The more I thought about it, the less of a fan I became about that choice of wording. Many people (like pregnant or breastfeeding women, athletes trying to build muscle or increase body weight, or growing kids) don’t necessarily need fewer calories, but, rather, an appropriate amount of calories to meet their individual health goals.
If I were to write this focus in my own words, I would state it as: avoid excess calories.
Like we talked about last time, calories = energy. Extra energy, whether it comes from kale or candy bars, is stored as body fat. And this isn’t a bad thing. We all need body fat to live, and it’s nice that our bodies have this reserve so that it doesn’t have to break down our muscles (skeletal muscles, like our biceps, and other muscles, including the heart) for energy. Even one extra Oreo’s worth of calories each day can amount to a 5 pound weight gain after a year (that’s 50 pounds in 10 years, Mamas!), so little nibbles here and there can really add up.
The problem with body fat is that, when it occurs in excess, we put a greater strain on our organs, and this can lead to heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, certain cancers, gallbladder issues, and even sleep problems, like sleep apnea. Not only that, but extra body fat, especially in combination with inactivity, can lead to missed opportunities – like not being able to go on that roller coaster with your kids, forgoing your kid’s school hiking trip if you can’t keep up, skipping swimming parties with your little ones due to poor body image (although, this can affect anyone with any body shape or size), or even LITERALLY missing out on your future, and that of your kids and grandkids, due to premature death because of one (or more) of the problems listed above.
So, we know the risks…
What Can We Do to Stop Eating Extra Calories?
- Figure out your goals. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, your goal is (hopefully) to nourish yourself and your baby. If you’re post-partum, your goal may be to return to a healthy weight. You might have goals to maintain, or even gain weight.
- Determine physical hunger versus emotional hunger. Are you REALLY hungry, or is it just a craving? Do you eat out of stress, anger, or even happiness? How can you know for sure? Take the “apple test.” Ask yourself, would your hunger be alleviated if you had an apple, veggies, or some chicken breast? If so, then it’s likely physical hunger. If not, then it’s likely a craving. Cravings can last about 10 minutes, so try to find something else to do during that time – paint your nails, make a phone call, return emails, read to or play a game with your kiddos.
- Eat mindfully. Now that you know that you’re truly hungry, focus on your internal hunger and fullness cues while you’re eating. That could mean: cutting out eating in front of the television, eating only at the table, portioning out single servings of foods (so you have to get up to get more), stop eating in the car, or stop returning emails while eating.
- Add more veggies. At only 25 calories per cup (raw), and packed with fiber, antioxidants, and protein, veggies brighten up your plate and can add bulk to your meal without a ton of calories. Munching on carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, or other beautifully-colored vegetables can add great health benefits while helping you control calories.
- Nix excess sugars and fats. These add calories to your diet, without nutritional benefit. While some fats certainly have health benefits, they also pack a high-calorie punch. At 9 calories per gram, just an extra tablespoon of butter or olive oil can throw another 120 calories your way. Added sugars contribute pretty much nothing to your diet, except “energy.” Try substituting high(-added) sugar foods for those with natural sweetness, if you need something a little sweet. Foods like fruit or yogurt can fit the bill, with the added benefit of filling fiber from the fruit or protein from the yogurt.
- Keep track of your calories. There are so many apps and websites today that can help people track their eating. If nothing else, there’s always a good, old-fashioned paper and pencil.
We all have different calorie needs, so consulting an RDN can be a great (and healthy) place to start. Stay tuned this month for more about the Academy’s other focus points: Informed Food Choices and Daily Exercise.