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do i need to count calories, food scale

2 Reasons Why You May Need To Count Calories

Do I need to count to calories? That is the question.

As a nutritionist, working from a holistic background, I have always believed counting calories was totally unnecessary. Eat whole foods, sleep and exercise. Avoid complicated measures. That is what I taught my clients….until now.

Note: What is a calorie? Calories give your body energy. So you can look at a calorie as a deposit of energy into your body. You can burn some of them off naturally by breathing, digesting food and even sleeping or you can burn them actively, by living an active lifestyle along with exercising. But in the end, if you consume a large excess of calories without burning them off, they may lead to fat gain in your body or difficulty losing weight

In my first few years working with clients to help them achieve a lifestyle plan that they love and can easily follow I was totally against counting calories.

I saw calorie counting as a failing work-around that let people eat non-nutritious food while watching the numbers drop on the scale only to see their weight skyrocket within months (Do you remember seeing ads for diet companies that showed a skinny person eating cake? All they had to do was count the points!).

I wanted to believe that people could learn to eat only when they are hungry and stop when they are satisfied without calorie counting.

I hated the fact that for some people, calorie counting was an obsession and it only helped them to control how little they ate (which was usually nowhere near how much they really needed to be eating) and did not improve how healthy they were.

And I fully trusted that if I could show my clients what a reasonable portion looked like, they could just eyeball their meals and never look back to counting calories.

And I wasn’t totally wrong.

In any solid nutrition program, clients will learn what healthy food really is and how to eyeball a reasonable portion of food within weeks. And after a few months of eating healthfully, hormones should reset and you suddenly remember what hunger and fullness actually feel like.

By the end of your hard work, you are fully able to eat your healthy meals every day without ever opening your calorie counting app because you know what your body needs. This is actually possible!

So, in the long term, calorie counting is generally not necessary.

However, many of us have no idea how much protein, fat or carbohydrate we are eating in a day, let alone calories. And I know that I was kidding myself about what I was actually eating (for example, I learned that I was eating far less veggies than I thought). This was only revealed to me when I started tracking my food for a couple of weeks.

So I was wrong in my belief that counting calories and tracking food was absolutely evil because, as I have learned from my amazing clients as well as through some personal experimentation, in the short term it can actually be very helpful.

Do I need to calories

Here are the two reasons why:

1. Portions

When it comes to your favourite foods I am betting that you are not entirely clear on what a reasonable portion looks like. I sure wasn’t!

For example, if you are about to slather healthy almond butter onto celery, how much are you going to use? I would probably have spooned about three tablespoons into a bowl and dipped my celery into it. But if you look at the nutrition label, the suggested serving is two tablespoons, not three.

And when you add cooking oil to a pan, how much do you use? You only need enough to cover the bottom of the pan…maybe a tablespoon…are you using more?

And how about nuts?

They are so easy to snack on. If someone put out a bowl of mixed nuts out, it would be easy to enjoy a few handfuls or more. But the label suggests a serving to be about 40g, (which is about a handful). Until I experimented with counting calories, weighing and tracking food, I would easily consume at least four handfuls of cashews a day.

And here is one last example: Cheese. My favourite cheese suggests a 30g cube (or 3cm cube) per serving…which is about a third of what I would usually have in one sitting! (I always enjoyed four slices of cheese to go with my four handfuls of cashews). I just had no idea how much energy I was getting from cheese because I had never bothered to look at the labels.

Now, the suggested serving is just a suggestion. Some days you may eat a little more or less of what the label suggests. And you could argue that when you are eating healthy food, to some degree, there is no harm in eating until you are full (have you ever been told you are eating too much broccoli)?

But as you will see in the next section, if you have weight loss goals, you may struggle with losing weight if you are eating too much calorie dense food.

So here are two action steps for you when it comes to portions:

  1. Read the labels of your favourite foods (yes, even chocolate bars) to get a clear idea of what a suggested serving is.
  2. Get a digital scale so that you can accurately measure out your portions (this will also come in handy when you track your food).

do I need to count calories, reading labels is important2. Caloric Density

Caloric density is the amount of calories per serving of a food. And caloric density is one of the hitches in the theory that you can eat as much as you want as long it is healthy.

To continue with the example above, let’s take a look at the caloric density of cashews and cheese.

First off, as long as you tolerate dairy well (for starters, you do not get bloated, gassy or acne after consuming it) , organic, raw cheese is a very healthy addition to your diet as are cashews. Both are good sources of minerals that your body requires to be healthy.

