Healthy Fat

A Plea to Stop Counting Calories

I do not take a calorie based approach in my practice. I encourage my clients to focus on eating real, wholesome foods and to listen to their bodies natural hunger and satiation signals. I find clients THRIVE on this method and many are relieved to be freed from years of feeling like a slave to a specific number of calories or “points”. The reason I have people completely ignore calories is because they really are not useful information. Read on to find out WHY they often give us a false sense of control and security that we are making good choices but can actually lead us astray.

You are not getting to the right number

In the United States, there is a 20% margin of error allowed on the calories on nutrition facts labels (1). That’s pretty huge. If you think something is 200 calories, it could be anywhere between 160 and 240 calories. If you extrapolate that margin of error through out your whole day, you could be over 100% wrong in your calorie calculations at the end of the day. Not to mention, this 20% only applies to foods that HAVE a label. But many people track the calories of foods without labels, like an apple for instance. Well if you are logging calories and say you ate an apple, whatever calorie app you are using might tell you that an apple is 80 calories. Which, it might be. But a small apple could be as low as 65 calories and a large apple could be 110 calories. Not to mention, did you eat the entire apple down to the core or was there some left on the core? So there goes that margin of error again. Long story short - it is near impossible to count your exact calorie intake each day, you will end up with a number at the end of the day, but it is not correct. So why spend precious time on earth counting?

Even if you were getting to the right number (which you are not) there is no perfect number

Let’s pretend you could calculate your EXACT calorie intake each day (which you can’t, I don’t care how diligent you are, based on the reasons above there will be some error) what will you do with that number? As much as online calculators and online macro coaches (who often do not have an education in nutrition) will promise that all your problems will be solved if you stick to a certain calorie and/or macro ratio every day, this magic number actually does not exist. Why? Because there are SO many factors affecting your calorie and nutrient needs. EveryDAY and everyBODY is different! So there truly is not a perfect number, it is just another construct created to give people a false sense of security and achievement, or, in other cases, cause unnecessary guilt and shame.

Like I said, every day is different. How much sleep we got the night before (2), our hormone levels (which are CONSTANTLY fluctuating) (3), our activity level (4) and so many factors will impact our daily food needs. Each of these factors changes on a daily basis, and thus, so does our nutrient needs. Also, I didn’t even mention the biggest, but least visible factor on our metabolism/calorie/nutrient needs … our microbiome. I know I might sound like a broken record with my gut talk but it truly impacts almost EVERY part of our wellbeing!

We have about a 10:1 ratio of microbial genes to human genes in our bodies (9). This means that we are more our microbiome (bacteria living in and on us) than ourselves. So it’s no wonder this plays a huge role in how our body functions including our metabolism and daily calorie and nutrient needs. There have been countless clinical studies on how shifts in the microbial community change metabolism and how many calories an individual even extracts from a given food (5, 6, 7). So back to that hypothetical situation where you are able to accurately calculate how many calories you eat in a day, you don’t know how much your body is EXTRACTING. Two specific strains of bacteria that are particularly important to this, are firmicutes and bacteroidetes. The higher the F/B ratio is, the more calories someone extracts from food and the higher their BMI and propensity towards obesity (8). As with most things in the body, gut health plays a HUGE but invisible role. I recommend everyone take a good prebiotic and probiotic like Just Thrive (code PRESS15 to save $$) to help optimize gut health (of course there is much more to this but Just Thrive is a good starting point).

Again, my point is don’t get caught up on a specific number because there really isn’t a perfect number.

not all calories are created equal

Different foods, even of equal calorie amounts, have completely different effects on the body. For instance, some foods have a higher thermic effect of feeding than others. Thermic effect of feeding (TEF) refers to the calorie burn (or diet-induced-thermogensis) caused by eating a food (11). Certain foods like, protein rich foods, have a very high TEF, while other foods have almost no TEF (10). So while two foods may have the same exact calories listed on the label, let’s say 100 calories for the purpose of this example, you may burn 20 calories eating a high protein food that has a high TEF, so you are only absorbing 80 calories, and you may absorb all 100 calories of a food with a low TEF, like a refined carbohydrate. So this goes back to the “you aren’t getting to the right number” argument I made at the beginning of this post. But foods have effects beyond calories too.

