Sipping my morning almond milk latte at Eqvita, I’ve just read yet another weight-obsessed headline ‘Delicious “fast day” meal plans that are just 800 calories’. And with the holidays around the corner, there can only be more media reminders that you need to fit into that dress for the annual Christmas tree auction at the Hotel de Paris.
Monaco in particular is a place where some are obsessed about looking their best – just read Louis Pisano’s Weekend Style Report and you’ll know what I mean.
But looking good is also about feeling good, and “800 calories a day” is not the way to get there. I used to count calories without fail, following the theory that low-calorie foods were healthy and high-caloric foods were bad, therefore the key to staying lean or losing weight was by doing a truckload of cardio and eating fewer calories.
Psychologically, when you break it down to food = calories and calories = bad, then it makes it impossible to have a good relationship with food and not feel guilty, even when eating something wholesome.
Focusing on calories means we often restrict healthy foods, which especially happens when it comes to fat. We often omit higher fat foods simply because they are high in calories without taking into consideration the benefits they bring – you stay fuller longer, absorb anti-inflammatory, anti-ageing antioxidants and get necessary fat-soluble vitamins.
Look at the French. They’ve always had a fondness for rich food and cooking from scratch and they haven’t done too poorly with the obesity crisis compared to most other countries. A report published in July 2017 on the “Most Obese Countries by Percentage” put the US at #19 with 33.7 percent of the population classified as obese. The UK comes in at #33 (28.1 percent) and France #66 (23.9 percent).
But, in terms of overall number of obese people, the US is number one with 73,872,022.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that in 2016, 39 percent of adults worldwide aged 18 years and over were overweight, and 13 percent were obese. Add to that the 41 million children under the age of 5 also overweight or obese.
WHO remains optimistic and says the obesity is preventible. So if calorie counting isn’t a good strategy, what is?
Count chemicals, not calories
Next time you’re in the cereal aisle at Carrefour, check the side of the box and you’ll find a list of unpronounceable ingredients that are more appropriate for cleaning the toilet than nourishing the cells of your body.
Dr Mark Hyman, a leader in functional medicine in the US, believes malnutrition causes obesity so as long as the body is not receiving the nutrients it requires to function, regardless of how many calories you give it, it will keep asking for more. And as processed foods are often stripped of their nutrients (even if they have been fortified with nutrients post-production), they will not be absorbed by your body in the same way as if they come from whole foods. It’s no wonder low-cal diet foods leave you hungry.
Eat real food
“If it comes from a plant eat it. If it was made in a plant don’t.” Our bodies were designed to digest natural whole foods. If your diet is diverse enough, it will provide you with the vitamins and nutrients you need, in a form you were designed to absorb them.
An advantage of buying organic and locally-sourced food, like at TO BE, means you can ask questions, and have interaction with the staff about where your food comes from.
Read the label
If and when you buy processed foods, check the ingredients, not the calories. A low-fat salad dressing may have fewer calories than olive oil and balsamic vinegar but it contains a truckload of chemicals that your body will be better without.
Go for nutrients over calories
Judge foods by the nutrients they can bring rather than the amount of calories they contain. Yes, an avocado is high in fat and in calories. So is a bowl of porridge but both contain a wealth of nutrients that are essential for your cells and that are likely to keep you fuller for longer than a bowl of low-calorie cereal.
Follow your intuition
Once you distance yourself from calorie counting and remove processed foods from your diet, your body will naturally tell you what it needs. You are also likely to experience a reduced sense of hunger. At this point the best strategy is to switch off your brain, forget 800-calories-a-day meal plans and to follow your intuition – eat when you are hungry!
Article first published November 13, 2017. Maddy is the Founder of Nutrition For Naughty People, aimed at helping individuals find a better balance between the things that keep them healthy and the things that make them happy! Any questions?