So regardless of the caloric density, these are both great foods to include in your diet. But you have to be aware of how much of these nutritious foods you are eating because if the energy that they give your body (the calories) is a whole lot more than you are burning each day, and you repeat the cycle of eating a whole lot more than you burn, day after day, you will likely see the scale go up, not down, even though you are eating healthy food.

It certainly was a wake-up call when I learned how calorically dense my snacks were.

So let’s do the calorie math on my favourite snack…

I was having 495 calories with my four small handfuls of cashews and the four slices of cheese I was eating were weighing in at another 240 calories.

That means that if I need roughly 2000 calories a day and I enjoy my cashews and cheese every night, that is 735 calories consumed in three minutes. That is very little food and a whole lot of energy intake.

I want you to really think about this. The food you see in the picture above was just a little less than half my daily calorie and energy needs! Clearly I still planned to eat three more meals every day and maybe a glass of wine. And to be honest, the first day that I tracked my food, I had consumed 4000 calories because I clearly had no idea the caloric density of some of the foods I was snacking on (That was an excessive day by the way. Most days I fall between 1800-2400 calories).

I quickly learned that if I reduce the portions of some of the very calorically dense foods, I can include more of other very nutritious foods (salads for example) that are less calorically dense and move closer to my health goals.

And take note, I said reduce, not eliminate…I can still enjoy my very nutritious cheese and cashews, just in a smaller quantity.

This is where the slow weight gain comes from for many people. We tend to over-consume bit by bit, day by day, and sometimes even very healthy foods are the culprits and every year we see the scale go up just a little more.

Important to remember…

Nutrient density is the amount of nutrients in a given food. And nutrient density is a very important consideration. You should never avoid a food that is nutritionally dense just because it is calorically dense. But you should eat it in reasonable portions.

Consuming healthy fat is a requirement for a healthy body and studies show that doing so may result in lowered risk of heart disease, diabetes and more.

So make sure to include healthy, high calorie foods in your diet on a daily basis. Just do so with a moderate approach. When you are choosing your next meal or snack look at the label (bonus points if it is a whole food that doesn’t need a label) and ask yourself “Is this worth it?” If the food is full of nutrients, it’s worth it. Just eat a reasonable portion.

Lastly, foods high in sugar are also high in calories. I focused on high fat foods today because there are many nutrient dense, high fat foods. With the exception of enjoying some fruit, if a food is high in sugar, you may just want to avoid it.

Here is a short list of popular healthy, high calorie foods. There are many more, so make sure to check labels:

  • dried fruit (raisins, dates, figs, dried cranberries)
  • almond butter
  • dark chocolate
  • avocado, guacamole
  • nuts and seeds, trail mix
  • olive oil (and other cooking oils)
  • coconut products
  • cheese
  • mayonnaise

What should I do now?

Hopefully I have convinced you of the huge value of tracking your food and calories for a period of time. Here is how I recommend you do it:

  1. Determine your daily calorie needs HERE. Keep in mind, this is not an exact answer, just a guide.
  2. Download a tracking app. I like Myfitnesspal and LoseIt.
  3. Purchase a digital food scale.
  4. Weigh your food with your scale and track what you eat for 3 days or more.
  5. Adjust your portions and food choices based on your results (prioritize the nutrient dense foods).
  6. Then stop tracking and enjoy eating like a normal person again while implementing what you have learned. Every now and then (maybe every six months or once a year) track for a few days and see if you should make any adjustments.

If you are struggling with weight loss or gain, this is only one part of the equation, but for some people, tracking food and counting calories for a short period of time makes all the difference.

Obviously, losing weight and maintaining that progress can be overwhelming sometimes. Knowing how much you should be eating, how much exercise is enough (or too much) and figuring out what other factors are playing a role can feel frustrating. That is why I work closely with my nutrition consulting clients, to help you create a healthy lifestyle that you love and that you can sustain. Connect with me HERE.



CTV Nov 2017

CTV: Foods That Warm You Up

This week’s visit to CTV was all about what foods warm you up.

I learned a lot while preparing for this segment. And I also got to work with a new host (Henry Burris…who is new to me since Lianne left the show).

See, I initially planned on talking about soups, stews and maybe a hot (spiked) drink of some kind…but had I done that, I would have been wrong!

Watch the short segment HERE to find out which foods actually do keep you warm.

