Why Calories Don't Matter

The first rule of the Equinox nutrition philosophy: Focus on eating nutrient dense foods rather than counting calories.

The Equinox nutrition philosophy is comprised of 12 fundamental nutritional pillars, all of which support the health of your cells, and thus increase your body’s overall energy capabilities while decreasing acidity and inflammation. The result: A younger, healthier (and we bet, happier) you with a metabolic system that hums. Here, pillar 1:

It’s probably a mental checklist in your head or perhaps an app on your phone. You tabulate: Breakfast, 320. Lunch, 410. And barter with yourself: Afternoon snack, 100…or pre-dinner cocktails? Or have both and skip dinner? If you’re keeping tabs on calories, you’re not alone — the majority of us have dabbled in this time-sapping, often inaccurate pastime. And why not? Calories in versus calories out has become the mantra by which we measure weight gain and weight loss. The problem with this approach is that counting calories typically leads to cutting calories — and the combo is damaging to both your waistline and your health.

“When you chronically lower caloric intake, your body interprets it as starvation—a stress situation—and a number of things happen,” says Dr. Jeffrey Morrison, a member of the Equinox Health Advisory Board. “The catabolic hormone cortisol is produced, which goes to work promoting fat storage, depressing the immune system, and creating fatigue; the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin is upregulated, which makes you want to eat more; and the active thyroid hormone T3 is deactivated, causing the production of Reverse T3, which binds to certain receptor sites and essentially prevents your metabolism from turning on.” If that’s not enough of a wake-up call to rethink the approach, consider this: When you focus on calories everything becomes about the numbers rather than the nutrition and you can end up losing out on key vitamins and minerals.

A highly processed snack pack with 100 Calories emblazoned on it suddenly seems like a deal. So you pass on that large apple that rings in at roughly the same amount of calories. But that apple also delivers Vitamin C, folate, fiber, potassium (necessary for muscle contractions), and Vitamin B6, thiamin, and riboflavin (a trio that happens to aid healthy metabolism). Get our drift?

Start thinking in terms of nutrients instead of calories. Choose foods that give you a bigger nutritional bang for your buck, rather than processed junk with a lower caloric tally. “Those empty-calorie foods are simple carbs that are processed quickly and don’t support optimal cell function,” says Morrison, who recommends focusing the bulk of your diet on nutrient-rich vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Try sulforaphane-rich Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage, chicken, turkey, and fish, and nuts and monounsaturated olive oil. Supplement that fare with complex carbs that digest slowly and help keep your metabolism revved — like quinoa, sweet potatoes, and Irish oats.

“Sulforaphanes improve liver detoxification and help remove bad estrogens from the body, reducing your risk of estrogen-related cancers like breast and prostate cancer,” says Morrison. “And quinoa is very nutrient-dense with all the essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals you need, plus it’s the most complete protein of all the grains.”

So quit all that calculating and get creative in the kitchen with our nutrient-dense Tasting Tablerecipes:

Warm Quinoa Oat Squares with Date Sugar

Spicy Brussels Sprouts Salad with Kimchi, Peanuts, and Lime

If you're just tuning into our 12-month eating overhaul, read ournutrition philosophy.