food

Calorie Counting

I feel as though I should preface this post. I don’t mean to offend anyone; these are just my thoughts on calorie counting, why it’s not working for me, and why I won’t be doing it anymore. If you enjoy it or it works for you, I envy you very much.

I’ve been thinking long and hard about calorie counting and have briefly read some articles on people who have lost weight without having to count a single calorie. I know you can lose weight without counting calories. I can honestly say, when I originally dropped 30lbs I didn’t count a damn calorie. Not one. I’d say 80% of the time I was good. I won’t lie, I did treat myself, but I ate less of the bad stuff. I felt differently about food for once in my life. I didn’t use it to console or reward myself. I was finally in the frame of mind to use it as fuel. I trusted myself.

I’ve been half-ass calorie counting the past few months and I think I’ve finally decided it’s time to stop. The only things I plan to log from now are exercises for my own records. Before you think that’s the dumbest decision ever, hear me out…

My reasoning behind not counting calories is based on the experiences I’ve had in the past and things I am experiencing now. Calorie counting isn’t a fun task for anyone but it causes me unnecessary stress. Like a lot of stress. I’m the type, if I go in; I go all the way in. In which case, I need to know every single calorie that passes my lips. Calorie counting discourages me from making anything from scratch because I’d have to input every single ingredient into that damn calculator. How do I determine what is serving? I’m inherently lazy (and crippled by anything math related) so some times I’d opt for something from a box that has a barcode that I could easily scan into Myfitnesspal.

I’d have good days and even a few good days in a row at times. Then like clockwork, I’d have several days of binging where I’d eat all of those calories back plus more. I’d eat food I wouldn’t normally crave or want on a somewhat regular basis like McDonalds. A prime example of this is last week. I had a couple good days early in the week and then came Friday. I logged every bit of what I ate that day; I went ~2000 calories over what I was supposed to. I began to wonder if this was worth it. It sure didn’t feel worth it after all those extra calories I just ate.

Another thing about my calorie counting experience, I was meeting my calorie goal on those good days but was I really eating the right things? I actually measured out salad in a measuring cup. Salad is good for me, why am I treating it like it isn’t? I’d feel bad about eating an avocado because a whole avocado is ~200 calories – by the way, how can anyone eat just ½ an avocado? Instead of eating the avocado, I’d substitute it for baked chips or some sort of low calorie/low fat item. Those baked chips and other items I’d eat in place of an avocado wouldn’t keep me full and then I’d eat something else. In the end, I should’ve just eaten the damn avocado. Not to mention, when you trade lower calories and/or fat you get extra sugar and lots of other things. Why did I sacrifice that avocado that is perfectly good for me? All of this to meet some sort of dumb quota at the end of the day.

Calorie counting makes me think about food all the time. When I’m eating, I don’t actually enjoy what I’m eating. Instead, I think about how much this meal is and what I will need to sacrifice later in the day. This does not seem like a healthy way to treat myself or my body. When I think of the opportunity costs, I’d rather it take me forever to get down to where I need to be and be happy and have less stress than always feeling as though I’m restricting myself. Restricting myself results in me binging. I know this.

I think about the short-term and my time is limited. I work. I currently go to school full-time; 4 days a week with a two hour commute round trip. This is my first time full-time in a long time so I have the added stress of an extra class along with the stress of keeping a certain GPA for the business school. I have homework that is expected of me outside of class along with other responsibilities. Which makes me wonder, how do people with kids manage??

I need peace somewhere in my life and one of the places I find that is going to the gym. I go to the gym because I never regret it when I’m done. I truly believe you’ll only succeed with a lifestyle change when you enjoy what you’re doing and not doing it because you have to. Counting calories is not something I enjoy, and I know how I am and it’s always going to be this battle.

In the long-term, even if I were to “suck it up”, I don’t want to be counting calories 10, 20, 30 years from now. That doesn’t seem sustainable. You only live once. When I say, “you only live once”, I don’t mean I’m going to go out and eat fast food for every meal. I mean that life is too short not to enjoy it every now and then.

I need to get back mentally to that place where I was at one time. Back to where I was eating well a good portion of the time and treating myself as needed. I need to trust myself with food again and not be pressured to hit some sort of quota, which may or may not be an accurate depiction of how healthy I’m being.

