This is a guest blog post by Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, MD
I interact with a great many health professionals, and not infrequently, the conversation somehow gets around to calories.
I’m regularly surprised by many of their reactions.
In fact, more often than not it seems that health professionals shy away from directly discussing calories with their patients. They’ll tell me they don’t because they’re worried they’re going to trigger eating disorders, that it’s too complicated, that there’s more to healthy eating than calories, and that people just don’t want to know about them.
Personally, I don’t agree and think at the end of the day, it’s all about how calories are taught.
I’d never suggest we teach calories as blindly as, “good” or “bad”, as that certainly could lend itself to developing some disordered eating. I’d never suggest every one out there needs to count calories (though I do recommend it here in my offices), because for some, that’ll certainly be too onerous. I’d never suggest that there aren’t other very important determinants of nutritional health as that would be patently false.
I also definitely wouldn’t suggest people aren’t interested. On the contrary, once their eyes are opened to the world of calories, most people become fascinated.
They’re fascinated because calories are so damn non-intuitive.
Who’d have thought a Starbuck’s muffin could have more calories than a Big Mac, or that an entire pineapple would have fewer calories than that same muffin?
They’re also fascinated by caloric context, and there’s two types of context I think are helpful. The first are the calories a person burns in a daytime, while the second is the minimum (note, not maximum) number of calories they ought to be aiming per meal and snack. With those two pieces of caloric context, along with the calories of the foods they’re considering, along with a whole slew of other variables and factors, they now have enough caloric information upon which to base an informed decision.
Calories are the currency of weight. Definitely there are a great many ways to reduce them – and counting calories may be one, but so too may be low-carb approaches, low-fat approaches and dozens, if not hundreds or thousands more. It doesn’t matter to me which suits you, knowing a bit about calories can help you hone your efforts. Not knowing? That’d be like trying to balance your books and never looking at price tags. Even if you only shop in Walmart, no doubt you’ll still sometimes get burned.
So who’s afraid of Virginia’s calories? Someone who doesn’t believe calories can be taught non-judgmentally, and I think that someone’s probably wrong.
Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, MD is the founder and Medical Director of the Bariatric Medical Institute in Ottawa, dedicated to the (nonsurgical) treatment of overweight and obesity since 2004. His daily blog Weighty Matters, is ranked among the world’s top health blogs, and was voted the top Canadian Get Healthy blog of 2011 by Reader’s Digest’s Best Health magazine. Dr. Freedhoff is often called a “nutritional watchdog” for his advocacy efforts for improved public policies regarding nutrition and obesity. You can follow Dr. Freedhoff on Twitter and Facebook.