For years of my life, I was obsessed with calories. [Read more about there here.]
I didn’t understand how the body works. I would constantly be on self-prescribed calorie allotments. The amounts would often change (1,200 calories, 1,400 calories, 800 calories, 1,800 calories, 1,000 calories, etc) but it was always significantly less than what I needed to thrive and often times even lower than what I needed to survive.
Today, I could frankly care less about calories.
Because I know now the truth. I understand how the body works. And I want to share the truth about how the body works today.
The truth: Calories matter…but only kinda, sorta…
The other truth: Calorie counting is such a surface level way of looking at the body and its mechanisms. If you know me, you know I am a very deep person. I often struggle with surface level conversations because I want to be DEEP ALL THE TIME. This need to get deep is not only true with friendships and social connections in my life, but also in my quest to understand how things work. Including the beautiful, amazing mechanisms your body has to create homeostasis and survive.
Let’s dig. deep…
Calorie Equations…Are Antiquated.
When I was in school to become an RD, we spent a pretty insignificant amount of time discussing the role of hormones in the body, and a whole lotta time on calculating calories. Miflin-St. Jeor, Harris Benedict…I knew them all like the back of my hand. I also knew almost to the exact number the amount of calories in every food imaginable. I was a calorie counting queen and when I first graduated I, of course, followed the same protocol for all my clients. Giving them calorie counts was all I knew to do. It would work, but for very brief short periods of time. A month, maybe. But then my clients would always start to gain weight back. And blame themselves for their lack of willpower. [Read more about why willpower doesn’t exist here].
I was stumped. Not only for my clients but for my own self, too. Around this time when I started to question calorie counting, I started learning about intuitive eating. And it worked, for sure. But, I wanted to know more. I wanted to dig. Deeper.
One of my first epiphanies came when I realized how outdated the calorie equations are. Take for instance the Harris Benedict equation. Developed over 100 years ago after conducting a study on a small pretty sample size: 136 men, 106 women and 94 newborns [Source]. The calorie equation most of use in today’s world is based on slightly more than 300 people. And was developed 100 years ago. Before we really knew much about the role of hormones and now add to that the gut microbiome. Sounds…kinda scary, amiright?!
As a registered dietitian, I absolutely see the need for these approaches- of calorie counting- in a hospital setting where tube feeding and TPN is necessary. Conventional dietetic practices are necessary in a hospital setting. But where I don’t think they are appropriate or applicable is the rest of us trying to figure out how to be healthy in today’s world.