THE BLOG

Stop Counting Calories and Start Feeling Them

04/30/2015 03:53 pm ET | Updated Jun 30, 2015

In a blog post in February, I posed the question: Should you eat pizza and drink beer today, or should you eat kale and drink green juice today? I used the question to showcase how everyone has a unique and ever-changing Personal Balance Equation. What is healthy for you one day won't necessarily be healthy for you tomorrow, and it may not ever be healthy for your neighbor. Because it's a type of question I think people ponder every day, I wanted to expound upon it further and suggest "Intuitive Eating" -- a common sense method for answering your dietary dilemmas.

The intuitive eating concept can be summed up in a few words:

"Stop counting calories and start feeling them."

When I look around our country (something I'm currently doing a lot of), I observe our nation by and large starting to make the efforts to be well. There are healthy food options in both small towns and big cities, there are fliers for yoga and meditation retreats everywhere, and commuters are choosing bicycles over automobiles and cities are responding with bike-friendly roads. However, I'm also observing that in our nation's quest for health we're becoming inundated with wellness advice and thinking about eating and drinking (not the act of actually eating or drinking) appears to be causing many people a lot of additional stress. In particular, I've noticed one thing that seems to be especially misguided: calorie counting.

When we count our calories, we spend precious moments of our time deconstructing our food into fat, protein, and carbohydrate molecules and then spend more moments obsessively tracking our caloric intake with spreadsheets or apps on our smartphones. The caloric focus inevitably leads to attempting to eliminate the calories from our diet, which results in bizarre behavior -- like trading out our sugar for chemicals -- and mealtime becomes a battle between our stomach and a calculator. Most importantly, counting calories takes the focus away from our food itself which makes it difficult to enjoy our meals. Eating and drinking are arguably the best simple pleasures of being human, is it surprising it is stressful when we replace their enjoyment with a math formula? A mathematical approach to eating seems more suitable for a robot than a person.

I believe our bodies have a strong desire to feel healthy, and that feeling of health comes from feeling balanced. Because we are wired to prefer the state of equilibrium, our bodies come equipped with a barometer to help keep us equalized (Intuition is different than our cravings, if you don't believe this, you can test it easily by drinking too much caffeine, eating too much sugar or rich foods and noticing what happens). Therefore, if we listen to how we are feeling, we can know what we should eat and drink to meet our individual needs in the moment. There is no need to track what we had for breakfast, because our body will tell us what we need at lunch and will suggest the right food and drink to round out our day at dinner. This isn't something that we need to learn; we know all of this intuitively!

Let us remember that as we admirably continue to pursue wellness, a huge component of being well is living joyfully. That means enjoying our food and drink, enjoying how we spend our time, and enjoying how we live our lives. In order to be well, what we need to develop is not more brainpower to keep track of new diets, superfoods, and everything we consume; rather, the skill we need to cultivate is our ability to listen to our bodies. Do we pay attention to how we feel when we eat something? Do we recognize when our body speaks to us? Do we have the courage to follow the intuitive instruction?