Ellen Whitney
March 18, 2016
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Calories vs. Nutrients: Do you know what you’re consuming?

You’ve just been handed the keys to a brand new Ferrari. It’s yours- no payments, no strings attached, but if it breaks down, you have to fix it. So how are you going to care for this new prize? You’re probably going to get the oil changed regularly, fill it with premium gasoline to keep it running smoothly, and get it washed so it’s looking good when you show it off to all of your friends.

Here’s a thought- why don’t we take care of our own bodies this way? If we break it, sure we can tape it up and heal it from the exterior, but there are no returns or exchanges if the internal systems malfunction. Why don’t we do the things necessary to keep the one body we’re given running in top condition? Why don’t we exercise regularly to push fresh blood and oxygen to our organs or consistently feed it premium food to keep it running smoothly? Let’s take a look…

I’m sure you’ve heard of the diet approach “If It Fits Your Macros” (IIFYM), as over the past few years it has become one of the most debated topics amongst fitness professionals. With IIFYM, your diet could consist of nothing but Big Macs and Oreos, so long as you keep the calories you ingest in your determined range of fats, carbs, and proteins. Sounds healthy, right?

Let’s hope you answered heck no to that last question. And here’s why- there are 6 essential nutrients the human body needs, falling under 3 categories:

1) Macronutrients:
a. Fat
b. Carbohydrates
c. Protein
2) Micronutrients:
a. Vitamins
b. Minerals
3) Water:

If you were to eat a diet of Big Macs and Oreos, you would be fulfilling your macronutrient needs of fat, carbohydrates, and a little bit of protein, but what about the micronutrients? Sure, you only need these nutrients in small amounts, but these micrograms are critical for your health. Substituting the carbs and fat in a spinach salad topped with avocado is not interpreted by your body the same way the carbs and fat in an Oreo are.

I am not here to bash IIFYM, heck, I used to be a huge advocator for it. When I first adopted the style I achieved the tightest and most toned figure of my life, because I was literally weighing and tracking every gram of food that went in my mouth. At first, following an IIFYM dietary approach seemed like the answer to my prayers- I could eat cookies and cake without feeling guilty about it, since I knew I was still within my macros. I was able to improve my body composition without eating a bland diet that consisted of nothing but chicken and broccoli.

But after awhile IIFYM began to consume me. At one point (and this is the part that gets so much pushback) I was doing all I could to manipulate my meals to fit in as many “fun” foods as I could in a day- putting nutrition on the backburner. And then it evolved into such an obsession- I didn’t even see food anymore, I would just see numbers. Seriously, I wouldn’t even take a bite of anything homemade by anyone other than myself, since I couldn’t calculate specifically what the macros were of that bite (#obsessed.)

The 6 nutrients I listed above have a very important adjective in front of them, essential. Our bodies need all 6 to live a healthy, functional life. When you substitute the macros of real food in your diet with something processed, sadly, the vitamins and minerals are not replaced as well, leaving you nutritional devoid. For a day or two, this won’t affect you much, but over time these deficiencies can be life threatening.

The cells in our bodies work around the clock to keep us alive, using the food we ingest to keep them energized. If they don’t receive the proper chemical messages (coded in the vitamins and minerals of food) they have to work harder to do their job. When these cells are constantly working in overdrive, eventually they burn out, and our systems break down, making us prone to disease and disorder.

My point here is to put nutrition first. Even if you still weigh and track your food, ensure you’re eating 6-10 servings of vegetables and fruit a day, before you fill your macros will “fun” foods. If you don’t strictly track food, as I don’t anymore, the simplest “diet” you can ever go on is to focus on just eating real food. Food that is made with ingredients you can recognize, and has undergone minimal processing. To quote Jamie Oliver, “Real food doesn’t have ingredients, real food is ingredients.”

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