Balanced Bites Podcast | Diane Sanfilippo & Liz Wolfe

Podcast Episode #290: Calorie & Macro Counting

Diane Sanfilippo Featured, Paleo and Primal, Podcast Episodes 3 Comments

Balanced Bites Podcast | Diane Sanfilippo & Liz WolfeTopics

  1. News and updates from Diane and Liz [1:54]
  2. Shout out: social media commenter who shared a recipe picture [5:30]
  3. Today's topic, and an excerpt from Liz's book [7:17]
  4. Finding a balance between over and undereating [13:03]
  5. Is calorie counting even necessary? [21:52]
  6. Providing accountability [28:48]
  7. Taking a long-term approach [33:33]

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You’re listening to the Balanced Bites podcast episode 290.

Diane Sanfilippo: Welcome to the Balanced Bites podcast. I’m Diane; a certified nutrition consultant, and the New York Times bestselling author of Practical Paleo and The 21-Day Sugar Detox. I live in San Francisco with my husband and fur kids.

Liz Wolfe: I’m Liz; a nutritional therapy practitioner, and author of the Wall Street Journal best-seller Eat the Yolks; The Purely Primal Skincare Guide; and the online program Baby Making and Beyond. I live on a farm in the mystical land of the Midwest, outside of Kansas City.

We’re the co-creators of the Balanced Bites Master Class, and we’ve been bringing you this award winning podcast for 5 years and counting. We’re here to share our take on modern paleo living, answer your questions, and chat with leading health and wellness experts. Enjoy this week’s episode, and submit your questions at Remember our disclaimer: The materials and content within this podcast are intended as general information only, and are not to be considered a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Before we get started, let’s hear from one of our sponsors.

Liz Wolfe: The Balanced Bites podcast is sponsored in part by the Nutritional Therapy Association. The NTA trains and certifies nutritional therapy practitioners and consultants (including me; I’m an NTP), emphasizing bio-individuality and the range of dietary strategies that support wellness. The NTA emphasizes local, whole, properly prepared nutrient dense foods as the key to restoring balance and enhancing the body’s ability to heal. Nutritional therapy practitioners and consultants learn a wide range of tools and techniques to assess and correct nutritional imbalances. To learn lots more about the nutritional therapy program, go to There are workshop venues in the US, Canada, and Australia, so chances are you’ll be able to find a venue that works for you.

1. News and updates from Diane & Liz [1:54]

Liz Wolfe: Hey everyone, it’s me Liz, her with Diane.

Diane Sanfilippo: Oh, hey!

Liz Wolfe: Oh hey. Let’s address the elephant in the room. We had no little creative additions to our personal introductions.

Diane Sanfilippo: {laughs}

Liz Wolfe: This will happen now and then.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah.

Liz Wolfe: I haven’t slept in two days, and you just finished with an intense workout; and sometimes, you know, you just don’t switch it on for these things .things.

Diane Sanfilippo: {laughs} I mean, talking about the frizz ball that is my hair right now, that you can see, Liz.

Liz Wolfe: I can. I don’t know why you wanted to do a video podcast; it was a terrible idea.

Diane Sanfilippo: I don’t really want to, but I think it works better when I can see your face. Because then I can time my chiming in with “hello” properly. See? Anyway.

Liz Wolfe: That’s fair enough. I don’t know; I kind of look at it as, I don’t know, doing it in the dark. I just prefer to imagine what you look like versus… never mind. Ok.

Diane Sanfilippo: {laughs} Versus,Versus actually seeing this ridiculousness? Ok.

Liz Wolfe: {laughing} So what are your updates?

Diane Sanfilippo: Updates quickly. We’ve got the 21-Day Sugar Detox Coaches program opening at the end of May; so if you’ve been waiting for that, because we didn’t have a class open during the calendar year last year, mostly because I was re-releasing Practical Paleo and life was super busy and hectic. But we do have that opening up end of May. I’m really excited, because we’ve got a ton of folks who have been just kind of chomping at the bit.

And that program is excellent for anybody who is any kind of health coach, even if you’re a personal trainer and you seem to talk about nutrition a lot. If you love the 21-Day Sugar Detox, you want a program you can coach through people through; the coaches program is very specifically designed to guide you through coaching people through that program. So we tell you exactly what you can talk about week by week for all of your sessions. You can use as much of our scripted content as you want, or go off on your own. It just makes it very, very easy for you. So if you’re like, “I don’t know how to work with people with nutrition, this just seems overwhelming, there’s so much I could talk about.” We’re just laying it all out for you.

And it’s also a great business program. We give you lots of marketing tools, it’s an amazing community of practitioners who are actually out there giving corporate talks; giving talks at different health fairs and events. Grocery stores in their community, and also coaching people online. So it’s just a great community, so look out for that.

And of course; Balanced Bites spices. I’ve been doing a ton of cooking videos over on Facebook. I just kind of call them “Cook with Me” videos. I do them live, and they’re kind of messy, and they're kind of random. But if I’m going to plan them out and make them super neat and organized and; I don’t know , thought out far ahead of time they’re probably not going to happen so often {laughs}. So I basically just kind of flip the camera on and show you what I’m cooking that day; right then, what I’m about to eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. And I think people are really enjoying them. But I’m showing you guys how I cook with the spices every day without needing specific recipes all the time; just kind of making it easy. So those are my big updates. What’s going on over in the Midwest?

