Real Food 101: Calories, macros and food labels-- oh my!



There are a lot of misconceptions about real food eating. I find many well-intentioned women sharing with me their 'real food' journey, but still stuck on counting calories, or obsessing over food labels. They're afraid to let go of the control of turning food into a math equation, sure that if they stop calculating or counting, their bodies will somehow self-implode and they'll lose all efforts towards living a healthy life. But friends, this is not true health- nor is it truly embracing real food for what it is: choosing simple, whole ingredients and letting those foods do what God intended them to: nourish and sustain us.

Turning real food into a diet is entirely missing the point of real food, and that is accepting that real food, in it's whole form, unadulterated will nourish our bodies without needing to rely on arbitrary numbers to inform our decision making. Food in it's whole form has all of it's nutrients intact; meat with skin or fat (oh yes!) allows us to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins; whole fruits and vegetables, rather than juices, naturally balance our blood sugar with fiber; eggs with the yolk contains choline for brain health; real butter contains Vitamin A and E, protectant against heart disease; dark chocolate contains antioxidants, iron and magnesium. All of these sound well and good, right-- but don't calories still matter?


Let's talk about this for a second. The word "calories" is thrown around a lot in the nutrition community, and the funny thing is, we talk about calories as if they are a 'thing'. But, they're not really a 'thing' at all. You can't look at, feel, or touch a calorie. A Calorie is the amount of ENERGY it takes to raise 1 kilogram of water 1 degree celsius. A calorie is simply a measurement, like pounds or inches. If someone told you a food was high in inches, compared to another food, sure- it would probably be larger in size. But it doesn't tell you anything about what's in that food- the nutrient value, and how your body is going to process and utilize the nutrients.

Further, bomb calorimetry- the process of physically combusting a food in order to determine the energy content- is notoriously inaccurate. It is essentially an estimate, as is the amount we are told to eat daily. It doesn't take into consideration movement, metabolism, health conditions affecting how our body utilizes food. There is no way of knowing what our bodies need on a daily basis other than listening to them. I think we can all agree 500 calories of broccoli is going to feel different in our bodies than 500 calories of Cheetos. So why are we still stuck on measuring food as a means of achieving health?

Why don't we flip the coin, and instead of thinking of calories as something to be counted and managed- think of them as what they truly are a measurement of the ENERGY in our food. Food is fuel for our bodies. It nourishes us, and allows us to live out our purpose. When we don't get what we need- by hyper managing or restricting- our bodies, and our quality of life suffers.

Eating real food, with nutrients our body recognizes and can easily utilize, allows us to become in tune with our body's natural hunger cues and needs, so our body can truly thrive. When our bodies are nourished, fully- without restriction, we have the energy to live healthier lives- to move more, to run after our kids, to make foods at home, to do the work we are called to do. When we are fully nourished, we aren't dragging, relying on caffeine or sugar to get us through our day; our brains work more efficiently, we get sick less and we allow ourselves to be freed from the obsession around food, able to fully exist in our bodies and find our own beautiful balance- which is something calorie counting or macro calculating will never do.


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© 2020 Kristin Rugg Dovbniak for Healthy Mama Kris. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use

Headshots Marie Guagliardo Photography & Sarah Zollo Portraits