[If you have experienced disordered eating or destructive calorie counting behavior in your life then you may want to skip the following post on using calorie awareness as a tool to balance your nutrition.]
As a little girl my papa and I had a birthday ritual. Each year we would hop in the car, go down to the local hardware store, and I would get to choose a new tool for my toolbox. One year it was a hammer fit for an 8 year old girl, another year it was a saw with a small grip. I had my own little workbench in the wood-shop and made many a jewelry box and Barbie bunkbeds with those birthday gifts.
My interest in pounding nails gave way to dancing and, eventually, yoga, running, and nutrition. My toolbox needed a new set of tools; exercises, postures, stretches, cookbooks, and calorie-counting replaced hammers and nails.
Yes, calorie-counting can be a tool.
I grimace at the notion that calorie counting is synonymous with weight loss. While I do believe that counting calories can be an important component of losing weight, it is only one little use for this valuable tool.
Knowing how many calories (or how much energy) a food has is a powerful tool that can be utilized for increasing satiety, balancing nutrient, fueling your workouts, aiding in exercise recovery, and, yes, weight-change.
I use calorie counting daily as a means to balance my nutrients. I don’t weigh/measure all of my food but when I do I need some additional tools to help me out.
Some things I find easy to eye-ball out a “portion”…
[A portion of almonds is considered one ounce, which has ~160 calories. My portion size is half an ounce at 80 calories because I find it’s the right amount to satisfy/benefit me and still leaves room for other stuff, like an apple for a 150-200 calorie snack or 300-400 calories of oats/yogurt/fruit if it’s breakfast.]
Other things, like cheese, I always seem to “pretend” like an ounce is much bigger than it really is so it’s helpful to pull out the scale.
An ounce of cheese has an average of 100 calories. For lunch and dinner I usually eat 500-600 calories. If I consume two ounces of cheese instead of one I will either eat more calories or eat less nutrients from whole grains, proteins, and vegetables. I like my meals big and with a large variety of flavors, textures, and nutrients so one ounce of cheese is enough.
Grains are another thing that I usually measure because they are relatively energy dense and I find it hard to eye-ball a “portion”.
I usually make my overnight oats in a Mason jar that has two-ounce markers on the side.
2 ounces of raw buckwheat.
4 ounces of oats.
My grain base now has 240 calories so now I have ~200 calories left for flax seeds, chia seeds, yogurt, and fruit.
I sometimes find it annoying/tedious to pull out the measuring spoons so I use this pretty “coffee” spoon that hangs in the kitchen; it’s just under a tablespoon so I get a rough idea.
If I am serving myself grains out of a pot from the stove I use a 1/4 cup or 1/2 cup measuring cup as my scoop. Regularly seeing what a serving looks like on my plate teaches me to more accurately scoop out the desired calorie-amount when a measuring cup is not available (or appropriate!).
I am really not uptight about measuring my food but when eating at home alone or with Tate I find it useful to sometimes break out the scale, cups, and spoons. Just as understanding how whole grains, vegetables, and proteins make you healthy and energized, it’s important to have a sense where your calories are coming from and whether that ratio is serving you best.
Have you ever felt self-conscious about calorie counting? Are you oblivious to calories because that’s only for people “on a diet”? I want to change the cliche that attention to calories=attention to weight.
Understanding the energy density of food is not just for weight-loss; it is an empowering tool to help you optimized your nutrition and satiety!