I don’t count calories. I don’t look at how many grams of sugar is in a serving of any single food. I don’t generally pay attention to the amount of fat or the percent of my daily recommended amount of carbohydrates I will consume.
There was a time in my life when I paid close attention to all these things. I kept close track – always making sure to balance the “calories in” with “calories out” – and food decisions were often made based on the information I could find in that little Nutrition Fact Panel box. But I’ll let you in on a little secret about that habit: it’s exhausting. When you count calories – er, when *I* counted calories – I could never turn it off. I was always counting; making sure that I had the running tally correct. What’s more, I found I was making food decisions for the wrong reasons: because the numbers were right and not because it tasted right. Or felt right.
So I stopped counting calories. And I don’t do it for my family anymore either. I want to teach my kids another way to think about food. This is what we do instead:
- We limit the foods that we consume that come labeled with nutrition information. That’s not to say that the nutrition breakdown of an orange is not available, it’s just not branded right there on the fruit itself. And much of our food comes from local growers and producers, who don’t provide the saturated fat content on their package of homemade pork sausages.
- We eat a variety of foods and, to the best of our ability, don’t eat the same thing twice in a row. This is a little trick I learned from a friend and comes in handy for me particularly at breakfast. “You want that Barbara’s Multigrain Cereal again this morning? Did you have it yesterday? Well, then, today we’ll chose something else and you can have it again tomorrow.” The one exemption to this is my husband, who tends to eat the same smoothie for breakfast everyday.
- We favor ingredient lists over nutrition facts panels. This is one thing that I do pay close attention to, especially when we are trying something new. Rather than learn how many grams of sugar a potential new granola has per serving I read the ingredient list. I look for foods that are free of synthetic colors and flavors, favor shorter over longer ingredient lists, and tend to avoid foods with a lot of preservatives (although I realize it’s not necessarily possible – or advisable – to avoid them entirely).
I know that there are a lot of people out there for whom calorie counting has made all the difference in achieving weight or health goals. Without reservation, I think this is fantastic. For many people, paying attention to their caloric intake is the first step to simply paying attention – which is a HUGE step in the right direction. But there is more to a meal than it’s caloric content: there are aromas, textures, temperatures, flavor combinations to think about and experience. Different foods sits differently in your stomach; it can give you energy or zap you of it.
Counting calories may be something you view as necessary in your own life, but I don’t pay much attention to the specific nutrients in my food and I challenge you to do the same thing – even if just for a single meal.