K: Mama, what are calories?
Me: They’re the stuff in food that gives you energy.
K: Do they make you sick?
Me: Nope. Why do you think that?
K: I heard someone say that they didn’t want to eat too many calories. They make you sick.
Me: Who said that?
K: I don’t remember.
Me: We eat food so we can be healthy and strong. We need to eat enough calories to do fun stuff like run and play.
It was random question day at our house again. Every day is random question day when you have a preschooler. And before my science-minded readers correct me on the definition of a Calorie, remember, K is 4.5 years old. It has become clear to me that our culture has definitely demonized food and the mighty calorie. And when they regularly overhear statements like, “I can’t eat that, it has too many calories,” or “How many calories does that have?” our children can’t help making negative associations. I touched on a similar topic a few months ago in Mommy, I Don’t Want to Look Fat! I have to constantly remind myself that our kids are like sponges for attitudes and cultural mores. They follow our cues.
We seem to have forgotten that food is not the enemy, it’s the fuel we need to live, to play, to exist. As an athlete, I need to take in enough calories and enough of the right calories or I don’t have enough energy for my workouts and to recover afterwards. Also, without enough food, I feel like crap and I turn into a heinous bitch. Julia recently wrote an amazing piece on her own recovery and realizations on this topic.
I just read a great blog yesterday about the magical 1200 calories. And she’s right, almost every calorie calculator suggests that I eat 1200 calories. Or less. Most days, I burn 1200 calories with my workout. How the heck am I supposed to have the energy to exist without more? And if I tried, I most certainly would have trouble meeting fitness goals or avoiding/recovering from injury.
While there are certainly legitimate reasons for some people to restrict calories, I think that as a culture, we’d probably be healthier and possibly happier, if we created a better relationship with food first and focused on health and fueling our lives versus a number on the scale, pants’ tag or the calorie count on the nutritional information label. And we need to encourage our children to do the same.
I admit, I have not had the best relationship with food. I have been a serial dieter and calorie counter most of my life. And calorie counting works for me – to lose weight and maintain weight loss. However, I have found that when I eat more intuitively and with more love toward that food as fuel, I feel better and can go longer and harder.
I have also discovered that my body seems to gravitate toward a weight. Scientists refer to this as a set point. Yes, it is possible to lower that set point (and I have done so in the past), but for me, this is not without risks to my health, fitness goals and happiness. As much as I would love to wear a size 0 again, I would much rather eat pizza and have a beer once in a while. I would also like to continue to run 15-20 miles a week and have the energy and positive attitude necessary to single parent two young children.
So, for now, I am going to focus on rekindling my relationship with food and to view calories as the stuff in food that gives me energy, strength and good health. Thanks for the lesson, K!
Featured Image Credit: Waltarrrr