And if you are looking for a recipe that you can add lots of hot peppers to…check out last week’s Dairy Free Butter Chicken recipe.

For more simple By Design recipes why not pick up your copy of the Eat By Design Cookbook. I’ve created it in the form of a 28-day meal plan (plus grocery lists!) so you don’t need to think about what’s for breakfast, lunch or dinner for the next month. Or you can grab the first 7 days FREE by clicking here.

5 Steps To Get Food Organized for Sports Tournaments

If you have a child in competitive sports you know what an away tournament can look like. Continental breakfasts, restaurant meals, treat sharing every night….That is why being food organized for sports tournaments can make all the difference in the world.

The downside of doing no planning and jumping in the car assuming that your tournament town and the rest stops along the way have all the food and drink that you need is that toward the end of the weekend you and your kids end up low on energy (which really sucks if you make it to the finals), people end up with short fuses….and low and behold, come monday….everyone is sick.

So here are my best tips on how I get food organized before we leave for hockey tournaments. I have to thank all the hockey moms and dad’s from my hometown who have given me ideas along the way.

And make sure to grab the free download at the end. It will be very useful for you.

1. Request a small fridge and microwave in your hotel room.

Many hotels already have these in each room but if you are not sure, just call the hotel in advance and request it. Sometime hotels only have limited numbers of them so don’t wait. Call now!

Remember that the hotel fridges are not large so use smaller packaging with the food that you bring bring ice for your cooler.

2. Find out if your hotel serves a hot breakfast.

One of my favourite hotel features is a hot breakfast. No, not because of the croissants (well, maybe I will treat myself to one…once…maybe:-)…

Seriously though, if they have some fruit, real eggs and bacon then that is perfect. Breakfast is covered. (Yes, we have actually seen not real eggs).

If not, plan to bring some hard boiled eggs, yogurt, trail mix and fruit. And if you want to get real classy, cook up some bacon at home and just heat it in the microwave! We also like Nutty Cereal so I have been known to just throw some almond milk and banana on top of whatever trail mix I bring and Voila! Nutty Cereal at it’s finest.

3. Take a look at your team schedule for the weekend.

Hopefully your team manager has put together an itinerary that notes when the team plans to eat together and when you are all on your own. I know ours does…she’s amazing like that.

There may be a team pizza night on the Friday and restaurant on the Saturday. If so, good/not-good but your dinners are covered.

Did you think I was going to recommend you just attend the pizza party but bring your own chicken breast and broccoli? Surprise! No. After a couple of years at this, I realize that that’s just not going to work for most people.

Enjoy your pizza. I’ll be chomping down on mine right beside you…(but it will probably be gluten-free:-).

You can suggest to the team manager that someone pick up a veggie and fruit platter to go along with the pizza as well as some bottled water (this has always come out of our team budget and I’ve never heard a complaint).

And make a decent menu choice at the restaurant.

4. Fill in the gaps

So if breakfast and dinners are covered, you are left with snacks and lunches.

This is where a little meal prep comes in handy. I usually choose a couple of meals that reheat well and then make them before we go. Perhaps a Shepherd’s Pie and Egg Roll in a Bowl. These serve as meals for in the car and lunch on Saturday and likely Sunday.

Another simple lunch is a pack of better quality lunch meats, raw veggies, cheese and mayo. We like to wrap the cheese in the lunch meat with a little mayo and enjoy the veggies on the side with some hummus. It’s quick, easy, cheap and healthier than most fast food options.

This means I also bring paper plates, plastic cutlery, a little knife and cutting board and stuff to wash the dishes.

And then we just heat up the food in the microwave in our room. But if you are in a decent hotel, they will be happy to bring plates and cutlery to your room. They even brought me cloth napkins once! Just call housekeeping.

5. Make a list

And now for the best part. I am actually going to give you the grocery and packing list that I use when I am getting ready for an away tournament. You can download it for free HERE..

It has all of the ideas I mentioned above plus a few more. You can follow it to the letter or you can use it to get a few ideas so that you feel a little more prepared at your next tournament.

I hope you find it useful. You can get the free list HERE.. And let me know how it goes!


So here is the recap on how to be food organized for sports tournaments.

  1. Request a small fridge and microwave.
  2. Find out if the hotel has a hot breakfast.
  3. Find out your team’s itinerary. When are you on your own for meals?
  4. Fill in the gaps.
  5. Make a list of what you need.