Liz Wolfe: That last time I slept was Monday at 8 a.m. it is currently Wednesday at 1:45 p.m. it actually wasn’t that bad. We’ve had a couple of sleepless nights at my house, so that kind of takes precedence over everything. But I feel sufficiently caffeinated. Got a little nap in yesterday; but that’s pretty much my news today. That’s all I can muster.

Diane Sanfilippo: Fair enough.

Liz Wolfe: Fair enough.

2. Shout out: Social media commenter shared a recipe picture [5:30]

Diane Sanfilippo: Alright; so I have a really quick shout out for one of my; I think she was on Facebook, I guess. Readers, followers, etc. She watched my Facebook live video, that I just alluded to a moment ago. Or, I didn’t allude to; I spoke about {laughs} a moment ago. M2Brown. She posted it on Instagram, but she must have watched it on Facebook. But, I shared this on social media, as well, because I was super excited. She watched the video, and just kind of made her own notes, and then went on and cooked a recipe that was based on what I had done. I felt like this was a very self-empowered, self-reliant action on her part, and I just have a lot of respect for that.

I really; I get it, you guys want recipes all the time, but sometimes I’m really not cooking from a recipe, and what I’m trying to do is inspire and empower and encourage and motivate you guys to get more comfortable with that gray area. Where maybe somebody shows you all the ingredients they use, and you kind of have to taste it as you go. Because even if you do use a recipe that is fully measured out, you might not like it the way that it’s made.

But in order for me to be able to share more with you guys, sometimes it’s not all perfectly measured out; and I don’t want that to keep me from sharing, but at the same time I thought it was really cool that she just literally; I don’t know if it was later that day or the next day, whipped up exactly what I had cooked in whatever way she felt was good, and posted a picture of it. And I was like, “That’s so cool!” So I just wanted to give her a little shout out. I don’t know if she’s a podcast listener or not; but it was very cool for me to see that, and yeah. That’s it.

3. Today’s topic, and an excerpt from Liz’s book [7:17]

Liz Wolfe: Lovely. So, today’s topic. I participate in this podcast under duress, and I know you know that. And I would actually like to; so you and I actually don’t think that differently. Ok; our topic today is calorie counting and macros. And to lay the foundation here; you and I, Diane, we do not think all that differently about this, but we approach it from very different angles that unless you really take a second to dig into the nuances, it’s not going to appear that way.

So I know you have a lot of notes, and you’re going to say a lot. But I would like to contribute a little vignette by reading part of my bestselling book, Eat the Yolks, where I talked about calories, just to give people kind of an outline of what I think you and I both fundamentally believe and understand before we start piling everything else on top of that. Would that be alright with you?

Diane Sanfilippo: Sounds good.

Liz Wolfe: Ok. So, if you all haven’t picked up my book, Eat the Yolks, it’s actually a lovely book. Every time I read it, or portions of it; I think to myself, “Wow! I would not have expected you to write something this good, self.” So pick it up, check it out. I have a whole section on calories and nutrients. And what I write here is as follows. This is just an excerpt:

“The way our bodies use food is orders of magnitude more intricate than a simple count of calories eaten and burned. And our metabolism is driven by complex interactions of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, hormones, and things with nerdy acronyms like ATP and BMR. These facts don’t change.

BMR, or basal metabolic rate, is an acronym that most of us have probably heard of. I used to spend hours obsessing over it in my quest to change my body. I didn’t understand that BMR isn’t the approximate measure of how much we need to restrict our calorie intake in order to get skinny; it’s actually just an approximation of the bare minimum amount of energy we need to fuel all the incredible things our bodies do when we aren’t physically moving at all.

The millions upon millions of chemical reactions that take place when we’re at rest; including those that power a healthy metabolism; require an astounding amount of…” excuse me. Excuse me. Must turn the page.

“Require an astounding amount of energy. Running a half marathon uses less energy than our bodies require for a full day of chemical reactions alone, and for years I was dead set on short changing and underfeeding those chemical reactions so I could look like a Hollywood bobble head. What was I thinking? Every single thing our bodies do, from lying in bed to running half marathons; to thinking, digesting, moving nutrients across cell membranes, and even turning the pages of a book requires energy. Food provides the raw materials for energy; calories in; and we’re told that to change our bodies we have to manipulate both the incoming calories and the amount of energy we expend; calories out. And so, we wave our pompoms, and cheer for “team calorie” as if it’s the metabolic be-all and end-all of the weight game.

But; there’s more to it than that. In order to lay claim to the energy contained in our food and stored in our bodies; and in order to burn it, certain things have to happen. A bite of broccoli doesn’t travel directly to your brain to power an hour-long daydream about Ryan Gosling or Megan Fox. Food, just like body fat, must be metabolized before it means anything to our bottom line. Calories are nothing but an approximation of potential energy, until our metabolism gets cracking. And from there; there’s talk about hormones, there’s talk about ATP, there’s talk about all of the other things that actually determine the energy balance in our bodies.”

So if you haven’t read my book yet, go read it.

