This topic has been getting more airtime lately: how calories aren't created equal. So make them count! I dug up an old-ass blog post when I wrote about this SAME topic, oh about 5 years ago. And here I am, 6 years later, still working on this with my own nutrition. It's a lifelong thing. I remember hearing for the first time that we should shoot for nutrient-dense foods as often as possible, and that all calories weren't created equal. I immediately though about my eating disorder back in high school. Thinking I was being such a conscious calorie-counter, I made sure to ingest ~600 calories a day.
And I never once considered that the calories I DID consume all came from one source: carbohydrates.
Do you know what carbs do if you don't use them up via exercise? They turn to stored fat.
So I was effectively defeating the whole purpose of counting calories to lose weight or be thinner--if that was really my true motivation. I have thoughts to share about my eating disorder which I'll cover in my book. Thankfully, I eventually healed on my own but not before that experience forever changed my relationship to food. That relationship continued to be problematic for another 10 years before I became a certified health coach. Now, I still have some old habits that need work from time to time, but I'm not acting them out in complete ignorance like I was before.
I think some people struggle with food not because they don't have a passionate desire to be more healthy or change their relationship to food but more because they don't know what else to do. There are SO many conflicting messages in our culture, it's hard to make sense of it all. That's a small piece of what I do with my clients and in my workshops and business meetings: we talk about food in a clear and honest way.
What are the habits? What are the questions? What are the fears?
What are some simple tweaks one could make that would add up over time to real, sustainable change in lifestyle?
One good place to start is assessing how much food is actually in your food. How much nutrition are you consuming compared to mere calories? Are you eating something, thinking you're doing well by yourself only to realize, dang! You just ate 300 calories worth of refined sugar and simple carbs in that "nutrition snack bar".
How about your smoothie? What's in it and how much of the calories are packed with nutrients? Check out my blog post on the anatomy of the smoothie to read more about that.
How To Be a Nutritarian
I have a client who loves carrots and hummus. Carrots and hummus is a nutritious snack, for sure. It doesn't make a meal, though, because it really isn't very comprehensive as far as nutrients go. You may have heard about Dr. Joel Fuhrman. I feel sorta cool because his wife was a regular customer at a store I worked for in New Jersey 10 years ago. I got to talk to her about once a week. Dr. Fuhrman has coined this term "nutritarian". While I don't agree with everything Dr. Fuhrman says, I DO love this term. It really seems to be the "diet identity" that would work well for many if not most people.
Nutritarians focus on the nutrient-density of their daily food intake. They ingest food not just because it's what they want to eat or because it tastes good (although it often does) or because it was convenient (even though it can be) but based on this one very simple distinction: how many vitamins, minerals, macro and micronutrients does it contain?
You're eating to consume nutrients, not just to consume (or avoid) calories.
I consider myself a nutritarian, albeit an imperfect one. When I plan my day of eating, I scan through ideas in my head and make sure I have a plan to consume as many nutrients as possible--not just what I feel like eating. My goal is to eat because of what food contains, not just because it sounds like a good idea or because someone told me I should eat it according to the latest diet craze (ever notice the shelf-life on those fads, by the way? In one day, out the next.)
It's all about being intentional and mindful. It's where my Buddhism shows up in my everyday life, so it informs everything I do--not just those 10 minutes on a meditation cushion.
These are some ideas for what you can do on the run, but obviously you see why cooking at home makes this much easier--you can buy real food as much as you want and you don't have to try to pick from limited options available at restaurants, etc. It makes the case for cooking at home more often.
Was this article helpful for you? What questions do you have?