There’s been lots of content around calories and calorie tracking in the news and on social media recently (at least there has on my feed). The announcement that restaurants will have to display the calorie content of dishes in an effort to tackle rising obesity levels in the UK has been met with a variety of reactions. Notably anti dieters have argued it could have a negative effect on some people, those with or recovering from eating disorders for example. Others have argued that, much like the super skinny waif super models of the 90s, the emphasis could have a negative impact on young people (mainly female it is generally assumed) perception of themselves.
I struggle with the anti calorie counting movement if I’m honest. That’s a slightly against the trend thing to say but hear me out.
Of course there are people for whom calorie counting is not beneficial and if your doctor or any medical professional you are seeing advises against it you should follow their advice. Nor do I advocate obsessively tracking every last morsal of food nor restricting youself in the amount of type of food you eat. I don’t believe you need to be a certain size or weight to be happy and I think you should eat what you enjoy eating, and be a meat eater, vegtarian or vegan for whatever reasons you so choose.
The fact remains however that being aware of the energy values of what you consume daily is useful.
People who are at a happy healthy weight for them probably consume about what they expend on an average day, either without thinking or conciously. People who want or need to lose or gain some weight for their health probably do not. Yes there are exceptions, but generally the majority of us are not genetic marvels, the majority of us who wish or need to change of current mass are simply eating either too much or too little.
Again, I’ll say that anyone with any form of disordered eating should seek professional advice and follow that, not what someone on the internet says, but if you are an average Joe, then being aware of the energy balance equation is likely all you need to make any changes you either need or desire.
I was flicking through some recipes the other day, there were purposefully no nutritional values given because the author wanted to promote a non diet culture. I respect that, it goes with their ethos and fits in with their values (and the recipes look lush), but I couldn’t help thinking, man it would be easier if they were provided so I didn’t need to add each ingredient into MyFitnessPal. Because for me, knowing what I’m eating is useful, it’s like knowing how much fuel is in your car rather than just driving with blind hope you’ve enough to get to your destination or paying for things without knowing how much cash is in your bank account.
I almost feel like being so against calorie counting is as much of a red flag as obsesively calorie counting. If the idea of knowing how may calories is in your food on a menu really does trigger something and stop you eating it (as opposed to heping you making an informed decision) then perhaps that is also a sign you need to look at your view of food. Because eating what the fuck you like because you enjoy food is great, but if the idea of knowing the energy number attributed to that freaks you out there’s still an issue. The goal is surely to know that sometimes you’re eating higher calorie foods but you’re just aware of your overall energy balance so allowing yourself to mainatin your energy levels, feel good and remain nurourished and healthy.
For every person who has struggled with an eating disorder where calories are a trigger word there are plenty of people that just aren’t really sure how the energy balance works. All the media coverage around diet clubs like Slimming World attest to this. Fitness professionals argument against these clubs is that they don’t properly educate people, bringing the notion of calories more to the forefront of people’s conciousness could help change that. There will be people for whom calorie counting is not beneficial, they can ignore those numbers.
In fact that’s the issue isn’t it. Almost every policy in the world will not benefit some people, but will benefit others. We need to know how to ignore things that don’t help us, to learn how to not get affected by things that we may see as opposed to be outraged that something that could benefit someone else but doesn’t benefit us is visible to us, even if it upsets us.
That isn’t saying not tracking calores is wrong or that you should track every day. It’s saying that for some people who want or need to make a change undertsanding and being aware of their consumption is vital and clouding a realtively simple process of tracking with intuitive eating, mindful eating, anti diet ideas doesn’t help them. Those concepts all work, they are all valid but if you are eating intuitively and not happy with the direction you are going in you need to retrain your intuition. When you learn something new you follow rules and methods and don’t follow intuition, eating isn’t much different in this case. If you are happy and feel your energy levels are great you can crack on with what you are doing.
The crux of the matter is calorie counting isn’t the thing that causes disordered eating. Deciding you wat to lose some weight because you’d like to or because you’ve been advised I would help isn’t the sign of disordered eating. Caloires in v. calories out is a simple fact, like gravity. The issue isn’t that it’s all the stuff we have constructed around it.