Diane Sanfilippo: It’s a good one.

Liz Wolfe: It is a good one; I must say. So, a lot of the questions that we got about calorie counting and macros from you all were somewhat similar to one another, so we will break this into a few sections when talking about calorie counting and macros. But I think a really important note before we begin is that finding a balance, which is think what we’re all seeking; finding a balance between listening to your body and making sure you’re not over or under-eating is probably most people’s goal. And how do you prevent the calorie/macro counting obsessiveness, and I think that before we apply or before you, the listener, applies any of the things we’re going to talk about to yourself; as yourself, can calorie counting, given my history and mental state, ever be healthy for me? For some people, it’s always going to be unhealthy. And there are other things you’ll need to work through first. So we put that caveat out there, because we understand how fraught this topic is, just because of all the health and wellness information that we’ve been given for most of us for decades. So make sure you ask yourself that question first.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah; so the reason that we’re even continuing to address this is that we definitely feel like we have a very balanced; pun intended; view of this whole thing. There is some validity to the approach, but there’s also a lot, as Liz read in her excerpt; it’s not just about the calories. But there is a usefulness and a utility to this weighing and measuring approach. So I’m just going to get into a few details; we’re not going to read all the specific questions, as Liz mentioned; because they were kind of all centered around; this one question, at least to start out. We’ve got a couple of different topics we’re going to address.

4. Finding a balance between over and undereating [13:03]

Diane Sanfilippo: So, on the topic of finding balance between listening to your body, not over- or under- eating; and then also preventing this idea of becoming too obsessive. First off; what I believe the purpose of calorie counting, at all, should be is awareness and accountability. I don’t think it should be about math; I don’t think it should be about the minutia. I don’t think it should be about shame and blame and guilt if I don’t “hit some numbers each day.” All it should be about for anybody who’s looking to use that information is exactly that; it’s information and it’s awareness.

And I do think that for the folks for whom it works; like myself, it really does help me to kind of just reground myself if I feel like I’m a little off track. It’s because I’m unaware. And you guys; this happens with anything in our world. This happens with your actual bank account; right? There’s a point in time where you’re like; “shoot; do I have enough money to pay for this thing? Have I been paying attention to what I’m spending money on, or have I been paying attention to what’s coming in and going out all together?” And it is all just about awareness.

So, if you have that in mind, I think far too often, people are using it as a way of restricting, or punishment, or have some other negative angle on the whole approach, and I think looking at any quantified measurements in this way can detach a lot of the morality around the numbers, which is what leads so many people to feeling guilt and shame, or anxiety and frustration, and all of that. So again; it’s not about, “Oh, I ate too much today based on what my macros are supposed to be, or what the number of calories I was supposed to have.” That’s not what I want folks to understand this whole approach for.

So I’ll get into that more. But to talk about the idea; well, let’s just give a little bit of foundation. So you mentioned, Liz, BMR, which is exactly the amount of calories you need to be at rest. For most women, I’m just going to throw out a number in general; it’s around 1200.

Liz Wolfe: Ugggghhh!

Diane Sanfilippo: This is just to do nothing.

Liz Wolfe: No, I know.

Diane Sanfilippo: This is just to lay in bed.

Liz Wolfe: That’s that number, though, that so many of us, when we’re dieting, we’d be like; ok, 1200.

Diane Sanfilippo: I know.

Liz Wolfe: Crazy.

Diane Sanfilippo: But that’s not even taking into account getting up and walking around. But the reason I do say it is that there are people who are eating that much, and they’re physically active. Or they’re training. Or maybe they’re eating just a little bit more, and they’re training; and they don’t understand why they’re not losing weight. And exactly what you detailed in your excerpt; it’s like, well you can’t expect your body to build muscle and fuel it’s metabolism and fuel this activity if you’re barely giving it more than it needed to just lie down all day, you know.

Liz Wolfe: Mm-hmm.

Diane Sanfilippo: And just have you breathe, and have your heart beat, and all of that. And so, that’s the only reason I say that number, because when someone realizes, when they enter their food into a calculator. Because you and I have seen it so often, how many women under-eat. I’ve looked at food logs; and it’s like one egg, and an apple for breakfast. And lunch is like some greens, and some tuna, and lemon juice. It’s all this really kind of skinny meals; there’s not much to it. And maybe if you’re a small child, that’s enough nutrition, but probably not. Most people will say their toddler eats more than that.

Liz Wolfe: Yeah.

Diane Sanfilippo: And so, that’s just kind of the foundation. And the calorie range people might have in mind typically it does start with the BMR, which is that you do nothing but lie down all day. So even when you’re sick, this is what you’re burning. You might even be burning more if your immune system is revved up. But typically it’s then multiplied by a lifestyle or activity factor. So that’s where you’ll get that number that is kind of the baseline of; ok, let’s say it’s 1200 plus another somewhere between 400 and 800. So it’s going to go anywhere between 1600 and 2000. That number is calculated based on what your activity is, and then what people end up getting as this number as a goal is based on a deficit. And again, this is just math that doesn’t really work to the detailed minutia level that people think it does.

What I think it does take into account nicely is just a general idea of how to be accountable in something we can measure. Because it really is hard for people to step back and see; “Am I undereating or overeating? What am I doing? What is the baseline.” So, there’s that.

