The Truth About Calories & Cholesterol
By Abigail Natenshon
Author of When Your Child Has An Eating Disorder

Here are some things you may not have known:

Many kids pride themselves on refusing to count calories that they take in on a daily basis. In some cases this is an extremely healthy instinct, because when kids know how to eat healthfully, it is merely an annoying, unnecessary and irrelevant exercise to count calories. As long as the food you eat is nutritious, it is difficult to overeat it. In the end, it is the nature of a person’s eating lifestyle that matters, not whether they have taken in 100 too many or too few calories on any given day! Needing to count calories often shows that a person is uncomfortable and frightened of food and of becoming fat.

On the other hand, refusing to be aware of one’s “ballpark” or approximate caloric intake on any given day can be a sign of a person’s denial or refusal to accept that he or she is eating far too few or too many calories. Many young people who claim not to need to be aware of caloric intake in order to eat healthfully, are often the ones who take in far fewer calories than they need in order to maintain their health. These are typically the kids who say they eat “well” yet who manage to take in no more than 500-600 calories a day. Who’s not counting? Let’s be real!

Here’s what you need to know about caloric intake:

  • 1200 calories daily is what a person needs to maintain his or her weight if he or she is bedridden and does not move a muscle. 2000 – 2300 calories per day, eaten over the course of a day, is the average amount of calories that healthy, active people consume in order to remain thin and fit and to keep their metabolisms working full-tilt to burn fat and create energy.
  • It takes 3500 calories for a person to gain a single pound.
  • If you have noticed an extremely rapid increase or decrease in pounds on the scale over a short period of time, the odds are that those figures do not represent pounds at all, but the retention or the flushing of water from your body. People who retain water at the time of their menstrual period sometimes think they have gained weight when in fact, they are only temporarily holding excess water in their cells. Water is extremely heavy!

People need fat in their diets to maintain a healthy level of cholesterol. A recent study showed that people with anorexia typically have high cholesterol levels called hypercholesterolemia. This condition can be rectified when they add normal amounts of fat to their diet and to their body.

If you think that you are the only one who is confused about what healthy eating is, look around you at school. When you observe others, do so with knowledge and intelligence. Just because it is being done, it does not mean that it is “right.” You may see the following:

  • Many of your peers may eat chips, diet pop, french fries, or a candy bar and call it lunch. Some kids eat Power Bars or other food substitutes instead of meals. They are abusing their bodies.
  • Many kids may skip lunch totally.
  • Some kids may eat nutritious food for lunch, but eat too little, or an imbalanced amount of the various food groups. A few carrots are better than nothing, but it is hardly a nutritious lunch.
  • Some kids may eat a smaller lunch because they had large breakfast and a substantial mid-morning snack. Others eat small lunches because they are afraid of becoming fat. They may try to fill up on water, walking away from lunch feeling hungry and unsatisfied.
  • Many kids may eat only fat free foods or nonfattening foods for lunch, like yogurt and apples.
  • Some kids think that anything you put in your mouth at mealtime is a meal. It isn’t.
  • Some kids think that anything sweet is off limits.
  • Some kids don’t like to eat in front of others. They feel embarrassed or guilty when they eat.
  • Some kids get anxious when they eat because they feel that food is fattening. They don’t realize that food is fuel for their brain, and that their brain must work at full capacity if they are to learn effectively in school.
  • Some kids observe what others eat, using that as a guide for what they should eat. They try to eat less than what others around them are eating in order to feel good about themselves.
  • Some kids feel that it makes them special, makes them distinct, sets them apart in a good way when they can be excessively thin, or excessively hungry.
  • Some guys tell their girl buddies not to eat food containing fat, such as pizza or hamburgers because they “prefer their girlfriends thin.”
  • Some kids think that if they have a snack, they need to exercise later to burn it off.
  • Some kids think it is healthy to have a body mass index (BMI) that is lower than the standard requirements.
  • Some kids think that it is healthy to be skinny and healthier to be skinnier.

The long and short of it is, don’t rely on others for your wisdom about yourself. Know what is good for you and go after it. You are the only one who can take care of you in the way that you deserve to be taken care of. It takes courage and strength to be different…. but you’re up to it!

Psychotherapist Abigail H. Natenshon has specialized in the treatment of eating disorders with individuals, families, and groups for the past 28 years. She is the author of When Your Child Has an Eating Disorder: A Step-by-Step Workbook for Parents and Other Caregivers, Jossey Bass Publishers, San Francisco, CA. October 1999. Based on hundreds of successful outcomes, this book shepherds concerned parents step-by-step through the processes of eating disorder recognition, confronting the child, finding the most effective treatment for patient and family, and evaluating and insuring a timely recovery. A guide to eating disorder prevention, this book is useful to parents, health professionals and school personnel alike in countering the pervasive epidemic of unhealthy eating and body image concerns, and destructive media and peer influences. Her work can be reviewed further at her web site at To order visit

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