When I start typing a post that has anything to do with nutrition, diets, or something in that vein, I feel the need to preface it with a disclaimer. This isn’t because I feel like I need to justify what I say – my opinions are my own and that is what this blog is about so I don’t want to apologize for that. It is because the topics of food, dieting, and disordered eating are so sensitive to so many AND because what works and doesn’t work in regards to nutrition habits varies so much from person to person.
So my disclaimer before writing this post is that I understand what is true for me isn’t true for everyone. I know that counting calories works for a lot of people who are trying to get a better handle on portion control etc. I welcome everyone’s comments about their viewpoints on this issue because I think it is something that needs to be discussed, not preached by me or anyone else.
The other day as I was perusing social media I came across a post where someone was laying out their new eating plan in order to lose weight (not a very large amount of weight, per say). They were aiming for around 1300 calories per day. As a knee-jerk reaction, the number made my eyebrows raise a bit.
My reaction was partially due to my own nutrition habits. I probably eat over 1,000 calories before lunch time most days and if someone told me to live off of 1,300 calories per day my instinct would be to laugh at them. Because… just, no. Granted, I am a little more active than the average bear, particularly when training for a race, and I am not attempting to shed pounds so I am not having to focus on calorie deficits or anything like that. I do have factors working against me including an underactive thyroid (which can often lead to weight gain) and a 9 to 5 job sitting at a desk, so I cannot just eat whatever I want whenever I want. Everything about this part of my reaction is very “me, me, me” oriented.
But, both in stepping back from my personally focused reaction and in realizing how many personal consideration go into my and every other individuals dietary needs, the second reaction that came to me is, ‘Where do these diet-minded calorie numbers come from?’ I had very recently read a thoughtful post that Sarah wrote that only further encouraged my mind to wander around this topic.
I feel like there are certain calorie quantities that have been jammed down our throats by way too many media sources for way too long. For example, the 2,000 calorie number that is on every nutrition label ever. Or the 1,200 to 1,500 calorie number that seems to be pushed on women as the magic amount to eat if you want to lose weight. I question whether 1,200 calories is enough to even keep someone’s body functioning properly. This information from the Institute of Medicine would suggest that the answer is no… unless that someone is a sedentary 4 to 8 year old girl.
There are two important things to realize about these media-stimulated magic numbers:
1. They don’t even remotely take into consideration the infinite factors that impact each of our individual dietary needs.
2. Calorie numbers mean nothing if the food being consumed to fill those calories is nutrient-void crap that can’t properly fuel your body.
As an experiment to speak specifically to these points, I went on the Special K website and made a ‘personalized’ meal plan. There were several diet options including maintaining current weight but I selected the option to do the ‘Special K Challenge’ since that is what they promote all over TV ads and magazines as a way to lose 6 pounds in 2 weeks. After choosing this option, I go to an ‘About Me’ page where I would expect to fill out some important information like my age, height, weight, sex, and how active I am or plan to be. Nope. It just asks me how much effort I am willing to put into my meals and what date I want to start my diet and, poof, out pops a meal plan. According to this website I should be eating just over 1,200 calories a day: a bowl of cereal for breakfast, a fruit crisp bar as a snack, a meal bar plus 12 almonds for lunch, 20 multigrain crackers as a snack, and then a 500 calorie dinner.
It doesn’t seem to me like this kind of diet is healthy for someone who wants to incorporate regular exercise into their life – which I honestly believe everyone should. And do I even need to point out the fact that, under a meal plan like this, the person following it wouldn’t consume a SINGLE fruit or vegetable until dinner time? Those 1,200 calories are even more marginalized when they are worthless, empty calories. This type of quick-fix diet is something that myself and many others would likely immediately dismiss as unhealthy and impractical, but this is the type of diet message that is pushed on our society hundreds of times a day!
The point that I am trying to make in this quasi-long-winded post is that everyone needs to get past these delusional magic calorie and/or weight numbers. If calorie counting is something that works well for someone in a healthy, beneficial way then I am not saying that person should disregard calories. I am suggesting that if a diet is going to be based on numbers then they should be numbers specific to the needs and variables that are true to the individual using them.
People who are thinking about making drastic diet and exercise changes should probably talk to a dietitian or nutritionist if they can. But I think everyone could stand to do some research on their BMR (basal metabolic rate – the amount of calories a person should likely consume to sustain their height, weight, and activity level) and put hard thought into the best way to fuel their life with quality foods in a way that is sustainable for them. Our health is far too important to trust completely to a person, company, or ideology that attempts to cram us all into the same uniform box in order to sell more bars, shakes, and books.
No questions but please respond with any and all comments, thoughts, etc.