There are some upsides and downsides to the approach, though. Some of the upsides are; again, it’s specific and measurable. It’s easy to follow, generally speaking, and when it’s about overall total calories, it allows a lot of flexibility. So when someone says, “OK, shoot for 1800 calories in a day,” Ok, that gives me something to do. If somebody tells you to save money, but they never tell you how much you’re going to need to achieve some kind of goal; it really does help. Especially those type A folks who want something that’s very specific and measurable. It helps give you that.

But the big downsides, as you mentioned; calorie counting doesn’t take into account number one, the hormone status of the person eating the food. Those calories; the nutrition coming in, it doesn’t know. {laughs} Whoever told you how many calories to eat, they might not know if your thyroid is working or not. They may not know if you’re menstruating or not. They may not know if you’re estrogen-dominant. The terrain of your body is so critical to then what happens to the food and how those calories were used or not used; metabolized and assimilated, all of that. And that can be huge if you’re dealing with weight loss resistance; especially because if you do have a thyroid condition, and here you are trying to restrict calories, you’re probably going to do more harm than good and have this whole thing backfire.

I’ve worked with figure competitors who spent years going through cutting cycles, which is when they’re really eating a lot less than they need to for their activity level and basal metabolic rate; and they were “fine” for years while they were competing. And then a moment hit, where the body said, “no more.” I had a client who, I want to say she couldn’t lose somewhere between 10 and 20 pounds; this was many years ago now, and she came to me, and was like, “I don’t know what to do.” And I was like; honestly, you need to work with a doctor on your hormones, because you’ve done so many things to screw up your hormones. Shew as probably taking some exogenous hormone supplementation at the time, as well. But just that restriction alone, there may be a period of time during which your body won’t revolt, and then it will. And you can’t ever know how much your own body can take of that.

So we get into this mindset; and we get into this a lot with marathon running, for example. It’s like, “I always ran marathons.” It’s like; well, at some point your body decided enough is enough. And you can’t do that anymore, because protecting you and protecting your basic life functions is most important. And we definitely see this a lot, too, with women who don’t menstruate. That’s like, number one sign of an unhealthy hormone balance; and maybe not metabolism, but it is kind of metabolism connected with your hormone balance.

Liz Wolfe: Yeah.

Diane Sanfilippo: So, I think those are really important things to know; that the way I look at this calorie thing is more just generally information. It’s a guideline; it’s not an exact; it can’t be an exact. Because we can’t know exactly to the 10, or even the 50; or even 100 calories in a day. We can’t know exactly how many calories every bite of food we’re eating holds. We can’t know that. And we also can’t know how much of it we’re extracting from the food. If you’re digestion is compromised, you may not be extracting as many calories as you think you are from the food. And there is research out there on this. It’s being done, but in every single person it’s going to be different, and it depends on so many different factors. Is there something else you want to throw in on thermodynamics and calories in general?

Liz Wolfe: I did toss a little study in the show notes, if we want to put it up there; basically discussing how this simplistic calories in/calories out perspective actually violates the second law of thermodynamics. So if you’re a real geek, you might want to read that. But we don’t have to get into it. I think we’ll basically tackle what the summary as we go forward in the podcast.

5. Is calorie counting even necessary? [21:52]

Diane Sanfilippo: Ok, so what I want people to know about this whole calorie counting thing is that it’s really important to; ok, so this was my thought on finding the balance between listening to your body and making sure that you’re not over or undereating. A lot of people; we have so many questions here that really all lump together. I’m trying to separate my thoughts on some of these, but there’s also a question; which I’m just going to, or topic, that I’m just going to throw in the mix now. Do we even have to calorie count? Why can’t we just eat paleo or real food?

And the thing is you don’t have to count. For a lot of people, ditching processed foods and allowing natural satiety signals to kick in with real, whole foods takes them all the way there. I think Liz is somebody for whom this approach really works well; and there a lot of reasons why it works, not the least of which we get far more nutrient density from our foods, which helps our satiety, but also we rebalance our plate, and we get in probably more fat, and for sure fewer refined carbs; our appetite signaling via hormones comes back to a normal place. So this is some of what I talked about with Robb, with the whole Wired to Eat thing; we get rid of the stuff that tells us to keep eating in an unnatural way, and we kind of get ourselves back on track with what nature provides for us; we don’t tend to overeat and we do tend to kind of rebalance things.

But the reasons why we overeat; and I say we and I include myself in that, I definitely will have a tendency to overeat if kind of left unchecked or if I’m overly stressed, or I’m just dealing with some stuff. It has a lot less to do with the food choices, or the macros, or the calories; and so much more to do with just emotional or habitual reasons. So when the reasons are emotional, or due to poor habits, or lifestyle in general, that’s where calorie counting can help.

That’s why when you see these TV shows where you see people; I keep talking about My 600-pound Life, for example. When you see shows like that where the person that’s; literally, that’s an extreme situation of somebody obviously who is overeating. When you give somebody the information of; “This is what I want you to do,” it is information, and it does help give people a target to hit. And over time, hopefully we do get to a point where we need that tool less and less. But I think that to say that nobody should ever have to count is discounting and devaluing the emotional weight that a lot of us may have from whatever it is in our lives that causes us to turn to food. And we can deal what those emotions as much as possible, and have healthy ways to handle our emotions. But I think that when we feel like we’re just not sure what’s even on our plate and how we’re eating; if we have that little crutch, in a way; it is kind of a way to deal with things. And it’s not about restriction and control; it’s about awareness and information.