You see, I haven’t told you that I think you should try and eat perfect all weekend. What I want for you is that you have plenty of great options available because it will make your indulgences be a bit less…and that makes a difference.

So feel free to use this list to get yours started. And good luck at your tournament! You can download the list HERE..

What would you add to the list?

Let me know in the comments below! 


How to get kids to eat veggies

CTV Live: Getting Your Kids To Eat Veggies

Watch the segment HERE.

During my recent visit to CTV Live in Ottawa, Leanne Lang and I discussed the impossible…how to get more veggies into your kids’ diets!

As you will see, this is not an impossible task and it can actually be a lot of fun.

Watch the segment HERE.

Helpful links:

Magic Bullet: Check it out HERE.

Paleoethics Greens Mix: Check it out HERE.

Learn about Jicama HERE.

And you can get the Avocado Chocolate Pudding Recipe HERE.

For simple By Design recipes why not pick up your copy of the Eat By Design Cookbook. I’ve created it in the form of a 28-day meal plan (plus grocery lists!) so you don’t need to think about what’s for breakfast, lunch or dinner for the next month. Or you can grab the first 7 days FREE by clicking here.

Foil Fondue

Campfire Chocolate Fondue

This summer has been all about the Campfire Chocolate Fondue that my kids and I discovered in the early days of June. You may already know that I love fondue so much if you have seen my Simple Chocolate Fondue Video.

But this one is different…because you cook it over the campfire!

I love camping with friends. But it has always been a bit of a struggle when it comes to campfire time. As everyone settles in around the fire, out come the marshmallows or worse, the smores (have you noticed the ingredients in many of these brands?).

And for years, I never had an alternative. I even made my own marshmallows once but really, who has time for that when you also have to pack an entire family for camping?

So one day my sister introduced me to the idea of wrapping fruit in foil and cooking it over the fire (she did whole, cored apples with raisins, cinnamon and butter). And I took the idea and turned it into what I like best, fondue.

Now to be clear, fondue is generally known for having a pot containing a melted food for dipping (cheese, oil or chocolate) and it is shared communally. This version of fondue has no pot and nothing to dip so on a technicality you may want to argue that it is not really fondue…but you can share it communally right from the foil or serve it up in bowls so I am sticking with the name “fondue.”

Foil wraps are so convenient because they make for easy clean up and they can go directly on the hot coals with no worry about warping a pan or melting anything by accident!

And I love that the fruit is also cooked in this recipe….I am in love with the warm blueberries that pop softly in your mouth, the softened strawberries that remind me of a strawberry pie and the banana slices that melt right in your mouth before you can chew them…(insert a very dramatic, slightly sensual “sigh” here)!

But of course, you can use whatever fruit that gets you that excited!

Notes on cooking these over the fire: First off, you want hot coals not fire. So move the wood aside and place the packet right on the red hot coals.

You will want to have a large set of tongs and perhaps an oven mitt to remove the packets from the heat. And check them after 3-5 minutes. They cook super fast. What you are looking for is that the chocolate has begun to melt. it doesn’t have to be completely liquid to be amazing.

Who needs marshmallows when you have Campfire Chocolate Fondue? (Ok, I admit, I did chop up a few just to see what they would taste like once…and it was pretty (very) good, but totally unnecessary and really not healthy).

Before I give you the recipe here is a little tutorial on making foil wraps:

  1. Place food on foil.Foil Fondue
  2. Bring long edges together and fold them over the top of the food.foil wrap
  3. Fold outer edges inward a couple of times so nothing can leak out.

Campfire Chocolate Fondue

  • Fruit of choice (mixed berries, bananas, apples)
  • dark chocolate chips or pieces
  • sea salt
  1. Wash and cut up fruit.
  2. Break chocolate into small pieces if necessary (chocolate chips are fine as is).
  3. Place fruit on a rectangular piece of aluminum foil and top with chocolate and sea salt.
  4. Wrap the foil as per the instructions above.
  5. Place on hot coals (not in the flame) for 3-5 minutes and then remove foil packet from fire using an oven mitt and large tongs. Check to see if the chocolate is melted to your liking. If not, close it back up and put it back on the coals. Do not let it burn!

For more simple By Design recipes why not pick up your copy of the Eat By Design Cookbook. I’ve created it in the form of a 28-day meal plan (plus grocery lists!) so you don’t need to think about what’s for breakfast, lunch or dinner for the next month. Or you can grab the first 7 days FREE by clicking here.