Stop counting and start observing

Giovanni Roselli. Photograph by Osiris Ramirez.
Awareness, not calorie counting, is the only true way to get healthy and fit for life.

As a certified Precision Nutrition coach, I’ll often get asked many questions regarding “calories.” As the holidays approach once again, fitness enthusiasts are looking to maintain their six-pack abs and weight-loss clients are scurrying to figure out how they are going to get through the holidays without falling off track, as these common questions get asked:

• “How many calories do I really need?”

• “Should I be counting calories?” 

• “Does food x have too many calories?” 

• “Am I eating too many calories?”

• “Do I need to eat more calories of something?”

Many believe that the answer is to count their calories. However, as Precision Nutrition answers below, that may not necessarily be the answer.  

Counting calories makes most people feel deprived and restricted. You focus on what you think you can’t do or have, rather than on nourishment, adding value and improving food quality. And as soon as your brain thinks it’s getting deprived, it’ll want to do exactly the opposite — “rebel,” “be bad” and “break the rules.” 

Counting calories doesn’t tell you about food quality.
Calorie math won’t tell you whether the food you’re eating is adding value to your body. You can get 2,000 calories from healthy, nutrient-rich meals spread over a day…or you can get it from a large Frappuccino and a couple of pastries. (Which one do you think is a better choice?) 

As Precision Nutrition is fond of saying, a high-quality machine needs high-quality fuel. If you’re working on building your body or a strong performance, put premium gas in the tank. 

Counting calories is inaccurate and a pain. Calorie counts on food package labels are often wrong.  And “calories” are just a measure of energy. They don’t account, for instance, for the way our bodies digest, absorb and use this energy. 

Researchers estimate that even meticulous calorie counting can be up to 25 percent off. That means if you try to eat 2,000 calories, even if you do it “perfectly,” you could be eating anywhere between 1,500 and 2,500 calories. (And who counts calories “perfectly” anyway?) Unless you’ve got a food scale and meticulously weigh and track every morsel of food that goes into your body, you have no real idea how many calories you’re actually consuming. Really, you’re just guessing, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of counting calories. 

Counting calories doesn’t focus on building habits. You want to get in shape, feel good and stay that way for life. Right? A strong, lean, healthy body doesn’t come from doing math. That fit, healthy body and lifestyle come from showing up and doing what matters, over and over. You can get the body you want without ever being that meticulous. 

Awareness beats calorie counting. Learn to be aware of what food you’re eating — why you’re eating it, when you’re eating,  how you’re eating it and how that food fuels your performance. 

Learn to be aware of what you’re thinking, doing and sensing — aware of your patterns, habits and triggers, aware of what’s around you and aware of what you’re doing well. If you’re aware, you’re in control.
You always carry your awareness with you. You probably don’t carry a food scale and calorie list. (And if you could, would you want to?)
Awareness is the only true way to get healthy and fit for life. 

Take a test ride

Sound interesting? Looking to build some real, sustainable habits? Email me at and I’ll select one lucky winner to go through my online nutrition coaching platform via Precision Nutrition for the remainder of the year.  Hey, it may just help you get through the holidays a little bit easier.

Reach Giovanni on Twitter @GiovanniRoselli and at his website, 

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