Liz Wolfe: That’s really, really interesting. I’m really glad that you threw that out there, because I don’t think I understood, when I was looking at the notes, where you were going to go with that. Because from my perspective; when you’re talking about detaching shame and self-worth from the calories you’re eating; for me, counting calories attaches shame and my sense of self-worth to those numbers. But I understand now what you mean by how some folks are actually detaching those things through the same actions.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah; and I think part of it is just kind of; I don’t know. I think it’s a healthy mindset in general; I think I have a very healthy, balanced mindset. I have high self-esteem.

Liz Wolfe: {laughs}

Diane Sanfilippo: I do, it’s fine. Thanks parents for whatever you instilled in me. But attach a lot of my self-esteem to my accomplishments, aside from how I look. It’s not about how I look, but I also have a huge sense of self as an athlete; and, of course, a lot of my identity as a nutritionist is around awareness of what we eat. And I think that for a lot of people, it’s very natural that the balance of that awareness; how much we eat is just, it’s not a thing.

And I honestly think some of that even comes from being someone who cooks a lot and makes really effing tasty food. Like, I grew up in a cooking house. So I know how to make food that tastes really good; and sometimes maybe that’s to my own detriment, because I’m perhaps overriding some of that neuro-regulation of appetite that Robb Wolf talks about. When I make bacon and eggs, and I put all the textures and flavors together. And it is really easy to overeat that. And I don’t think all of that’s my fault, just for emotional reasons.

But I think, for me, the counting actually calms me down and grounds me, and I make sure I’m getting in enough food. But the way that I personally use the approach is not to restrict and limit myself. So if I enter food into a calculator, and I see I’ve hit; let’s just say, for example, 1800 calories is my rough goal for the day. If I hit that 1800; and I used to do this. I think I talked about this before, when I learned about Weight Watchers years and years and years ago in an office; I would hit the “points” for the day by the end of the workday, and I was like; well, I’m still going to go home and eat dinner.

Liz Wolfe: {laughing}

Diane Sanfilippo: {laughs} That’s my Rebel nature; where I’m like, “I’m not going to not eat if I’m actually hungry after that number of calories has come in.” But what it does help show me is; am I actually hungry, now that I see my body has gotten this much food, because I’ve written it down, I see what the food is; it helps me make better choices about not just mindless eating. It holds me accountable; at the end of the day, that’s what it does. It just holds me accountable. And I will not go hungry. {laughing} It’s just not my thing. And I think there’s a balance of a slight appetite between meals that’s legit, and we should have, and we should allow our body to figure out how to burn fat in between meals. We shouldn’t be eating every 5 seconds.

And I talked about this a lot with Dr. Cate; that was an episode where I interviewed her, so I don’t think you got to hear that one. But she talked about the benefits of things like intermittent fasting, just in terms of giving your body a break; giving your digestion a break; giving it time to kind of do its thing. And a lot of us are just consistently overriding that with snacking all day, and being nervous and anxious that if we don’t get food we’re going to die, or what not. And most of us are really overfed all of the time.

Liz Wolfe: Mm-hmm.

6. Providing accountability [28:48]

Diane Sanfilippo: So, I think it really does help you tune in to your actual appetite and your real sense of hunger; instead of just eating because it’s dinnertime. Or eating because, whatever.

Liz Wolfe: And also, keeping in mind that you; with your body of knowledge, you’re looking at a variety of data points. Over time, acute and chronic. So if you are chronically hungry for 2 weeks, and you are looking at that data point, that 1800, or whatever it is; and you’re saying, “well there’s a reason I’ve been incredibly ravenous. I’m either under-eating, or there’s something else going on in my body; or there’s a hormonal thing going on. So it’s not just that one number that you’re looking at. You’re looking at many things to have a greater level of self-understanding; which I totally get that.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah. And for me; again, I generally do find that when I get to a certain number, there will be days that spontaneously I might eat less than that, and there will be days where I’ll eat more than that. And I think that’s fine. And I kind of know that if I don’t track food, I will probably be eating an extra 500 calories just because it tastes good and I like to eat; I don’t know, it’s just there, and I’m maybe not putting that awareness.

And I think what happens for me; and I think a lot of people might relate to this, is that when I’m not accountable, I can just overeat. I think that’s a very common thing; and I think for as many people might actually have some disordered eating habits going on or tendencies. And for as many people, like yourself; this isn’t a thing for you. This is not something you’ve really struggled with in terms of using counting as a way to kind of reground yourself and get that awareness back. For me, it does just hold me accountable. I don’t know; it’s very grounding for me, and calming, to be like, “Ok, that’s what I ate today.” I don’t know. It doesn’t make me crazy.

