Food should be about pleasure and nourishment, not math. Don’t turn the wonderful act of eating into a math equation.
The thought that eating more calories leads to instant weight gain isn’t always correct.1 Most importantly, diets low in calories are incredibly hard to stick with.2 Are the ⅔ of all Americans either overweight or obese all be gluttonous and lazy? No.
Is something inherently wrong with the calorie model? Yes.
What To Do Instead?
Instead of asking yourself "How many calories" ask "Does this provide important nutrition" If the food provides important nutrition then go ahead and eat it.
Our health is more complex than the calorie content of food. Focusing solely on how many calories misses the bigger picture. The calories listed on the label aren't even correct. Digestion is far too messy a process to accurately convey in neat numbers. The counts on food labels can differ wildly from the calories you actually extract, for many reasons. 3 Almonds are a perfect example. Studies have shown that the calorie content listed on packages of almonds is 32% higher than what we actually absorb.4
Every Calorie Is NOT Equal
Every macro nutrient has a different effect on your metabolic rate and how full you feel (the thermic effect of food). Have you ever noticed if you eat a steak you’re full for several hours, but if you eat a slice of pizza you’re hungry again much sooner?
This is because protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates. Protein also burns 15% more calories in the digestion, absorption, and disposal of nutrients. The type of food we eat really matters in how many calories we end up getting.
Eat Good Fats
Focusing on low calories often means that people restrict healthy foods like good fats. Don’t omit foods simply because they a lot of calories, without taking into consideration the benefits. Good fats are extremely healthy and eating fat doesn't make you fat on its own. Avocados are a perfect example of a high fat but very healthy food. Your body craves and needs fat, without it your health suffers. Eating too little dietary fat can result in a lack of energy, dysregulated hormones, and depression. Don't leave out good fats from your diet.
Most Important: Don't Stress
Have you ever eaten more junk food than you were allotted during the day? Then you beat yourself up for it, feeling stressed out and depressed? If so, STOP. Just eat real foods for your next meal. Highly processed sugar and artificial ingredients don’t send the same fullness signals to the brain so it’s easy to overeat without realizing it. 5
Keep in mind that stressing out over your diet is counterproductive, because stress is directly linked to weight gain.6,7,8 Eat the unhealthy things you love on occasion and FULLY enjoy them. Many emotions like joy, anxiety, sadness, anger, and boredom can make people crave food when their bodies don't need it. The key to breaking these habits is dealing with the slipups while they happen or right after. You can stop an episode in its tracks by becoming aware of it and not beating yourself up for it.
Don't count calories for a healthier relationship with food.