Counting Calories

By Justinne Lou Go, RND

WHEN one thinks of dieting, most often than not, calories is the first thing that comes to mind. Particularly, calorie-counting. And expectedly, this is one of the skills or characteristics health buffs and avid dieters have in common; a skill that appears to be compulsory for one to be considered a health buff. It then eventually becomes a reflex whenever a food item presents itself. They can crunch the numbers of that bag of chips or sandwich on the menu just as quick as they can scrutinize their photos for “love handles” or any unsightly bulge in unwanted areas of the body. “Oops, this photo looks like I gained 0.1% of body fat. Need to cut down more on the carbs!” It can often become quite an obsession that becomes ingrained in the system of an individual who yearns to achieve his/her ideal body image.

Before you go crazy on calories though, let’s acquaint ourselves with what this really is and what issue there is to it. As complicated as calories may sound, a Calorie is basically the unit of measurement for energy that we obtain from food. After all, one of the most recognized reasons why we need food is because it is fuel for our daily activities. By the way, we not only need fuel for our daily activities, but even for involuntary activities as in digestion, metabolism, and breathing! So, don’t be too restrictive about your calories. I’ll get to that in a bit.

With technology being the richest and most accessible resource of this generation, there are now several mobile apps and websites that help you do the math. This can be a good thing because it saves you time and mental effort. However, we must be aware that there are also different standards for counting calories.

Dietitians refer to (actually, we memorize this) a Food Exchange List table, which contains all the food groups and their respective caloric amount per single serving of food items. It is important to note that this can vary by geography and ethnicity, specifically in terms of standard serving equivalents of food groups and thus, their caloric allocation.

Hence, Philippine standards are certainly different from American standards. This explains the variations between calorie counting mobile apps and websites; you wouldn’t know exactly which standard they are using (unless it is stated).

Technicalities aside, one does not actually have to obsess on calculating each meal to the last crumb. Using calorie counting or food diary apps are most useful for keeping track of the quality and quantity of your meals, giving you a quick overview of your meals for you or your dietitian to evaluate; this is how they should be used and not for the sole purpose of counting calories. Thus, using calorie counting apps is not a bad thing at all as they help give you an idea of your meal pattern and quality, but these should not be used to dictate your energy needs as most of these apps calculate your daily energy needs for you. It would be best to consult with a dietitian and just use this as a resource for the monitoring and evaluation process of your nutrition program.

So, how much calories does one really need? As I’ve always been emphasizing in my previous articles, nutritional needs vary from one person to another because we are all biochemically unique. A person’s daily energy requirement is based on one’s ideal body weight, gender, physical activity and existing medical conditions, if any. You will definitely need a dietitian to guide you on this because this may change from time to time depending on your lifestyle, just as nutrition diagnosis and intervention can change as an individual progresses in a nutrition program; individualization is the core of diet management.

Calorie counting, in essence, is done only to monitor and evaluate one’s energy intake in terms of balancing input and output of energy; that is, if weight maintenance is the goal. Leave the number game to your dietitian. What matters most is the quality of your meals — nutrient density, variety, balance, adequacy — and portion control to avoid consuming unnecessary excess calories. Just focus on achieving the Pinggang Pinoy plate every meal as consistently as possible to ensure that you are getting more or less what you need nutritionally in a day. That way, eating will be much less stressful than having to crunch numbers come mealtime.

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