But I know that for some people; I know a lot of the questions that we get are about how do you not lose your mind. I personally think this idea of using; because you can’t even know within 1-200 calories, you can’t know that what you thought you just ate even hit within that range. It’s just; it’s pretty much impossible, even if you’re eating real food. Chicken; from chicken to chicken; from broccoli to broccoli, there could be a variation just because of that animal or that plant and what it was carrying with it. So what we think we know about it is all going to be a range, anyway. So I think instead of losing your mind over that; knowing that the point of tracking is to be accountable and to kind of come within a range of what this general guideline is, then cool.

And for a lot of people, you definitely don’t need to count; and that’s one of the upsides of moving to a real food way of eating; and many people find that once they shift what they’re eating. And this is probably also in the absence of things like tons of paleofied cookies, and breads, and muffins, and all of that. Which is why neither of us really shares a ton of that kind of stuff. Now and then because we’re human, and it’s enjoyable. But I think we try hard not to make that the bulk of the recipes we share or the things that we encourage people to make.

But those things can definitely get in the way, and I think that years ago, when the paleo scene just kind of starting, there were a lot of people that were very, very down on paleofied treats; saying it was kind of not the point, and it was getting in the way of people’s success. I’m like, “Ok, yeah, but also, personal responsibility.” Whoever is thinking that eating cookies just because they’re paleo is going to help them achieve their goals; we just need to remind people that cookies are generally not the route. {laughs}

Anyway. For many, the reason we overeat has less to do with those food choices, or the macros; and it is so much more about the emotions, and habits. And for a lot of us; we have healthy habits, we have a healthy lifestyle, and sometimes things just kind of get out of balance. And this is a helpful tool.

Liz Wolfe: This episode of the Balanced Bites podcast is sponsored by our friends at Primally Pure Skincare. Primally Pure makes 100% natural and nontoxic skincare products that support radiant skin, a healthy body, and a happy self. They use ingredients like tallow from grass-fed cows; organic and fair trade coconut oil, and organic oils, herbs, and extracts to formulate effective products that also smell amazing and look beautiful sitting on your bathroom counter. At, you’ll find their bestselling natural deodorant that actually works; face mists made from locally sourced and organic rose and orange blossom hydrosols, and their brand new baby line. You’ll also find Diane’s favorite Primally Pure product, dry shampoo, and Liz’s favorite, the Everything Spray with magnesium. As a special bonus for you, Primally Pure is offering a free lip balm with your first purchase of one item or more. Simply add a lip balm to your cart along with any one item, and use the code “balancedbites”, one word no caps, during checkout to receive one of their lip balms for free with your order. Head to and check out their range of safe and effective all natural skincare products.

Liz Wolfe: Today’s podcast is sponsored by Vital Choice seafood and organics; purveyor of premium sustainably sourced seafood and a certified B corporation. Vital choice offers a wide range of fish, shellfish, humanely raised meat, protein rich bone broths, and paleo friendly snacks like organic dark chocolate, super antioxidant trail mix, and bison jerky. From weeknight dinners to weekend brunches, is your source for real food.

7. Taking a long-term approach [33:33]

Diane Sanfilippo: Alright, so the next question that we have; and there were about 4 different people who threw this out there; it’s just about how should you figure out how many calories to eat each day. And so this is where I was talking about; as Liz mentioned, the basal metabolic rate and multiplying that times a factor. You guys can go online and Google it up; there are tons of calculators that will give you an estimate on how many calories per day you are probably burning. And generally, folks will tell you to eat in a deficit. And sometimes they say 500-calorie a day deficit to lose a pound a week; because 500 calories times 7 days is 3500 calories, which is one pound. Again; you guys have to remember that that math is never going to be exact and precise; because I bet you a lot of money that a lot of you have said, “I’ve been eating a 500-calorie a day deficit, and I’m not losing a pound a week.”

What I want to say about that is; it’s an approach that’s helpful, and it needs to be something that you go into with a long-term mindset. You can’t say, “Well I’m going to do this. I’m going to calculate my calories that I need every day, and I’m going to do a 500-calorie a day deficit, or I’m going to “burn off” those 500 calories at the gym and lose a pound a week. Because it won’t work. I can tell you right now; for some people maybe it will; but for most people it won’t. And it’s a very short-term way to go about things.

I think the best way to approach this in the longer term is more about the accountability to not be overeating and not be mindlessly eating. And I think that’s where any kind of counting really helps. Now there is also the notion of the macro breakdown. So looking at what percentage of your calories are protein, carbs, and fat. And there are different reasons why you might want to be eating higher protein, higher carb, or higher fat. And it really depends on your goals.

So obviously, you guys are going to see lots of people who are in fitness and bodybuilding; any kind of very aesthetic oriented line of thinking, generally you tend to be eating higher protein. There is value in measuring that, if that is your goal; because naturally, you’re not going to eat as much protein as that plan would have you eat. It’s really hard to eat that much protein if you’re not paying attention to it; because it doesn’t feel natural. So that’s kind of {laughs} it’s kind of a little lightbulb moment that you guys might be hearing, it’s not natural to just eat that much pure protein, because it’s not available in nature that way without fat. It’s not available to us. So typically when we’re trying to use this approach, we’re trying to do something that’s a little bit unnatural. It’s not just free-eating whole chicken and veggies and whatever, because you’d be getting a lot more fat with it.

