young age that dieting is one of the primary solutions for solving the ‘problem’ with your body. Simply cut out foods to lose weight, right? Definitely not!! Who’s to say we even have a problem with our bodies?!
We’ve also been taught to equate food with success, reward or even guilt. It’s crazy to think about the unhealthy association that food has with our state of being, rather than simply viewing it for what it is – fuel to nourish our bodies. No wonder we’ve all struggled with what to eat at one point or another!
Think back throughout your own life and your dieting history. What are your thoughts, beliefs or any memories? Is there anything that jumps out?
For example, do you connect your self-worth to your physical appearance which you control through dieting? ie I’m only successful if I am the thinnest person around?
Or do you always associate a certain type of food with feelings of love and comfort? Maybe you crave this particular food when you’re lacking in these areas in life? (ie craving cake when you’re feeling alone because you always felt loved and secure sharing cake with loved ones).
Deconstructing our relationship with food is a good start to unravelling the destructive hold that dieting can have over us.
So, what should we do?
We need to give up dieting and authentically nourish our bodies! That’s right, no deprivation
We should feel empowered in our food choices! We should look inside our hearts to determine what we need to nourish our mind, body and soul!
Feed yourself intuitively and mindfully. Take a moment to pause and think about what your body is craving and understand the reason behind it. Does you body need something in particular or is it your mind that is craving it because you are lacking in another area of your life. Don’t deprive yourself of certain foods and know that it’s about being perfect all of the time – enjoy that treat every now and again and take time to enjoy it mindfully. When you start to be more conscious about your choices and focus on adapting a more holistic approach to your eating, your metabolism will reach a steady pace and you’ll settle into your ideal weight.
Know that your preferences and requirements in terms of food aren’t static. They will change with you throughout the stages of your life. Listen to them with let your body guide you.

Amanda xx


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