Is counting calories a necessary evil for healthy weight loss? Heck no! Keep reading to learn why you don't need to micromanage your calories to see results.
The Full Story
When we count calories, we take the fun out of food because we have to make a choice - and do math - every time we open our mouths to eat. Worse than that, we also get ourselves into a somewhat obsessive, and not very useful, cycle.
We have a tendency to deprive ourselves of food when we're counting calories. This often leads to a very hungry and annoyed person later in the day....who is more likely to binge eat....and consequently feel terrible about themselves afterwards.
And so the cycle goes on and on.
But there's good news: when eating whole plant-based foods, you're getting better QUALITY calories.
What does that mean and why does that matter? Well, not all calories are created equally.
Let's do a quick comparison: 300 calories of cookies vs. 300 calories of fresh fruit
image from 2012books.lardbucket.org
Fresh fruits, and other plant-based foods, are much more nutrient-dense than cookies - which means they are high in nutrients but relatively low in calories. Fresh fruit does have sugar, however, unlike processed foods like cookies, fresh fruits are PACKED with vitamins, minerals, and complex carbohydrates.
The 300 calories of fresh fruit still has its fiber in tact, slowing down your body's digestion of glucose so you won't get the insulin spike we often get with refined sugars. When you eat fresh fruit your body also has more time to use up the glucose in your system. In other words, it becomes fuel instead of fat.
Oh, and fresh fruit (and all plant foods) have zero cholesterol!
The 300 calories of cookies, other hand, have low nutrient density (more calories than nutrients). They use refined and processed ingredients so most of their nutrients have been stripped. The cookies also have lots of added sodium, sugar, and saturated fat.
In the short term, cookies and other Standard American Diet foods lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes - which can make you tired and hungry again quickly so you'll be more inclined to eat again sooner.
Because of the nutrient density of whole plant foods (like the fresh fruit example), counting calories isn't really a crucial component to losing weight or feeling better on a whole food plant-based diet. You'll feel full longer AND the calories you eat are filled with the nutrients your body actually needs - rather than the empty calories (lacking nutrients) we so often get with the Standard American Diet.
Not to mention over time the Standard American Diet, which is high in saturated fat, salt, and refined sugar, can lead to a variety of more serious chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and obesity -- whereas a plant-based diet has been shown to not only prevent these conditions, but even reverse them.
Counting calories can take the joy out of eating and actually lead to harmful food habits
Not all calories are equal! When you eat whole plant-based foods, you're getting better QUALITY calories.
- Look for foods with high nutrient density for optimal weight loss - they keep you nourished and full longer
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Originally published 2/2118; Updated 7/19/19