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Nutrition or Calories?

May 15, 2011

Ohhh mah gudness!!!! Thank you so much for all your wonderful comments on my last post. I appreciate it more than words can describe! And I want to send an extra thank you to those of you who left me some questions. They are all so great, an I know I’m going to have a lot of fun answering them!

So as you may have guessed from the title, I’m going to be yapping today about nutrition density versus calorie content. Say you’re a calorie counter. You are given 2 bowls of food, one at 120 calories, one at 200. Just based on that alone, you would probably go for the lower calorie option. Now what if I told you the 120 calories were of oreos, and the 200 calories were from a baked sweet potato? Would you still choose the oreos?

Everybody is different, but I know that back when I was at my worst point in my ED, I would have definitely chosen the cookies. I am sure that I would rather have wanted to spare the 80 calories. Back then, 5 calories was a lot (whether my meal was 350 or 355 made a huge difference to me), and 80 calories could have easily been a whole meal! I would much rather have “saved” 80 calories than get all the great fiber, vitamins, and healthy starches that would have come in the 80 extra calories of sweet potato. Sad, huh? Today, I’d choose the sweet potato, no doubt about it. Firstly, I rarely crave cookies and other typical snack/dessert foods. Secondly, I try to look at my food in terms of nutrition, rather than calorie content. 

Here’s another example: as you know, I love my yogurt BOYs, and a major component of that is cereal. My two favorites to add are Special K and Kashi Go Lean. Per one cup, Special K is 120 and Kashi Go Lean is 140. Based on that alone, I might go with the Special K. But after a quick look at the rest of the nutrition stats, I’d quickly change my mind. I would see that the Kashi has tons  more nutrition then the Special K. The former is puffed air, and essentially “empty calories” while the latter is chock full of protein, fiber, and whole grains.

Oftentimes, it’s not about calories at all, but about the nutrients that you get per calorie. Obviously, the nutrition info for Kashi is far superior to Special K. The ingredients list is also much better. For me, the major thing I notice is that Special K has high fructose corn syrup and Kashi does not.

If you also notice, one cup of Special K is 31 grams and Kashi is 52 grams. So really, you get more cereal (by weight) in a cup of Kashi Go Lean, which then explains the higher calorie content. So if we made the weights the same, 31 grams of the Kashi equal 83 calories, versus the 120 calories per 31 grams in the other.

Well, I’m not sure if any of that last paragraph made sense, but I hope it did. I’d like to note that I am not implying that you should stop eating Special K if you do. Hey, I eat a little bit in my yogurt sometimes. I’m just saying that if you’re reaching for the Special K (or any other food) simply because it is the lower calorie option, you might want to stop and reconsider. Yes, it’s got  less calories (what’s so great about “low-calorie” anyway?), but it’s probably got less fiber/ protein/whole grains/healthy fats/vitamins+minerals as well. The only things it might have more of are artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. And is that really what you want to be eating? Are a few measly calories worth it?

Oh, and if you have any questions for me, feel free to ask, either in the comments section of this post or in this one. I’ll wait a few more days before I do the Q&A post.


Do you generally go by nutrition or calories when you decide what you want to eat?

Like I said above, I used to focus only on calories. As I started my second recovery, my focus switched to nutrition instead. (Though not at all in an obsessive way.)

What’s your favorite cereal?

Kashi Go Lean!!!! That’s why I used it in my example. I think it’s really filling and super yummy! 🙂

15 Comments leave one →
  1. May 15, 2011 7:26 pm

    THANK YOU FOR POINTING THIS OUT! That’s why I think calories are complete BS because I’m sure that even though something might be higher in calories, the body most likely digests it differently due to the more nutrients in it or the texture and therefore it would use more energy to digest the nutrient dense food! Things like nuts for example. If I was wanting to be healthy and I was given the option of a handful of nuts at 200 calories or a brownie at 170 calories, I would choose the nuts because of the nutrients, d’uh! But also the body would have to use more energy to digest the nuts as they are packed with nutrients and the body would have to work harder to break them down due to the texture.

    I’ll stop there haha.

  2. May 15, 2011 7:47 pm

    Bryana, this is such a great post!!!!! I’ve never believed in calorie-counting because I’ve always believed that nutrient-dense calories are way better than empty calories, and if you are only eating based on numbers, then the whole idea of nourishment and health is completely forgotten! our bodies are not calculators, and eating based on physical + mental nourishment takes into account a more holistic, full picture of health! this is a post that sooo many people need to read!!

  3. May 15, 2011 9:58 pm

    LOVE THIS POST!!!! Such an important topic to discuss.
    I went through phases in the midst of my eating disorder. First, it wasn’t about calorie-counting at all- it was just trying to eat as little as possible with as little fat. Then it sort of shifted into calorie-counting- I could eat whatever I wanted as long as I stayed below a certain number. I am so glad those days are behind me!
    Nowadays, I kind of just eat what I want, as long as it fits into the exchanges I need. I’m not too picky about ingredients- I probably should be, but I find it easier for now to just ignore labels.