Then of course there are people who are eating higher carb with that, and there are people who are eating higher fat. One isn’t right or wrong; for the people who do tend to eat higher carb, they will probably have to eat more often throughout the day, and that’s where you really see those 5, 6, or 7 meals a day. Like when you see people who post those meal-prep pictures, and it’s all these containers; or it’s like an apple and almond butter, and then it’s a meal, and then it’s a shake, and then it’s another meal. You have to do that all day because when you eat more carbs and less fat, the satiety that you get from that is not great. And I’ve done it before, and it was alright. It was kind of a nuisance to eat that often, and I don’t really feel like it’s the most enjoyable for me. But for some people you might like that.

Now, what that does to your digestion to not have a longer break between meals, and what that does for keeping your body in a state where it is burning glucose as the primary fuel source, and not fat, is probably not preferential, at least from my opinion.

Liz Wolfe: So the way I used to; this whole podcast, I hope people are looking at this as a very interesting study on the differences between you and me. {laughs} So, the way I used to do it, when I used to do the 7 meals a day, little Tupperware containers all day long; is the reason I was doing that had nothing to do with health. It had to do with giving myself just enough so I wouldn’t pass out at time intervals that I could manage without keeling over.

Diane Sanfilippo: I mean, that’s basically what happens with people who are on a plan like that.

Liz Wolfe: Yeah!

Diane Sanfilippo: I mean, it’s literally, a day of, “when do I get to eat again?” because you do feel like you’re going to pass out.

Liz Wolfe: Yeah.

Diane Sanfilippo: I mean, like you said, Liz; those qualitative {laughs} paying attention to what’s actually happening. When I was eating on a macros plan that somebody said, ok here’s how to break it out throughout the day. There was a time where I was like, multiple days in a row, lying down, so tired, because I was {laughs} none of this. Even if I had gotten an even amount of calories to what I would eat now over a certain amount of time; it was just, only eating 250 calories at once just never put my body into a state where it was calmed down and didn’t feel stressed out and exhausted. There are going to be tons of people listening who eat that way, and this is a lightbulb for them, where they’re like; “Oh my gosh, that’s exactly how I feel.” Right? “I’m trying to do these 7 meals, and I feel like crap, and I’m starving all the time, and I can’t think about anything except, ‘When’s my next meal?’”

You raised your hand, but then you’re muted. Just jump in!

Liz Wolfe: I know. I muted it because there’s a train going by, I don’t know if you can hear it.

Diane Sanfilippo: Oh.

Liz Wolfe: Can you hear it?

Diane Sanfilippo: Nope.

Liz Wolfe: We’re good; ok. And I was just going to pop in there. I don’t know if it really makes sense right here, but I think as a standalone it does, avoiding activities that place chronic demands on your physiology. So we talked about; I mean, this kind of runs the gamut, but constantly eating, like you were talking about your conversation with Dr. …

Diane Sanfilippo: Dr. Cate Shanahan.

Liz Wolfe: Dr. Shanahan; chronically asking your body to be digesting and releasing small amounts of energy to fuel one thing, while completely ignoring the autophagy and all the processes that happen when we’re not eating. And then we can talk about things like choosing sprinting over distance running. Or breaking up chronic stress with meditation and relaxation; not being in a chronic calorie deficit, either, which I guess could be an argument for; I hate the term “cheat meal” so don’t call them that, but just not living in this constant state of, that food, or that extra bite.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yeah; or refeed, perhaps.

Liz Wolfe: Yes, a refeed. I like that.

Diane Sanfilippo: {laughs}

Liz Wolfe: You can’t just sit there every single day and say; well this, like you were talking about earlier; “I’ve hit my numbers now so I’m not going to have dinner.” That’s not how it works.

Diane Sanfilippo: {laughs} Can you imagine? I would never be able to do that.

Liz Wolfe: Me either!

Diane Sanfilippo: But it would be; it would be information. If I do get to dinner, and I’ve eaten X amount of calories, it is information for me, and it does help me look back and say, “Well, did I need that many calories for breakfast? Could I have been satiated?” Because I just went in and cooked that food. You know what I mean? It wasn’t like I foraged it and I’m eating, eating, eating, and then I hit a moment of satiety. I built my plate that way. So maybe I made 4 pieces of bacon and 2 eggs, and my salad, and whatever; and it adds up to X amount of calories. This is just in general, you know, it adds up to this much. So maybe the next day I only use 2 pieces of bacon, and maybe I feel satiated just as long as when I ate the 4 pieces, and I realize that now the way I can balance it out through the day; again, for me, it’s just information and it just helps me to make better decisions.

And I think that because it’s food, it’s just such a hot and heated and emotional topic, because people feel; I don’t know. It’s like there’s so much morality around it and guilt and shame, but then there’s also; there’s just this idea that if somebody does have weight to lose, that it’s so much their fault, or that they’re doing something wrong. You may not be doing anything wrong whatsoever. I think most of the time {laughs} it’s just you’re looking at your body wrong. And I think it’s ok to have goals; I definitely have a balanced mindset and a balanced view of myself; I’m just fine. I don’t need to lose weight. I’m an active, strong person. I’m healthy, I’m fit, I’m strong; it’s all good. That doesn’t mean I might not want to try and see if my body will do something different.