Different TYPES (not amounts) of calories/foods have different impacts on our hormones that regulate appetite, metabolism, body fat stores etc. Many people count calories as a means of weight control, but this ignores these hormonal effects. For instance, pure fat has no effect on insulin (13), which, is a blood sugar regulating hormone that can cause excess body fat storage. Fats often get demonized in the diet world because they are calorie-dense. But insulin will play a much bigger role on whether our body stores extra fat tissue than number of calories (12). When people are trying to stay within a certain calorie range, it can often encourage them to opt for “low-calorie” foods, like 100-calorie packs of cheek-its or low-calorie bread or peanut butter, when in fact these foods are much higher in carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are what cause the biggest insulin spike, and thus body fat storage. If these same people did not make their decisions based on calories, and incorporated some healthy fats, which, have no effect on insulin, they may actually lose weight by eating more calories. In fact, this study showed that by pairing potatoes (simple carb) with butter (simple fat), subjects were able to significantly lower their insulin response after eating (14). So by adding calories (in the form of butter) they lowered their insulin and reduced their chance of body fat tissue storage. Thus proving calories are not the best tool for weight management.

Ghrelin is another hormone impacted by the TYPE of calories eaten. Ghrelin is known as the hunger hormone, increased ghrelin will increase appetite. Studies have shown that eating more fat (again, calorie dense) can reduce ghrelin production (15). So eating calorie-dense fats can actually just reduce appetite naturally. Many low-calorie foods do not have this ghrelin-suppressive effect, and in fact, when your body is in calorie restriction mode, it upregulates ghrelin production, thus increasing appetite. If you haven’t yet, you might enjoy my “don’t fear fat” blog post! More proof that a calorie is not a calorie is not a calorie.

calories don’t tell us anything about the long-term benefits or implications of eating a food

Calories tell us nothing about the nutrient value of a food. For instance, any brightly colored fruit or vegetable is loaded with phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are basically plant superpowers. They help the body do all sorts of incredible things: fight off free radical damage and inflammation, improve eyesight, improve metabolic function, balance hormones, detox harmful substances, make hair shinier and so much more (16)! Also, foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids (yep high calorie fat again) have been proven to have beneficial effects on the brain including improving brain development, preventing Alzheimer’s and more AND have been shown to reduce inflammation (20). This has nothing to do with their calorie count, in fact, most foods that contain omega-3s are high in calories. Calories tell us nothing about the phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and long-term benefits that foods can provide our bodies. Additionally, calories don’t tell is which foods can help or harm our gut bacteria (microbiome), which, plays a major role in our immune system, serotonin production, skin health, metabolism and more!

Often, when we get focused on counting calories, we actually choose foods that can be harmful to overall health and avoid foods that are beneficial. I have seen clients, before they started working with me, so laser-focused on a calorie number that they often choose “sugar-free” foods. These foods usually use fake sugars like aspartame, neotame, sucralose etc. Although they are low-calorie, these artificial sweeteners can completely wipe out strains of good bacteria in the microbiome (17, 18). This reduces metabolic function (causing someone to think they need to cut calories even more and probably choose more of these foods with artificial sweeteners and avoid healthful but high calorie foods like those containing omega-3 fatty acids mentioned above). These artificial, low-calorie sweeteners also can be carcinogens, endocrine-disruptors and cause so much more damage (19). So while you may be hitting your calorie goal short-term, they can cause some real long-term damage behind the scenes. These are just a few EXAMPLES of how properties of a food can benefit or detriment our overall health, but how these properties have nothing to do with the calorie count.

calorie counting takes us away from mindful eating

When we get too focused on calorie counting, we forget to think about how foods make us feel and what foods we really enjoy. Counting is truly the opposite of intuitive eating. This goes for both the physical health aspect of food (like I mentioned above calorie counting can discourage health-promoting fats while encouraging low-calorie processed junky carbs) and the mental health aspect of food. Food is emotional and should be enjoyed. When we get too caught up in the calorie count, we often forget to savor and ENJOY our food, which, contributes to our physical satiation and leptin release (fullness hormone) (21) and our happiness, which, is a huge part of overall wellbeing! Also, calorie counting can strip us of our natural skills that help us internally judge portions. When we are too reliant on a number, we forget to queue into our body’s natural signals that tell us we are hungry or full. This can cause both over and undereating. Our bodies know best but we need to listen to them and TRUST them! And remember, they are not calculators! PS - you might like my blog post on the terminology “cheat meal” and why this is not always healthy.

but so and so lost a lot of weight counting calories, what’s up with that

Yes, you can lose weight by calorie restriction but this is a short-term weight loss. Not only does losing weight this way ignore all the underlying health factors we talked about above (gut health, missing vitamins, minerals and other nutrients etc.) but it also can down-regulate your metabolism if you consume too little calories daily (22). This means, too much calorie restriction tells your body it is in “starvation mode” and thus tells your body to “slow down on burning”. So eating less calories actually causes your body to burn less calories and thus slow down metabolism (23). Once you go back to eating a normal amount, people often gain back lost weight plus more. Unfortunately, like I said, I have seen many frustrated clients come to me after having this happen on “diet”programs.

