Nourishment over numbers. This is a concept I’ve been educating my clients on for years. I started working with athletes struggling with eating disorders and disordered eating in 2014. Sports such as figure skating, gymnastics, and dance have tremendous pressure to focus on numbers, body size, body shape. It’s a long process working with them to restore a healthy relationship with food and stress the importance nourishing your body, both physically and mentally, has on your performance. But once it clicks, it’s truly life changing.
This approach goes beyond athletes, to all people. In a world full of counting macros and tracking calories, I feel like so many of us are missing out on what nutrition is really about – nourishment.
People can become so obsessed with tracking numbers that they may overthink their food choices and ignore their body’s nutritional needs – both physically and mentally. They may choose a food solely on the numbers, low calorie, low carb, without acknowledging the nutrient density of the food. Many of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet are high in calories (hello, avocados!) But while an avocado contains over 300 calories, it also contains over 900mg potassium, 13g fiber, 20g monounsaturated fat, 4g protein, 30% vitamin C, and 15% magnesium. And it makes the most delicious topping for your tacos.
Food is so much more than carbs, fat, and protein. When we focus on nourishment over numbers, we make better choices. How is this food nourishing me? What kind of nutrients does it contain? Any vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, omega 3s, fiber? So maybe it’s not rich in nutrients, but how is it nourishing me mentally or socially? Am I truly enjoying this food? Food is also nourishment for your mental and emotional health.
Tracking calories or macros absolutely works for some people. It helps you control portion sizes, and gives you a numerical way to monitor your food intake. It’s helped quite a few of my clients get an idea of where they are at when they first start working with me, and what areas they need to increase or decrease to reach their goals. But what’s computed for you on an app may be far from what you actually need – I’ve seen this more times than I can count with MyFitnessPal, way underestimating a client’s total daily energy expenditure because it can’t take into account their actual RMR based on lean body mass, not just weight, or the intensity of their workouts. I highly recommend working with a dietitian to give you your actual energy needs, and give you some goals to work on. Again, a calorie goal is just a general guideline. Those numbers provided aren’t meant to be lifelong. What about when you reach your goal weight? When you change your workout routine? When you focus solely on calories, you also forget about basic physiology. Our guts don’t work the same way calorimeters do. For example, for your body to break down protein it requires a lot more energy vs. carbs or fat…you could have two foods be completely equal in terms of calories, but very different in terms of how that food is broken down and utilized for energy or fat storage.
Is counting calories or macros necessary to live a healthy lifestyle? Absolutely not. It’s tedious and time consuming, and already difficult enough to plan your meals for the week, grocery shop, cook, clean afterwards, let alone track every last gram of fat you ate that day. Food is so important, but when thinking about it begins to take over every important thing in our lives, it can truly suck all of the joy out of eating. You can be hitting specific calorie or macronutrient numbers and still be malnourished.