Calorie Counting: How We See It

>> Tuesday, March 2, 2010

QUESTION: "Have ever considered posting the nutritional information and calorie counts along with your recipes? Or is that too much of a pain in the butt?"

1, 2, 3, 4 . . . We've received this very same question in various forms over the past couple months. I just got another email requesting calorie counts for our newest (never home)maker favorite, the vegan chocolate banana cake, so I decided to post why I'm not planning to provide them.

Really, I promise you it isn't my own laziness. However, one reason is that -- like stated above -- it's kind of a pain to do the math. There are various online calculators that will figure it all out for you, like Spark Recipes, but it's still relatively time consuming to look up each ingredient. I'd rather spend my time in the kitchen . . . because (and as Stephen will surely tell you) I already spend way too much time on my computer at work and at home.

But my primary reason for not providing this information is more personal. I can get rather caught up in calculating calories consumed/calories burned/etc. I was in this mindset for most of my teen years and into my early 20s. For me, I don't consider obsessive calorie counting a productive and healthy way to live my food-life. Though, I know for many others, calorie counting and point systems (like Weight Watchers) are effective and useful tools for weightloss and maintenance.

And if that's for you, that's awesome. But for those of you who are kept up late at night trying to remember if you ate that extra tablespoon of peanut butter (what's that, 180 calories???), you might want to read these other techniques I use to keep my consumption in check. It's more of a calorie awareness. And it's pretty much common sense. (Also: Sorry if you've heard them all before.)

1.) I eat breakfast. Every day. Whenever I skip a day (rarely), I certainly notice because I'm starving and pinching nickles together for a trip to the vending machine. But many of you might have trouble eating early in the morning. I get that. Here's a tip I read last night in Natural Health: A warm breakfast -- oatmeal, for example -- is easier for your digestive system to process. So before you swear off eating breakfast, try it. And if it's just a matter of not having enough time, try this easy "instant oatmeal" recipe.

If you're a more advanced breakfast eater, you might consider green smoothies. They're a fantastically easy way to get in a nice chunk of your greens for the day.

2.) I pay attention to portion size. No, I don't carry around a ruler or have all those guidelines (serving of protein the size of a deck of cards?) memorized. But I do try to keep everything modest on my first go. I've gone on record proudly stating that I can down an entire large cheese pizza. And, really, if it came down to it, I can. And I have. But do I make it a habit? No. Instead, I eat two pieces of that pizza. Save the gross amounts for my next career as a professional eater.

If you have trouble with portion sizes, just start small. You can always add more later if you're still hungry. But the extra step of getting up to grab more will give you and your stomach a chance to discuss the issue.

3.) I eat whole grains and whole foods whenever possible. Refined stuff (white bread, white bagels, white rice, candy bars, etc.) simply doesn't keep you full. It's all in the sugars and how they make your insulin spike . . . then drop extremely low . . . then leave you craving more. If you keep yourself stuffed with whole grains (whole wheat, brown rice, steel-cut oats, etc.) and whole fruits and veggies, you'll maintain even levels of insulin. And you'll find yourself fuller for a longer period of time.

4.) I try to get in my protein. The average adult needs 0.6 - 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram (2.2 lbs.) of body weight. For me, that's 39 grams! (What about you? Click here to find out.) Definitely a difficult feat for this vegan-slanted vegetarian. But I make sure to try to include a handful of nuts, a heaping tablespoon of natural peanut butter, a can of black beans, a block of tofu, and a number of other veggie-friendly protein-rich foods into my diet.

Again, I don't count the grams . . . but I do keep in mind that protein means power. After all, proteins are the building blocks of the body!

5.) I eat throughout the day. Mini meals. Spaced at relatively equal intervals. Goes along with keeping your blood sugar stable. And if you're eating fruits, veggies, and other non-refined stuff, you need not feel guilty stuffing yourself (in moderation) with food all day. You'll feel happier. And you won't find yourself scrounging around looking for whatever food is close by. (Like office birthday party cake? Even though you absolutely HATE white cake? And, oops, just ate two pieces? Ack!)

6.) I treat myself. Perhaps too much if you read this blog. But I'm happy to report that even with all my indulgences, I've maintained my healthy weight without much difficulty. Thanks to a good diet/exercise balance. Enough sleep at night. And a daily dose of chocolate-peanut butter. I've tried keeping myself to ONE treat per ONE day. But just knowing that I'm limiting myself sets me up for failure. What I do now is have whatever treat I'm planning to have (maybe a double chocolate chip and walnut cookie) . . . and then if I find myself reaching for another one, I take a moment to ask myself if I'm actually hungry or just mindlessly consuming. 50 percent of the time I'm actually still hungry. The other half, just eating to eat.

7.) I sneak in "bad" stuff with the good. Whenever possible, I try to make healthy foods that are derived from their unhealthy counterparts. You can probably recall some examples from our posts. Like the gluten-free "Nutella" balls. The cocoa-ful powerhouse smoothie that -- to me -- tastes like a chocolate milkshake with enough cocoa powder in it. Etc. Make a list of foods you love and adapt them to be healthier. And I'll keep trying to come up with alternatives myself.

8.) I listen to my body. If I'm not feeling well -- sluggish, sick, or just plain bloated -- I think about what I'm eating. Over the holidays, this meant I needed to cut out all the white sugar I was dusting my x-mas cookies in. And when I eat too much dairy, I tend to feel tired. If you take time to listen to how you're feeling . . . and then think about what you're eating . . . you might start to see patterns. Instead of calorie counting, try making a loose food diary on days you're not feeling well. That way, you can get those patterns in writing and make healthy adjustments for yourself.

Which leads me to my question to all of you. What are you ways of keeping your eating in check? Do you calorie count? If so, what tools do you find helful? If you're a caloriecounteraphobe like me, what do you do? And do you have any "bad" recipes you'd like to see us turn healthy?

The way we see it, food should be fun -- so leave the counting to Feist. Food is meant to fuel your life so you're happy, fit, and productive. We'd love to know what you think! Just leave a comment or email us at

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