Often diet programs* that encourage calorie restriction without paying much attention to the TYPES of foods people are eating cause rapid short-term weight loss (to keep customers happy), which is followed by a slowed metabolic rate (which can frustrate customers and make them think they need another “diet”), which can then be followed by either further calorie restriction to maintain the same weight, or the customer gains the weight back plus more since their metabolism is now slowed so eating the same amount of food they used to eat causes them to gain weight. I won’t mention any names, but I have seen some very popular and common diet programs do this to NUMEROUS of my clients, who have come to me frustrated and discouraged, understandably so. Which, is why I want to change the conversation around calorie counting and show the science behind it!

*There is one program in particular that I have seen do this most frequently and it does pretend like it pays attention to type of food, but really the designations of types are mostly determined by calorie count and thus it is a low-calorie, low-fat diet. However, that program is not the only offender of this mindset so just be wary when taking on a new “diet”!

eating whole, unprocessed foods is naturally satiating, so there is no need to count

Finally, calories say nothing about food QUALITY! If you improve your food quality, you should not need to count calories. What do I mean by this? I mean, eating whole, unprocessed foods as often as possible. These are naturally satiating and self-regulating so you don’t need to count anything! If you picture yourself eating salmon, sweet potato, and broccoli, you will naturally get full and there is only so much you can eat. Your body will tell you, and you’ll stop eating. If you think of eating a bag of “reduced-calorie” chips or crackers, it is EASY to eat the whole bag (maybe four servings in one sitting) without giving it a second thought. The first meal is higher quality food, less processed and thus, there is no need to count. The second example is of highly processed foods that contain multiple ingredients, many of which actually interfere with our natural hunger and satiation signals (even if the packaging advertises it as low calorie). And don’t forget, eating unprocessed foods most of the time, does not mean you don’t get to eat foods you enjoy. I like to recreate all my favorite treats using only unprocessed ingredients (that link goes to my sweet treats recipes) PLUS indulging in some processed foods here and there won’t kill you and can only contribute to your mental health. And if you’re not counting calories (which by this point, I hope you are not) who cares?!

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

























Don't Fear Fat

Fat gets demonized in our culture. Both on our bodies and fat that we eat. And there is the common misconception that eating fat will make our bodies fat. I am here to tell you that neither dietary fat or body fat should be put in a blanket category as “bad”. I would also like to put out that dietary fat does not make our bodies more fat!

Fat doesn’t make us fat

The real scientific name for dietary fat is lipid (1). The real scientific name for body fat is adipose tissue (2). Lipid does NOT equal adipose tissue. End of story. So we can all get the eating fat makes us fat narrative out of our heads. In fact, eating fat can do just the opposite, if you read on I will tell you why.


The thing, or hormone rather (since hormones control everything), that causes our bodies to store fat is insulin (5). And there is only one macronutrient that does not cause ANY insulin response when eaten - fat (3). So therefore fat is not what is making us fat. Insulin is released in response to glucose (blood sugar) (4). Carbohydrates cause the largest insulin response, and protein causes a small insulin response but as I said, fat causes none. This is not to say you need to avoid carbohydrates and protein altogether, it is merely to show that fats need not be limited and feared especially for people who are aiming for weight loss or want to avoid weight gain. In fact, this clinical study showed that by pairing a potato (mostly carbohydrate) with butter (fat), it actually lowered the postprandial insulin response of subjects (6).

