06 Oct Keeping it cool with the calories
“I’m on a diet!” you shriek as the triple chocolate cookies make their way toward you from across the office, all chocolatey, gooey, calorie-laden and triply so.
You’ve decided that you’re not going to touch them, and you haven’t so far. That’s worthy of a pat on the back, you think. Especially because you can smell them, you can see them, heck – you can almost taste them. But absolutely no, it’s Thursday morning and you started your new diet only this week. You know that you’re falling apart at the seams as it is, and giving in would just make you feel more shitty.
So you whip out your celery sticks instead – all cold and … celery-ish. Perfect for this crisp, October morning.
And then the ranting begins:
“It’s really just not fair. Because skinny bitch over there, with her perfect skin, is on her THIRD cookie. And it’s just gone 10am. Why can’t I eat three cookies and put a bean pole to shame? She’s so annoying. And here I am with my muffin top: I could cry just looking at myself. Oh, just give me the bloody cookie – I’m going to the gym later anyway.”
And so it continues. The battle of the body. The idea of lacking. The Monday morning diets. The thinking that it’s all about willpower. Eating less and moving more.
Sister, I hear you. And I see you. Can we just take a step back, and put the celery stick down for a moment?
Let’s get one thing straight: diets don’t work.
And it’s not all about the calories. So can we stop giving them this much credit? But what about Newton’s first law of thermodynamics: energy can neither be created or destroyed so calories in = calories out right?
Stop the bus. By no means am I challenging one of the most influential scientists of all time. (That would be awkward). But remember that the law states that energy is conserved in a “closed system”. And when it comes to our metabolism, that ain’t a closed system.
So yes, in a vacuum 700kcal of celery and 700kcal of triple chocolate cookies are the same. But get your metabolism involved? You’ll find that the celery and cookies trigger different hormones, neurotransmitters and immune responses.
Given that fat has twice as many calories (9kcal/gram) as carbs and protein (4kcal/gram), many still hold to the dogma that fat makes you fat. Consideration to where those fats come from is key, but fat avoidance based on calories isn’t.
So is calorie counting complete crap?
No. There’s just a time and place for it – particularly when specific physique goals come into play. But rather than whipping out the weighing scales and frantically fumbling around the figures at every meal, just chill. Let’s focus on what you’re eating rather than how much of it you are.
And before we do that, let’s also take a moment to appreciate how very different we are.
We all have a skinny bitch friend. The one who can gobble her way though an entire pack of highly processed, triple chocolate cookies and not put on an ounce of fat. She’s a pain (side note: just because she’s not overweight, doesn’t mean that she’s healthy). But she also reminds us of the beauty of biochemical individuality. And how this is essential when creating a nutrition plan.
My tip top, celery-free, diet-ditching recommendations?
1. Don’t be defined by the digits.
Sister, begin by knowing your own gorgeous worth. Yeah – I just went deep. But, we need to. Because we’ve become so entangled in all these numbers. The number on the scale. The number on the calorie counter. (Perhaps even the number in your bank account). And truth be told, when we attach who we are to something like that, it really doesn’t take much to send us over the edge.
2. Eat whole foods.
The ones that don’t have ingredients but that are ingredients. Spinach is spinach. Mushrooms are mushrooms. A courgette is a courgette. A fish is a fish. An egg is an egg. You get my drift. If you’re having to wade through a whole list of words that makes you wish you’d taken Latin at school, chances are, that food isn’t the best for your body. Or waist line.
3. Find actual alternatives.
Celery is not an alternative. Unless you like celery, then it’s a great alternative. But if you know there’s going to be triple chocolate delights floating round the office, celery is a pretty lame alternative. There are SO many simple, really delicious recipes out there. (A colleague of mine has some great ones you could give a go). Part of diet-ditching is growing in confidence in the kitchen. So take some time. Experiment. Get creative. And feel empowered by making healthy, mouthwatering alternatives.
4. Shit happens.
And it’s okay. Because we need to learn to be kinder to ourselves. So when it comes to establishing healthy & sustainable eating habits, beating yourself up every time you eat the triple chocolate cookie really isn’t the best way to go about it. I really believe that you are what you do most of the time (it’s this thing called the 80/20 rule or Pareto’s Principle). So I eat whole, fresh, vibrant, nutrient-dense foods the majority of the time. And on occasion I eat that highly processed, triple chocolate cookie. But because I’m not sticking to some really rigid plan, there’s no bandwagon that I’ve fallen from. And this kind of flexibility makes it more likely for health goals to become lifelong habits.
5. Create a community
One of my favourite African proverbs is “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Find someone to journey with – a partner, a friend, a sister, a group. Someone who sees you, who knows you, and who will encourage you to keep on keeping on. Learn more. And if you want that extra leg-up, I’m here.