We’re not into counting calories. We know it works for some people, but the majority of the time it’s super stressful, often inaccurate, and slightly embarrassing to whip out a calculator before every meal. It also takes the focus away from enjoying what we are actually eating: Should I log this frozen yogurt as 205 calories or 225 calories? Just eat the damn fro-yo, friends.
Kimberly Snyder, nutritionist and New York Times best-selling author of The Beauty Detox series and Radical Beauty, knows a thing or two about staying healthy, and guess what? She doesn't count a single calorie. So we asked for her top tips on how she lives a healthy life and maintains her weight without paying attention to numbers. Turns out, it's totally possible. Here's what she had to say.
1. Just eat the right foods.
The old-school way of "dieting" was to eat healthy foods and exercise. Sounds simple, right? But nowadays we are getting too consumed with counting carbs and calories. For me, when I put the focus on eating a fiber-filled, plant-based diet full of greens, fresh fruits, veggies, seeds, nuts, and healthy whole grains, I always feel satisfied and energetic, and I'm not counting a single number.
When you look at food holistically (meaning, look at all it has to offer, not just the caloric value it's adding to your plate), you can evaluate how a food is going to affect your overall health rather than trying to figure out how to balance a bunch of numbers.
When you stop obsessing over calorie counting, you can start to pick up on signs of how your body is reacting to certain foods you are eating and then you can get a much better sense of how it's really making you feel. Yogurt may be 100 calories per serving and a healthy choice for some people, but if dairy doesn't sit well with you, maybe eating a 200-calorie oatmeal is the better bet.
2. Focus on the lifestyle, not the diet.
The idea of counting calories was only introduced a few decades ago, and before that, people were making out just fine. They were slimmer as a whole and mostly stuck to unprocessed foods (the snack aisle wasn't as robust as it is now). Then counting calories became the norm for anyone who wanted to lose weight, but the problem is that it never seems to work for the long term. It's like a full-time math class, and who wants to stick to that?!
It also doesn’t take into account how eating high-fiber foods keeps you far more full than foods without it. So you can eat up all of your "allotted calories" for lunch and still be starving. How miserable is that?
When you’re hangry, you may not realize it but it can negatively affect your focus in all other areas of your life. You're easily irritated, you don't have the energy to work out, and you might not sleep as well either. Think about eating as a lifestyle, not a math-based diet, and leave the calculator at home the next time you go out to dinner.
3. Don't get caught up in keeping track of each number you’re consuming.
If I haven't made my point yet, let me be clear: Counting calories is not something I encourage for anyone. Ever. It’s not the best way of evaluating what or when to eat, or if something is healthy or not. This brownie only has 150 calories, it must be good for me! Not quite.
Some people start off counting calories and feel like the numbers give them control over what they are eating, but really, it can do the opposite. Numbers are simple, but our bodies are complex. Though some people may be temporarily successful in losing weight by counting calories—how long can you really keep it off? And how much energy are you using just to count every single meal? Probably too much to make it last.
I work with many different clients, but for the majority, when we just put the numbers aside, it becomes easier to lose or maintain weight. By removing the numbers, it makes it easier to achieve your health goals in general and have more energy.
4. Do you define yourself by a list of numbers? Probably not.
Can you imagine if we only defined ourselves by how much we weigh, or our age, or the size jeans we wear? They’re fixed numbers, that, frankly, don't mean a lot. (We've all seen the 95-year-old woman doing yoga.) These fixed numbers are out of tune with what's really going on inside our bodies. Guys, we’re so much more than numbers can ever express or quantify.
If you’re not going to categorize and restrict yourself to a quantitative description, why would you want to do it with your food?
5. Listen to your body rather than trying to force yourself to over or undereat.
If you’re not hungry first thing in the morning, don’t eat right away. (Just because you've heard that "breakfast is the most important meal of the day" doesn't necessarily make it true.) Don’t eat just because you feel that you should or because some diet plan said you need a certain number of snacks per day to keep your metabolism burning.
If your body is still hard at work digesting the last meal you ate, the last thing it needs is a snack. Eat when you're hungry, stop when you're satisfied, and if you ate too much at one sitting, don't worry because that one meal won't ruin your entire healthy eating plan.
Eat well, get in your daily exercise, and don't worry about the numbers going in. You'll lose focus on what's really important, and that's getting in nutritionally dense foods as often as possible yet still enjoying a cupcake every now and then (without asking the baker how many calories are in it!). For more on Kimberly’s weight loss advice and a step-by-step program, check out Kimberly’s new 30-Day Roadmap for Healthy Weight Loss.