Eating Fat helps our bodies function optimally

Not only is fat not to blame for if there is extra fat tissue (adipose tissue) stored on our bodies, but it actually helps our bodies function optimally:


First of all, half of the vitamins we eat are water soluble (the B and C vitamins) and half are fat soluble (vitamins A, D, E and K) (7). So if we aren’t eating adequate dietary fats, our bodies can be nutrient deficient, even if the rest of our diet is very nutrient dense. Because our bodies won’t be able to properly absorb , store and use these fat soluble vitamins from all the healthy foods we are eating if we don’t eat enough fat too. The beautiful thing about eating fats from nature is that you get the fat soluble vitamins WITH the fat so you don’t need to worry about anything. For example: grass-fed dairy is a great source of vitamin D (but when we remove the fat and make it fat-FREE dairy, we then have to fortify it with extra vitamin D, seems a little counterintuitive, right?). Another example is pasture-raised egg yolks are rich in all of the fat soluble vitamins (A, D , E and K) and they are also full of essential fatty acids to help your body absorb them. So why did we start eating egg whites again? A third and final example (there are many more but I want to move onto other dietary fat benefits) is almonds and almond products (butter/flour etc.) These are rich in vitamin E and guess what, they are fatty to help our bodies absorb the vitamin E! Yay vitamins and yay fats!

Fats are crucial for brain clarity, cognitive function, mood boosting and to prevent neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, ADHD, epilepsy and more. Omega 3 DHA fats are a crucial part of a developing baby’s brain (11) but their importance does not stop at childbirth. They are crucial for the rest of life and by giving the brain fuel, reducing inflammation in the body and the brain and enhancing something called “brain derived neurotropic factor” or BDNF (12). BDNF is a protein that promotes the survival of neurons (or nerve cells) to keep our brain healthy (13) (so we want more of it and thus want omega 3 fats). Omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) have even been shown to help treat depression, this meta-analysis (analysis of 40 relevant studies) shows these beneficial effects (14). However, it’s not just omega 3s that have beneficial brain effects. Coconut oil can help prevent memory loss and has even been shown to improve Alzheimer’s symptoms (15). Egg yolks are rich in choline, a B vitamin, which among other things, improves cognitive function (16). Olive oil improves learning and memory (17) and avocados are rich in vitamin A & K (which help prevent blood clots and therefore strokes) and also can boost memory and cognitive function (18).


Fats are crucial for physical and mental satiation. Just picture eating a piece of plain toast. You would probably be hungry shortly after. Now picture eating an avocado toast, or even better, an avocado toast with an egg (whole egg not egg white). Now you’d DEFINITELY be full for at least a few hours. So what’s the difference? Fat. Fat slows our digestion so other nutrients release more slowly into our bloodstream. This is especially important when paired with carbs, because it prevents a large insulin spike (AKA signaling body to store glucose as adipose tissue) and crash subsequently after (AKA cravings & jitters central, ever been “hangry”?… yeah, fats will help with that.) Fat is actually negatively correlated to post-prandial (which means after eating) insulin response (8). This means that the more fat you eat the less your insulin rises so fat has a stabilizing effect on your blood sugar! Many studies have also shown that dietary fat can increase Peptide YY (PYY, a satiation hormone), increase Cholecystokinin (CKK, another satiation hormone) and decrease ghrelin (a hunger hormone) (9, 10).

What kind of fat should I eat?

Simple answer is all types of fats that have not been chemically altered by man. For instance cold pressed olive oil or avocado oil has not been chemically altered by man. It has merely been squeezed out of a fruit without changing the chemical makeup. Canola oil, however, actually goes through an industrial extraction process using hexanes that changes the chemical makeup of the oil (19, 20). So when you are thinking about what fats to include in your diet, think of if you know how they were made. Avocado - safe, grass-fed butter - safe, egg yolk - safe, coconut milk - safe. However, removing fats from these items can alter the nutritional value of these naturally nutritious foods. Choosing fat-free versions of these foods is essentially the same as choosing fats that have been chemically altered. I will do a separate post on types of fats to avoid but for now, we can drop the fat fear and enjoy our fatty food from nature!


