The Calorie Mentality

When browsing the website recipes, you will find one word is noticeably absent: Calories.

The primary focus of STUFFED is to help others understand food and how it can be used to generate energy to live. Therefore, tossing the word aside is seemingly foolish. It appears I am choosing to neglect the nuts and bolts of what is deemed the key to achieving weight loss: balancing calories burned with calories ingested.

On the contrary, I am embracing a different approach. I continue to encourage this balance, but am deciding to take away the calorie’s starring role in the equation.

The calorie is the globally known unit of measure that identifies how much energy-producing value a food has. So, why I am I being so harsh on it? Simply stated, balancing your calories does not solely equal good nutrition, and there is much more to a calorie than what meets the eye (or in this case, stomach).

I do not despise the concept of calorie “awareness.” Words like this, as well as mindfulness, are trending among the nutrition world. I’ll admit, despite their “kumbaya” overtone, I believe their concepts to have imperative value.

I find this awareness necessary, in order to get a ballpark idea of the amount of energy you are giving your body to deal with. Undeniably, the saying “too much of a good thing” rings true. However, often I have seen counting calories embody the end-all-be-all of a diet plan. If 1,989 calories are consumed, one wouldn’t dare eat 35 calories coming from 10 grapes that would surpass their 2,000 allotment.

Realistically, a 2,000 diet plan could look like this:

            Breakfast: Medium Cappuccino with sugar, apple crumb donut (710 kcal)

            Lunch: Fried fish filet sandwich, small serving French fries (620 kcal)

            Dinner: 2 cups macaroni and cheese, 20oz Soda Pop (640 kcals)

            Snack: 6 jelly beans (24 kcals)

Grand total for the day: 1,994 kcals. Within the goal, and 6 calories left to spare! However, as a dietitian, a small part of me cringed inside typing this because it is all too real. Noticeably lacking: vitamins, minerals, fiber, and many more of their healthful friends.

Additionally, I hate to burst a calorie-counter’s bubble, but after meticulously calculating the calories ingested for the day, the odds of that number accurately reflecting the exact consumption are low. There is a reason the calories listed are rounded off to the nearest 5th or 10th. They are estimates.  

Google calories in a banana. What pops up on the top of the screen is “105 calories” followed by the description of the size of the banana that this number would pertain to. Honestly, how many bananas are exactly 7-7.5 inches in length.

What truly troubles me, is the negative connotations the meek yet mighty calorie has gathered. By counting calories, suddenly food is something to be feared or immediately rid of. The word has morphed into the driving force for an obesophobic environment.  Eat a 200-calorie cookie; you must do aerobics for 30 minutes to burn it off. It is a vicious mind game, and one that I don’t have time to bother with. Enjoy that cookie, but understand that it is a treat, not nourishment.

Here’s my challenge: eat a food because you know it is good for you. Think of what the food will do FOR you, not TO you. Eat slowly. Listen to your body. Read labels, but don’t stress over them. In fact, go for foods without labels (these tend to be fresh produce). Exercise because you like the feeling your muscles have after. Move because you want to age gracefully.


**To learn more about calories, I highly recommend the following article. It tackles many of the truths and myths surrounding food and its caloric value. The author is Ryan Dunn, a science writer and biologist at North Carolina State University. It is an excellent synopsis of why a disproportionate amount of emphasis is placed on "calorie counting" when speaking about health and nutrition.