Q: Hey Erika!
I have a question, I hope you don’t mind me asking. I remember reading an article you wrote in this subject but I can’t find it.
So have lost 20lbs calorie counting. Thing is…I have a LONG way to go…(like 100lb if not more to go)
Thing is, I’ve been thinking about the reality of counting every single calorie forever. I never want to be this big again, but how realistic is this? Is it something I’ll just HAVE to do? I am already absolutely fine with having smaller portions but I am scared that if I stop calorie counting and just try to eye ball it, even if I weigh portions, my weight might creep back on.
The issue I have is calorie counting recipes. It’s just so time consuming to count it all and divide it into exact portions.
I just cannot see my weighing lettuce leaves, grapes and cereal for the rest of my life.
What are you thoughts on this?
I’ll link to the posts you’re referring to at the end of this post, but no, the goal isn’t to spend the rest of your life counting calories.
Honestly, several years after having written that series on calorie counting, the one thing that’s most clear to me is that it’s less about the actual math of calories and more about the lessons the counting should be teaching you.
Look at it like this. So much of processed food is manufactured in a way that removes the texture, forcing the food to form a nice, neat wad in your mouth, leaving no traces behind in your teeth to pick out with a pick or floss, and when it goes down your throat into your stomach, it forms this tightly-wound mass in your tummy that is extremely unfulfilling.
And then, you look back on how many calories that unfulfilling nonsense cost you, and realize it was way too many calories for you to still be starving so quickly after eating.
And then, you look at the serving size and realize you didn’t just eat one serving, you accidentally ate four because the brand reduced the portion sizes as low as they did in order to make the calories-per-serving amount on the label seem less scary… so you have to actually multiply those calories you added to your counter by four.
And then, you look at the nutrition facts below the calories per serving listing, and find that your chosen food had little to not protein in it at all for as many calories as it had, next to no fiber, and shockingly, even though you couldn’t taste it, more sugar than you anticipated. You soon notice that virtually all of the calories in the food came from carbs.
And then you look at the ingredients label, and spot that the overwhelming majority of the ingredients are just variants of flour and sugar, two of a handful of ingredients in this country that are insanely profitable for food manufacturers.
And then…. then… you say to yourself, “Wow, I can’t eat this like this any more.”
That is the real lesson to be learned in calorie counting. It’s not about an obsessive adherence to managing the calorie deficit necessary for weight loss—it’s about learning lessons about the food you eat, why it makes you feel the way it does, and whether or not it helps you achieve and maintain the goals you’ve set for yourself.
There’s a reason why vegetables are so important for weight loss—they are, for a very small calorie amount, hands down the most filling thing you can eat, on top of being incredibly nutritious. Inputting the 3 cups of kale with garlic and red pepper flakes that you sauteed in a little vinaigrette and realizing that you couldn’t even finish it all even though it was a good 600 calories less than your usual favorite fast food restaurant’s value meal is invaluable information.
It helps to give you a reason to say no to that food you love in favor of something that helps you get closer to your goal–how many times in life do we feel the need to say, “I know I love you, but you aren’t good for me, no matter how good you make me feel in the short term?”
I know that calorie counting, in the thick of it, is stressful and frustrating and eye opening and mortifying and, frankly for some people, can cause so much anxiety that it leads them down a path towards disordered eating behavior. However, I believe we look at it wrong.
Calorie counting, though it helps you stay in line, should be an exercise in exploration. For me, it was about realizing that the reason I felt like I could eat the entire pan of Betty Crocker scalloped potatoes—I talk about those stupid potatoes a lot, I know—because none of the ingredients were real. The fat, the real source of fullness, was all but eliminated. The protein, from the cheese and milk, almost entirely gone. For all the calories I was eating, for a dish that’s supposed to be potatoes and cheese and milk and spices (something I now know‚ I still felt like I could eat the whole pan. The first time I made scalloped potatoes from scratch, I could barely eat a quarter of the pan; the thought of eating the whole thing makes me sick as I type this.
As you’re inputting your details, ask yourself—was I full after eating this? Was it worth all these calories, when I could’ve had something more satisfying and, possibly, far more flavorful? Was this the right choice?
When you as yourself these questions, you are giving your brain new ways to value the food you put in your body. Did it fill you up? Did it hold you over until your next meal? Or did you go on a sugar high, crash, and then recover from the crash by eating something else sweet?
Calorie counting helps you maintain the deficit, but you also need to be using the information you get from reading those labels to help you understand the choices you’ll need to make to maintain your goal and to give you reason why you’re saying goodbye to the old—the old foods, the old portion sizes, the old everything.
Before long, these will be the choices you’ll make on your own, without reading labels or opening your phone. You’ll know you can’t order the pasta off the menu because you’ll know that white sauce is a smooth 500 calories on its own. You’ll know the bread is a bad idea because, combined with the fact that it’s made with dough conditioners that make it appear to have more heft than it does, it’s super-high in calories and very unfulfilling. (There’s a reason why it’s endless and unlimited at most places.) You’ll know that anything fried or sauced or breaded is a bad move—unless you really want it, in which case, dive in—and it’ll shape the choices you make. Why do you know? Because you’ve looked it up and learned your lesson.
So will you need to count forever? No. But you will sometimes find yourself needing to recalibrate, and that’s okay. Or sometimes, you’ll find yourself randomly gaining weight, and going back to plugging in your calories for a bit can help you figure out what’s slipped and where.
Use calorie counting as a tool to help you figure out your own personal path for maintaining your goal, and before too long you’ll find yourself naturally on cruise control, with your auto-pilot totally recalibrated to reflect your new understanding of how to eat. And, like I always say, your MyFitnessPal will thank you for it!
(Okay, that’s not what I always say, but it’s damned close. LOL!)
For more on Calorie Counting:
- Understanding Calorie Counting: The Basics
- Understanding Calorie Counting: Preparing Yourself For Success
- Understanding Calorie Counting: Creating Your Calorie Goal and Being Honest About It
- Understanding Calorie Counting: A Final Word
- Friday 5: 5 Reasons Why Calorie Counting Is Flawed, and One Huge Reason To Do It Anyway
- Why Am I Calorie Counting?
- The Calorie Counting vs. Intuitive Eating Debate