1) lipid. (n.d.) Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. (2003). Retrieved March 14 2019 from




















Balanced Breakfast Tips

One of the most common things I see on food diaries is missing breakfast or a nutrient deficient breakfast. For reference, I have all my incoming clients do a food diary before we begin working together. They don’t record calories or exact measurements, it’s just to see their general eating habits. This trend is not unique for my clients, only 47% of US adults eat breakfast daily (1) so that means more than half skip breakfast pretty regularly. I am not saying you have to eat the second you wake up. However, there is considerable research that shows starting your day with a balanced breakfast (see my take on this below) can jumpstart your metabolism, help muscle building over time, balance your blood sugar, fight nagging cravings later in the day, help with natural satiation and portion control and give your body the dose of nutrients it needs to start the day (2,3,4). The clinical research points positively towards breakfast as well as my own anecdotal experiences (from myself and my clients). Even if you practice intermittent fasting, which is a longer topic for another day, the first meal of the day should be balanced. So here are my tips on how to do so:


Tip #1 PFFP:

Breakfast should include as many of the PFFP components as possible. If you can’t include all four, that’s fine, 3/4 is still great and even 2/4 is doing pretty darn good. PFFP stands for Protein, Fat, Fiber, and Phytonutrients. This combination will keep you full, satiated, energized and with your metabolism on fire. Here are some ideas of foods that contain each component:

  • Protein: comes from meat, seafood, eggs, greek yogurt/cottage cheese, and there is some in nuts and seeds and their derivatives (butters, flours), legumes, and some supplements (my favorites are Nuzest pea protein “PRESS15” saves you $$ and Further Food collagen “START10” saves you $$)

  • Fat: comes from whatever oil you cook with, ghee, butter, dairy, avocado, coconut/oil, nuts and seeds and their derivatives (butters, flours), and from meat and seafood (will depend on what meat you buy but there will usually be at least a little fat)

  • Fiber: comes from fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds and their derivatives (butters, flours), legumes and whole grains

  • Phytonutrients: comes from fruits and vegetables, specifically, these are the compounds that give fruits and vegetables their colors, so eat the rainbow!

As I said, you don’t need all four PFFP components at every meal, but the more the better. The thing you want to avoid is having a meal or a snack comprised of “naked carbs”. Some examples of naked carbs would be (a piece of fruit, a bagel, some juice, cereal). Ways to “dress up” those carbs so they have more PFFP components and are not naked would be a piece of fruit with some nut butter or greek yogurt, a bagel with smoked salmon or an egg, a smoothie that includes protein and healthy fats (instead of a juice), and greek yogurt or cottage cheese with a granola that includes lots of nuts and seeds instead of cereal.

Some more EASY no fuss PFFP breakfast ideas:

  • Eggs of any kind and avocado (I love having this on sweet potato toast) you can even add bacon if you like

  • Full fat greek yogurt with some fruit and nuts

  • Chia pudding & berries

  • Smoothie with protein & healthy fats

Tip #2 You don’t have to be traditional:


The above examples all include traditional “breakfast fare”. However, breakfast does not have to include “traditional breakfast food”. It is more important to eat foods you like and will crave, are realistic and accessible to you at breakfast time. And of course, strive for as many components of PFFP as you can.

I often eat regular “meals” for breakfast if that’s what I wake up craving and I have leftovers in the fridge anyways. For instance, I love a good “breakfast salad” like the one pictured to the right. Nothing like starting your day with greens. Or sometimes I’ll have something from dinner the night before such as salmon and roasted veggies (hello PFFP).

Breakfast foods can feel constraining to people when they don’t know what’s healthy and convenient in the breakfast category, the default can be to just grab coffee and skip breakfast, or grab a packaged protein bar and be on your way. But when we think about breakfast in narrow terms we can get pigeon-holed into the naked carb items above (cereal, bagel etc.) By expanding our definition of what’s “allowed” at breakfast, the possibilities are endless!


Tip #3 Make it easy on yourself:

For most people, mornings can be the busiest time of day. Hence the tendency to skip breakfast. Plan ahead and plan realistically. If you love a cozy bowl of oats, make a batch of overnight oats on the weekend that’ll be read for the week. If you love omelettes and bacon, make egg muffins with your favorite bacon chunks in it ahead of time. If you love pancakes or waffles, make and freeze a big batch so they can easily be reheated during the week. If you’re a smoothie and go type, put your smoothie ingredients in individual bags so all you have to do is dump them in the blender when morning arrives. You can check out more of my “meal-preppable” breakfast recipe ideas here.

Photo May 09, 1 44 29 PM.jpg

tip # 4 look forward to your breakfast!:

Waking up is hard enough, no matter how much sleep you got the night before. So why not have something to look forward to in the morning. You should always start your day with something delicious you want to eat. Not only will this set the tone for the day in a positive way, but it will make you more likely to eat breakfast. Instead of preparing foods you feel like you should eat for breakfast, start your day with foods you get to eat for breakfast!