America is obsessed with weight. Billions are made each year by companies promoting what food we should be eating and how we should be exercising. Yet it all boils down to one thing: a calorie in means a calorie has to go out. This will maintain your current weight. To lose pounds you must eat less calories than you burn; gaining weight means you are eating more calories than you are burning. It sounds so incredibly simple, so why the obsession?
Calories are a mystery because we cannot see them or touch them and yet they play a key role in our everyday lives. Simply put, a calorie is a unit of heat. It has a very strict scientific definition but once you start talking about food, it is no longer so cut and dried. If you allow yourself to think that you only need to count the number of calories you eat in order to keep track of your weight, then you are missing a key component of food calories. Namely, it is the quality of the food, and hence the calorie, that counts more than the quantity. Dr. David Katz makes a great comparison between our bodies and cars in his blog post, Demystifying Calories. He talks about how a gallon is a strict measurement of the fuel you put in your car, but the type of car and the kind of gas you use can result in different outcomes. Too little gas, you end up stranded, to much gas and you end up with a mess. Too few calories, you end up stranded, too many and it gets messy.
Here’s the thing, I hate counting calories and I don't intend to start. There are apps galore that can help, but I find them very time consuming and, if I don't measure out each ingredient, it will only end up an estimate anyway. Plus I get stumped when I have to approximate my exercise calorie burn. Was it a light workout? Moderate? Hard? That answer could change from minute to minute! Therefore, the best solution for me is to be mindful of what I am eating as well as how much activity I am getting. That does not mean I am completely ignoring calorie counts, but it does free me up to enjoy my food.
When I first started on my journey of losing weight I had to be a bit more conscientious of exactly what I was eating. I did this by keeping a food journal. I didn't record calories, but I did write down everything I ate. That made me super aware of what was going in my body. This forced me to focus on the quality of my food versus the quantity. I did not want to see in writing that I ate a bag of potato chips, so I snacked on carrots. I did not want to write that I had cheese and crackers for dinner, so I made soup. No more toast slathered with peanut butter and jelly in the morning, I switched to oatmeal. I was still getting plenty of calories, but the quality of the calories improved and I was able to eat fewer, which resulted in weight loss.
To feel your best and to get the best gas mileage from your body, give yourself the best. Calories don't have to be a mystery, nor do you need to stress out about them. Your body needs them to function and if you are mindful of how you are getting them, you can let them do their job so that you can feel your best. And every once in a while go ahead and indulge!
If you would like to get a great visual about how much 200 calories is, check out this web page.
This week’s recipe is a great way to get some high quality calories. This time of year the Public Market has very different offerings than in the summer. One vendor who sells fresh beans in the warm months, dries his beans and then sells these during the cold weather months. I have bought many gorgeous bags of beans, including split peas. That was the inspiration to make split pea soup. Often this soup is made with ham, but this was obviously not an option for me. To get a smoky flavor to complement the peas, I used smoked paprika in the recipe and before serving I drizzled smoked olive oil on top.
Split Pea Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 cup grated carrots
2 jalapeños, seeded and diced (if you like spice, don't seed)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 cups dried split peas, rinsed and drained
6 cups vegetable broth*
Salt and Pepper to taste
Diced green onions
Smoked olive oil
*I made broth using chick pea miso. I boil water and whisk in one tablespoon of miso per two cups of water.