I’m pretty zen these days but there are still a couple topics that get me fired up; things like social injustices, gender equality, the propaganda of the fitness industry, and those who could have pulled up in the Starbucks drive-thru but leave me three feet away from ordering.

During the holiday season, especially leading into the New Year, the marketing of the fitness industry is in full effect. Last week I saw a lifestyle blogger share a meme that said “I am sick and tired of food having calories” and I’ve got to be honest, my zen went right out the window. Calories may have the worst reputation in the modern industrialized world, and they don’t deserve it.

Calories, like fat, have gotten a bad rap because we are in the midst of what we’re told is an obesity epidemic. There is a global health crisis, and obesity is not the problem. The problem is our overall well being.

We should focus less on shrinking bodies and more on our well-being. It’s time for a paradigm shift in the health industry. It’s time to change the language we use and how we relate to things like food and calories.

A calorie is a measurement of energy. We need calories because our bodies need energy. As a society, we not only avoid calories but are willing to pay extra for food that’s advertised as having less. This means we are actually willing to pay extra for less value not to mention we’re trading in aspects such as satisfaction and enjoyment.

The fear of calories stems from the old adage “eat less, move more” or the theory of energy balance. The theory of energy balance says if you burn more energy (calories) than you consume (eat/drink) than you will lose weight. While it may be theoretically accurate, it’s often misunderstood and misapplied in real life.

First of all, most people do not know to account for all energy burned in a day and not just energy burned during a workout. Our bodies burn energy doing basic functions like breathing, swallowing, digesting foods, and keeping our hearts beating. So the next time you are feeling guilty for not working out give yourself a pat on the back because just getting through the day you managed to burn some major energy.

Secondly, each person burns and absorbs energy differently. You and your friend may eat the exact same 300 calorie snack while you may absorb 290 of those calories, she may absorb 285. There are so many factors that come into play when our bodies break down food; we’re talking hundreds of genes, certain medications, disease processes, environmental toxins, gut bacteria and the one most conventional health books miss: stress.

Lastly, mix in the fact that U.S. law allows manufacturers a 20 percent margin of error when labeling calorie information on food. The truth is, even if you know the calorie count of your food, you never truly know how much is getting into your body.

Your body is heavily invested in keeping you healthy. Your body is the one thing that actually does know how much of that energy you absorbed and how much more of it you need. You came packaged with all the information you need to adjust your calorie intake based off of what your specific body needs. In order to actually follow those guidelines, you’ll need to let go of the “diet” control. You’ll need to shift the language you use both out loud and in your own head. You’ll need to change how you relate to things like calories and food. The first, easiest, and best step you can take towards this is relating calories and food to nourishment and not as villainous creatures trying to pack on the pounds.

Sweat & Smiles