how to keep a food diary

On A Personal Note: Why You Should Still Count Calories

Lately I’ve noticed a re-occurring mantra that has been predominately within the Real Food (and especially) within the Paleo communities. That mantra: you shouldn’t count calories but rather, focus on eating real food. Here’s why I disagree and why counting calories has not gone the way of the dinosaurs.

The Stop Counting Calories Mantra

For years we’ve heard the mantra that we should be aware of our calorie consumption and how many calories we’re taking in versus how many we’re taking out. Lately there has been quite a bit of push back to the mainstream ideology. The idea is that it’s more complicated than a calories in to calories out ratio – nutrient density also factors in.

Here’s a few examples of the stop counting calorie mantra:

At a city hospital here in San Diego they’re featuring a class titled, “Does Calorie Counting Really Work” with an emphasis on eating real food.

And from the web just doing a simple search on Google:

stop counting calories

stop counting calories

stop counting calories

stop counting calories

stop counting calories

You can see the reoccuring theme…. Although I must admit:

The Stop Counting Calories Group Does Have It Right

About one thing at least. People should eat real food. There’s nothing arguable about that notion. Nutrient density with foods is always a good thing. With that said, I firmly believe there is a lot to benefit from counting calories at least once in your life.

Why You Should Still Count Calories

Chances are, if you’re big into eating real food or big into the Paleo movement, there’s no need for you to count calories. My bet is that most of you are pretty aware of portion size and what’s in your food.However, as a healthcare provider, the majority of people that need our help and advice when making lifestyle changes aren’t as aware of food and portion sizes to begin with – and this is why I still think that for the average person, one needs to be aware of what food is really worth. For one, actually showing something what a potato (or french fry, cupcake, 8oz portion of steak, or you name it) can give someone something tangible if they’re trying to make dietary changes.

Other Benefits Of Counting Calories

Even if one is pretty aware of food intake, there’s another population of people that should count calories at least once: athletes. Trying to reach a specific target weight? You need to know how much you’re eating. Trying to reach a new level of strength, endurance, or power? Maybe if you knew the balance of food you were taking in, you might be able to reach through your plateaus.

Counting Calories Shouldn’t Be Something You Do Forever:

You should never have to stress out about counting calories. Life is simply just too short for that. If you have never counted calories before, here is what I recommend: try counting calories for two weeks. Stick with whatever your normal dietary routines are. You might learn two important things:

1. How much food you’re actually taking in
2. An understanding of general portion sizes

Even if you’re a Real Foodist, the calories you’re taking in are much more beneficial for your body than say a McDonaldist, but, I still think it’s important to know roughly how much of every macronutrient you’re getting.

Personal Experience Calorie Counting

From time to time I’ve calorie counted for streaks of about a week or so. Each time I learn some important things. I consider myself a recreational athlete where I keep fit to surf. I love building strength and I also do the occasional mud run from time to time. I’ve documented my thoughts on why it’s good to keep a food diary and things I’ve learned from doing so. Also, if you need resources for keeping track of your calories I’ve outlined a list of what I consider the the best food journal sites out there.

What are your thoughts on counting calories? Yay? Nay? If you’ve done it what have you learned?


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