As I said at the start of this post, I don’t want anyone to feel offended. I was a bit on the fence about posting this because I know some will think I’m stupid. Maybe you disagree with me and that’s ok. I’m not condoning anything anyone else is doing, calorie counting works for some but I know it doesn’t work for me.

Pam

  12 comments

  1. MsLindz   •  

    Just my two cents, but I think calorie counting is a very inaccurate way to determine what goes in and what should go in your body. Counting calories (when I did in the past) was awful and didn’t seem to work for me either. I felt the same way you did. All in or all out and putting in ALL THAT FOOD… well forget it for calorie counting. It doesn’t take a good look at the full picture of what’s IN food (fat, carbs, protein, etc), which is what really matters.

    Not to sound like an add, but this is one reason Weight Watchers worked well for me. It helped me re-frame how/what I eat on a points system vs calories, change my eating habits, and see that there’s no real good or bad foods, but that it’s all about balance – eating more healthy stuff more of the time and less junk. Of course I started that when I was not busy all the time like now and all this time later I’ve still been able to mostly maintain without tracking (I’ve gained a little, but my overall habits? Changed forever and they are sustainable!).

    The biggest thing is whatever you’re doing MUST be sustainable! What works for you doesn’t work for everyone. I think quitting the calorie counting game for you is a great idea. Good luck getting back to where you want to be! :)

    • Pam   •     Author

      I’m very glad you’ve had good luck with WW; you look great! I think I’d prefer WW over calorie counting since there are healthy foods that don’t count toward your points. It’s definitely something I should look into when I get my time managed better! :)

      You’re very right; sustainability is the key. And happiness too! You’ll never stick with anything if you always feel like you’re depriving yourself or it’s not something you can keep up with over the long-term.

  2. Anita   •  

    I’m a calorie counter. I *have* to be. But that’s *me*. And I feel very protective of my friends, and hope no one gives you grief over this. :)

    I’m so proud of your reflection on this and your decision to change what was not working for you. Actually, Weight Watchers had (and I’ve heard that it’s making a comeback) a program called Core that had a list of foods that you could eat and not count even points. It was solely based on healthy food decisions and eating only to satisfaction. Hmmmm. Sound A LOT like “clean eating”. Lol.

    I have a few friends on MFP that don’t count calories, just their exercise. (CainetheBarber).

    Being the food addict that I am, I can’t not count. I feel too liberated to do stupid stuff. Lol. I’ve proven that over and over.

    I think you are doing a great job, Pam. And I appreciate your honesty! :)

    • Pam   •     Author

      I would love to get to where I’m eating all “clean” foods but it’s definitely something you have to work up to. I always looked up to you on MFP because you’re awesome (obviously) but you almost always closed out your diary for the day. I’m envious that you can stay on top of it for so long.

      I do understand the food addiction. I’d be lying if I said everything has been perfect the past two weeks but they haven’t. There have been days where I feel like I’m going back into my old ways before my lifestyle changed. I need to not go so wild sometimes. lol.

      Thank you for commenting, Anita. I love hearing from you!

  3. Christy   •  

    I think it’s all dependent on who you are and what works for you in the end result. I also hate counting calories. I am the same as you – if I’m counting, I want to know exactly what that calorie number is for every single item I have, which just gets ridiculous with items such as salads, casseroles, etc. And even then, I was still plateauing when I felt I shouldn’t.

    I decided to consult my coach and he pointed out right away what it was that I was doing wrong (this is my experience, not saying it’s the same for you or anyone else, but if it helps someone at all, great!). I was hitting my calories goals pretty good daily, but my nutrition ratios were way off. I was eating way too many carbs and not near enough protein and good fats. So he suggested I try a 40/40/20 split (40% fat / 40% protein / 20% carbs ) at my 1300 calories/day. I’ve been doing this for two weeks now and worrying more about hitting my %macros instead of calories and I’ve started losing again – plus seem to be keeping in my calorie range without agonizing over every calorie number and I’m not as hungry.

    I’ll stick with this for about 6 weeks or until I start crashing during workouts and then modify from there. We’ll see what happens! Given this for your avocado vs chips scenario – you’d have been much better off with the better for you avacado (whole even) and you get what you craved in the first place.

