There are a few reasons why I would never recommend calorie counting for weight loss.
Calories In vs Calories Out.
We have all heard statements like: it’s a simple matter of physics, Calories equal energy so if you consume less calories you’ll lose weight. Actually, it’s not that simple. The type of food we get our calories from affects how our body processes them. 100 calories of sugar and 100 calories of complex carbohydrates are not the same.
It’s a LOT of Work.
To count calories, food has to be weighed and logged. We are naturally bad at guessing food quantities, weights and portion sizes, so we end up logging them inaccurately. Also, he constant logging makes eating a nightmare and everything has to be meticulously planned. Not much fun at all.
Calorie counting can be obsessive. By definition it has to be! This can, and unfortunately sometimes does, lead to disordered eating.
I recently had an unintentional foray into calorie counting myself. To cut a longish story short, I had been giving the ketogenic diet a test ride and I didn’t like it (another post). I had been tracking my macros (carbs, protein, fat. But mostly carbs) quite fanatically.
Now a little bit of background.
It had been some time since I weighed myself, or took any notice at all of my food intake, and I was aware that I had started to eat a bit more than I usually would, and a bit more of the foods I wouldn’t usually eat too much of.
I had a vacation, ended up overindulging and I wasn’t eating very mindfully. All of a sudden, my jeans didn’t fit- the same size jeans I have been wearing for years! Fortunately, being in the line of work I’m in, this wasn’t a major concern to me. I’m well versed in mindful eating and changing unhealthy habits so I knew I’d bounce back to normal. But, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to try out the current buzz diet and go Keto to tell y’all about it! This meant diligently tracking my macros and inevitably, also tracking my calories.
I was using an excellent app to keep track of my carbs, and when I decided after 4 days – ahem, that Keto wasn’t for me, I carried on using the app to track my calorie intake.
And count calories I did. Every waking moment of the day.
My meals were planned in advance and recorded in advance and altered in advance every day. I’d recorded them before I’d eaten them. I weighed everything.Including veggies. I was still trying to keep my carbs low so I stopped eating fruit! I craved applesconstantly.
And then I caved. I ate an apple, then another. Then I ate a plain Greek yogurt and I went over, not only my carb allowance, but my calorie allowance too. I did this repeatedly for days. I went over my calorie allocation to the point of regularly feeling uncomfortably full after eating.
I took the kids out for ice cream and guiltily ordered a single scoop. I ate it then ordered another. I felt completely out of control.
And then I felt the guilt.
And I felt shame.
For eating apples and plain Greek yogurt and 2 scoops of ice cream.
I was taken back to the age of 18 and relived the feelings around food that I had then. Unhealthy, damaging, distorted feelings that I thought were long behind me. I pinched my thigh fat in front of a mirror.
Nope. Not going there.
I count myself very lucky for that fact that I am able to step back from those kinds of feelings and say, ‘this is not real. What I am seeing and feeling right now is not representative of reality.’
So I stopped immediately.
I stopped counting my macros, and I stopped planning my meals. I made an effort to eat healthily and mindfully, but I didn’t deprive myself of anything I wanted. I started paying attention again to how different foods affected my mood and physical feelings.
What I learned should not have come as a surprise to me. But for some reason it did. When I wasn’t counting calories, I ate less. I didn’t feel hungry or deprived, I ate when I wanted to, what I wanted to. I ate mindfully and stopped when I was full as opposed to when the plate was empty. I listened to my body. Ate what I craved, avoided what I didn’t. I ate when I was hungry. When I wasn’t hungry, I didn’t think of food at all.
I ate less without trying to, the weight started to come off, and my jeans fit again.
So what’s my point here?
I undertook an experiment only to come to a conclusion I already knew. Our bodies are naturally extremely good at regulating what we eat – both types of food and quantities. Naturally, our bodies regulate our calories to make sure we don’t eat too much or too little. People who are ‘naturally slim’ don’t need to count calories. They don’t eat exactly the same amount each day but we don’t gain or lose significant weight. It is naturally regulated.
All we need to do is tune back in with our bodies to exploit this natural regulation. And to say ‘exploit’ seems almost dramatic considering it’s what our body naturally falls into anyway.
The tools are there for the taking. This is not to say it’s easy – it isn’t. We have to learn to be in tune with our physical and emotional feelings again. Relearning old habits is a challenge that could never be considered a quick fix. You may lose 5lbs with keto in one week, but keeping it off is another story.
What you learn with keto, or calorie counting, or low fat, will last you months. But what you learn with lifestyle change, will last a life time.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with calorie counting! Let me know in the comments! 🙂