  4. time for happiness permalink
    May 15, 2011 11:02 pm

    loveee this. I think sometimes its hard to see that the lowest calories arent exactly always the best! I tryyy to go for nutrition, but sometimes my ed gets the better of me and I choose for calories… but it is definately something I am, as well as I am sure everyone too should be working on. I loved this though 🙂

  5. May 15, 2011 11:36 pm

    I used to be the exact same, mostly only caring about the calories. But since I also am somewhat orthorexic, I was also obsessed with eating extremely healthy. So it took me awhile to find a happy medium between the two. Now I’m definitely less obsessed with calories, but still am a little too obsessive about eating all-natural and avoiding certain ingredients and products. I realize that this isn’t healthy either so I’m working on focusing on nutritious foods without letting it control my life! This was really helpful for me to read so I know what I should be working towards.

  6. May 16, 2011 5:36 am

    OMGOMGOGM AMAZING POST!! SO MANY people need to realizee this!!! thank you for writing a VERY well written post to explain just that!!!!!

  7. May 16, 2011 11:25 am

    I’ll echo the above and say that I also used to only focus on calories. Even at the beginning of my recovery I would pack such processed junk into my body – simply because I knew the calorie content. It was really liberating to start to focus on the health aspect of things, instead of getting so caught up in a silly number. I feel way better now then I did then and I think you brought up a very important point.

  8. May 16, 2011 6:15 pm

    This question isn’t so easily answered for me- if you ask which one. I’d say the sweet potatoes, because it is bigger than two oreos/ less dense therefore less scary, therefore I could even take some out in order for it to be equal to the oreos is I wanted to. I’e always had a minimum/ maximum in my meals, even in my disorder, so really if the oreos had been under (which it was slghtly) I’d still reather have the potato for the above reasons. At first too it was just calories I cared about (4 years ago) and then a while later I noticed how I was feeling more tired and out of it and attributed it to the types of foods (not how little I was eating) and started eating more “healthy” which only made things more complicated. I’ll shut up now…

  9. emsalot permalink
    May 16, 2011 6:44 pm

    I love this post! Deep into my ED I would choose the lowest calorie option- no matter the ingredients or nutrition- but now I place emphasis on whole, natural ingredients opposed to calories, and the more nutrient dense, the better. My favorite cereal is Kashi GoLean Crunch(:

  10. Jessica permalink
    May 17, 2011 6:56 am

    I try to focus on nutrition as much as I can. There are still times when I flip the packet over and “check” calorie content but those days are getting fewer and far between. It’s hard I think, especially after an eating disorder. I found it so hard to let go of just knowing what was in my food. You go from counting to restrict, to counting to gain to trying to find some sort of balance without numbers at all. It’s challenge and I totally agree with you here; nutrition is the most important.

    I so want to try Kashi but we don’t get it over in the UK (never mind Russia!)…I’m have a nostalgic love for Weetabix! 🙂 xxx

  11. May 17, 2011 12:33 pm

    All of this is just so true. i used to be exactly the same in the midst of anorexia, not caring about the nutrition only the calories. Now i’m OBSESSED with making sure anything I eat does something good for me e.g. good fats, protein… good post!

  12. May 17, 2011 10:43 pm

    I firmly believe that a calorie is not a calorie – I hate it when people push that mentality. I’ve never been a big calorie counter – if I eat a “bad” food I am going to feel just as bad no matter how many calories it had (cuz calories didnt determine the goodness or badness of a food). I do get obsessive with counting sometimes (rarely), mostly when my anorexia was at its worst. But even then I was more focused on just recording everything I ate and not necessarily calories.

    I eat foods for the nutrients in them, so to be honest I normally don’t give a crap what the calories are. I feel like I should but whatever. My list of “bad foods” was foods that taste good but my body doesn’t need.

  13. May 18, 2011 3:29 pm

    I so agree, and when I hear people ordering sugar free egg white fat free blablablabla and I am so sad. Nutrition is so so so much different than calories!

    But also, I don’t think its normal to focus so hard on nutrients. We should eat what tastes good!

  14. Heather permalink
    July 27, 2011 8:25 am

    I noticed when I measure my special k with red berries in a 1 cup measurement that it actually weighs 62g not 31g, what gives??? I don’t get it. When I measure it by the 1 cup measurement am I actually eating 2x the calories? When I weigh out 31 g it seem sooo little. What’s going on, the flakes are not smushed, just normal. Any ideas?

    • July 29, 2011 8:33 pm

      Hi Heather!

      Yes, that kind of thing tends to happen a lot, where the serving size in volume does not match the serving size in weight. For example, I find that the nutrition label can read 1 slice of bread (34 grams) and when I actually weigh the slice, it’s something like 45-50 grams. When that kind of thing happens, I usually go by the volume. I understand it to mean, “in a 34 gram slice there are x calories,” rather than “each slice, no matter what ‘size’, is x calories.”
      In the case of your cereal, I think that if it is 62 grams, then it is in fact twice the calories. Since you’re saying the flakes are not crushed, I’m really not sure what makes the weight more… When it comes to cereal, nuts, flour, etc., I always use the scale rather than a measuring cup, because I feel like it’s more accurate that way.

      Oh, and this really random, but I’ve read that food manufacturers are allowed a 20% margin of error. That is to say, if a product label reads “100 calories per serving size,” by law it is allowed to actually have 120…or even 80. Or, if it has 0.49g fat per serving, it is allowed to be rounded down to 0. So one can’t always trust food labels because sometimes they’re not reliable.

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