    I also quit syncing my FitBit exercise with MFP because it was giving me more daily calories and I would forget that and only look at my remaining calories for the day, not my total already eaten. I’m trying to lose weight, not sustain, so I don’t want my exercise calories jacking up my intended intake.

    You’ve already proven you can do just fine without counting calories – I mean 30 pounds without counting, that’s awesome! Counting calories certainly isn’t for everyone…and anyone that causes you flack for posting your opinion should be ashamed of themselves! :)

    • Pam   •     Author

      That’s great that you’ve consulted with someone to get a handle on your nutrition. You’re still counting calories though aren’t you? Are you simply sucking it up or have you found other ways to enjoy it?

      That’s a very good idea about not syncing your fitbit to mfp. There were quite a number of times I’d have a a number of extra calories thanks to the fitbit adjustment but I tried to remind myself that’s not always accurate.

      Thanks for commenting. I love reading about yours and Jason’s journey! :)

  4. Amy   •  

    This entire post – my sentiments exactly. Yes, it’s scary to let go of something you’ve done your whole life, but I really don’t think the shame and obsession that I get with calorie counting and weighing myself is worth it. Now that I have a HRM monitor and see how few calories I’m burning vs. what I thought I burned actually makes me think twice about a lot of food options and amounts because now I see how hard I am going to have to work to burn it off. And I’d rather burn a lot of calories than restrict myself from eating foods that are healthy but might put me out of my “range.”

    • Pam   •     Author

      “And I’d rather burn a lot of calories than restrict myself from eating foods that are healthy but might put me out of my “range.””
      That’s totally me too! I could exercise all day, every day if it meant I could eat whatever I wanted. How have things been going since after getting your new HRM? I know you were saying at first you were realizing other apps have been over-calculating how many cals you’ve burned. Have things got better?

  5. Rebecca Jo   •  

    OK… I actually wanted to tear up at this post..because I totally understand. I do the same thing… Since I’ve logged my calories, I have not only maintained my weight – but GAINED on some weeks… seriously? They say when you watch what you eat, you loose. But I went away for the weekend where I didn’t log anything – just ate when I wanted, too busy to really think about food & guess what – lost 3 lbs!!

    It DOES make you focus almost too much on food when it should be more about health & happiness… & I get it – not too MUCH happiness ;) But I love your example of the salad… why not have a butt load – no matter what the calorie count is – its good for you!!!

    GIRL – I’m high fiving you for voicing exactly the way I feel…
    My Fitness Pal may be loosing another user today!

    • Pam   •     Author

      “Since I’ve logged my calories, I have not only maintained my weight – but GAINED on some weeks… seriously?”
      Oh, Rebecca, I have been there! My problem is I can’t get a clear idea of truly how many cals I need to be eating. Maybe I was eating too little or too much. I want to try to focus more on eating better and listening to my body. If I’m hungry, I need to eat something. When I was calorie counting I’d be around about my quota for the day and sometimes I’d still feel hungry. It’s very hard and anyone who says it isn’t is a liar! :)

  6. Dorothy Inman   •  

    I laughed out loud so many times while reading this, I can’t begin to tell you how many. I did calorie counting once as an act of solidarity with someone who was trying to lose weight and I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis. I did not do it half baked either and I measured EVERYTHING. This was before there were aps for that and it took me so long to prepare the simplest meal. Your avocado example is the best example. Yes, eating 10 avocados probably isn’t healthy, but eating one avocado is perfectly healthy. It is a good kind of fat and calories. And eating a bag of baked chips with all kinds of preservatives and such is a lot less healthy. That was my main problem with counting calories because it didn’t consider other aspects of the food you were eating, like how much sugar, carbs, dietary fiber, sodium, ect that it contains. Foods like avocados, olive oil and almonds are very high in calories and fat but are extremely healthy. Any plan you are on should not deter you to from eating healthy fats/calories. Also it is extremely important if you are working out a lot and burning a lot of calories that you make sure you aren’t eating too few calories. That isn’t healthy either. Your body needs so many calories/fats ect to keep your body functioning healthily. I think sometimes when we are dieting we forget that as well.

    • Pam   •     Author

      Apps make it easier to count calories but I have to give you a pat on the back for doing it pre-smartphone era. That had to have been hard! How long was this solidarity? heh.

      And you are very right about looking at the other aspects of what you’re eating not just calories and fats!

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