But I think that making sure you recognize where you are with that mindset, and if you’re in a pretty healthy place with it, then knowing this is just a tool, it’s information, and it’s got to be used a long-term thing, you can’t expect to see results in the short term because it’s about long term accountability and just shifting what you’re doing. And I would hope that if you’re using this approach of weighing and measuring, that the point of it, just like the point of a recipe, or the point of reading Liz’s book, or my book; is not that you have to then read the book every day to remind yourself, it’s that you learn something and then you do something differently because of what you learned.

That’s 100% the whole point of this podcast is that we teach you something and inspire you on something to make decisions differently in your life based on what you’ve learned, and it’s not based on gospel or dogma or some kind of; I know some people call Practical Paleo the paleo bible; but it’s not like you follow a 30-day meal plan in there and then you have to follow that exact plan forever; no. You learn something from it about how that works with your body, and you move on. I really want this approach of calories or macros of what have you to be that for people. I don’t want people to look at it as; I don’t know; just this manipulative tool, you know. Where it’s like; “well if I just scale back 100 calories a day.” Because you’re going to fail. {laughs} That is not going to work like that.

Liz Wolfe: Well that’s why 99.9% of our focus is on, “Let’s get the overall health pieces in place, how nutrient dense is your food, how balanced is your lifestyle, how much sleep are you getting?” etc., etc.; which is not all that sexy, but it’s the truth. And it’s what makes and drive real change.

Diane Sanfilippo: Yes.

Liz Wolfe: This episode of the Balanced Bites podcast is sponsored by our friends at Primally Pure Skincare. Primally Pure makes 100% natural and nontoxic skincare products that support radiant skin, a healthy body, and a happy self. They use ingredients like tallow from grass-fed cows; organic and fair trade coconut oil, and organic oils, herbs, and extracts to formulate effective products that also smell amazing and look beautiful sitting on your bathroom counter. At, you’ll find their bestselling natural deodorant that actually works; face mists made from locally sourced and organic rose and orange blossom hydrosols, and their brand new baby line. You’ll also find Diane’s favorite Primally Pure product, dry shampoo, and Liz’s favorite, the Everything Spray with magnesium. As a special bonus for you, Primally Pure is offering a free lip balm with your first purchase of one item or more. Simply add a lip balm to your cart along with any one item, and use the code “balancedbites”, one word no caps, during checkout to receive one of their lip balms for free with your order. Head to and check out their range of safe and effective all natural skincare products.

Diane Sanfilippo: Ok, so I think that was a pretty good discussion of just calorie counting in general for this episode. We have more questions and topics around things like portion control and meal planning, and I think we’ll be able to handle those in a part two of this episode.

Liz Wolfe: Alright folks, that will be it for today. Do you have friends who still don’t listen to, or even know about podcasts? Because we’d love to encourage you to show a friend how to subscribe next time you hang out. Help her or him have more fun and learn while doing dishes or laundry or walking the dog or lifting weights or whatever it is you do while you listen. Diane, maybe you can help me learn how to subscribe to a podcast.

Diane Sanfilippo: {laughing}

Liz Wolfe: Once we jump off the air.

Diane Sanfilippo: I’ve got so many I’m loving!

Liz Wolfe: And you have never steered me wrong, I will tell you that. Just listened to the Gretchen Rubin stuff, and it is blowing my mind.

Diane Sanfilippo: {laughs} You’re like a year late.

Liz Wolfe: I know.

Diane Sanfilippo: But that’s ok.

Liz Wolfe: That’s alight. So well that’s it for this week then. You can find me, Liz, at and you can find Diane at Join our email lists for free goodies and updates that you don’t find anywhere else on our website or on the podcast. While you’re on the internet, please leave us an iTunes review. See you Thanks for listening; we’ll catch you next week.

Diane Sanfilippo: Alright, that’s it for this week. Don’t forget, you can find Liz at, and find me, Diane, at Join our email lists for free goodies and updates you don’t find anywhere else on our websites or even on the podcast. While you’re on the internet, please leave us an iTunes review. We’ll see you next week.

Comments 3

  1. Hi there! I don’t see the study Liz mentioned about laws of thermodynamics and calories in/out. I’d love to check it out if you could link to it or provide some details so I can go find it. Thanks!

    1. Post
  2. Hello,

    I recently went on a long road trip by myself and discovered your podcast. I listened to you for 16 hours! So much helpful information. Hoping you can help with a question. I have been eating Paleo for 2 years now and I go back and forth with a Paleo-ketogenic diet. I have been doing Paleo-ketogenic for the last 7 weeks. After listening to the podcast, I realized that I am one of those people you are talking about that grossly undereats. I’ve eaten and tracked 1400 calories per day for years. By my calculation, this is below my BMR. I’m also fairly active. I do Crossfit 5 days per week, distance running, and biking. I’ve tried to increase my calories to 1750 per day over the past week. I am finding this to be incredibly difficult. I’m forcing myself to eat when I’m not hungry and still struggling to get enough calories. I realize some of this is probably due to ketosis. However, I don’t want to add carbs back yet. My skin clears up when I do a ketogenic diet and I want to keep it that way for summer. Do you have any tips and tricks for this?


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