It’s a Numbers Game

When it comes to losing weight, numbers reign supreme in my book. Counting my calories worked so well for me. But what are the pros and cons of using numbers in tracking progress? Like anything, it’s easy to get obsessed with something when it’s the sole focus for so long. I was focused on The Numbers for two years. I was counting all the calories I consumed. I was logging my weight loss progress weekly. But I wasn’t obsessed with the number until I hit a plateau I struggled to break out of.

Weight

Con: In the past I’ve mentioned the Elusive Goal Weight and how it often changes–which means you never really accomplish your goal, right?

Pro: Having a regular, weekly or monthly weigh-in keeps you on track. If you see a gain, you can try to counteract that.


One way to get the focus off the numbers when it comes to weight, is to focus on progress and process instead of the number on the scale. Getting too focused on what the scale says can lead to negative feelings, unhealthy eating and exercise habits and a cycle of “fat talk” for a lot of people. It happened to me. Which is why I decided to take a break from the scale for awhile.

The scale is a great tool for weight loss and maintenance. But not when it runs your whole life. Instead of using the scale to gauge progress, try measuring your body. Or using the holes in your belt as a barometer for loss/gain. Have a pair of “skinny pants” that you occasionally try on to see if you’re losing weight.

Calories

Con: This is where things get a little hazy for me. I have a hard time finding a “Con” for counting calories because it worked so well for me.

Not only that, when I DID take a break from counting calories for a few months I steadily gained weight. I told myself “I’ve got this DOWN. I don’t need to count anymore! I know how to eat.” Common Mistake. Many people lose the weight and then decide to stop doing what worked and slip back into old habits. I did. I wasn’t watching my portion sizes. I wasn’t counting my calories. My eyes were bigger than my stomach and soon my stomach was BIGGER. Ooops… I realized then and there that I would always have to count my calories. I’m okay with that.

Pro: I am accountable to myself every single day.

But maybe instead of focusing on eating LOW calories, focus on eating WHOLE calories. Basically this means limit the amount of processed food eaten. My focus for 2011 so far has been to eat Real Food.


I’ve slowly stopped eating processed foods and my meals with Michael have become much more basic: Veggies, Meat, Fruit, Dairy, etc. Simple foods like a salad, steak and steamed veggies. I feel healthier, I feel happier, I have less hunger issues and I am glad I made the change from low calorie processed foods.

Workouts

Con: It can get tedious tracking every single workout. Sometimes you just want to go for a run, burn some calories, and go home!

Pro: By tracking the numbers of each workout, it’s easy to see when I’m slacking off or not working quite up to my potential. A good example of this is using my Heart Rate Monitor to make sure I am staying within my heart rate zone to burn fat. Why waste a workout if I’m not going to get the most out of it?


Other questions that should be asked: Are you lifting more weight in the gym? Is your recovery time faster? Does our heart rate return to normal quickly? Is your blood pressure in a healthy range when you go to the doctor? These are all great ways to measure health.

Mileage

Con: Runners love numbers. PRs are broken all the time–for me it was nearly weekly that I beat my previous records when I was running a lot! Having a PR is a great feeling, but it doesn’t last because then you want to break THAT record. I used to track all my runs in an Excel Spreadsheet with my mileage and time. Whenever I logged in a new run and it was somehow less than my previous run, I’d feel deflated and wonder What did I do wrong this time? Why did something have to be wrong because I ran 30 seconds slower?


It wasn’t until I was injured and stopped racing/training/running all the time that I was able to finally get back to LIKING running. It was no longer a chore, or something that I had “to beat with a PR” every time I ran. Now I can just run for fun. I can run for fitness and if I run 3 miles instead of4 I don’t care. At least I’m running!

Pro: However, keeping track of the mileage and speed can show progress after hard work.

Maybe instead of miles run a better focus is on performance. How do I feel when I run 3 miles? How is my recovery? How do I feel the next day? I’m using these things as ways to compare my progress.

 

QUESTION: What are the pros and cons in tracking numbers in your life?

8 Responses

  1. I definitely see the value in weighing yourself, counting calories, and tracking workouts BUT I think it is perfectly healthy, if not preferred, to take a break from it every so often. Calorie counting has worked for me in the past but it is not something I want to do for the rest of my life. I come back to it every few months or so just to “check in” and make sure I’m on track or maybe to help get me back on track. Honestly, it makes me batty after a few weeks. I feel better with my life when I’m not counting and just making healthy decisions. I always wear my HRM when I exercise (not yoga though) mostly for curiousity sake. And I do weigh myself a few times a week but I’ve gotten to the point where I can just guess my weight based on my activity and what I’ve been eating. πŸ™‚

    1. I agree that a break is sometimes very needed. I take a break from counting calories probably once a month. Usually it’s because I’m out of town, or on vacation for the weekend and I just want a break. But I always go back. I will probably ALWAYS have to count my calories. It’s just part of who I am now.

  2. I think things are just different for big losers. I like numbers and need that kind of accountability. It is really easy for me to have problems with portions if I don’t weigh and measure my food – and myself! I tried going completely scale free and either I am not ready yet or it is just a tool I need. However, I do have the no number scale so I don’t really know what my exact weight is. I just no what it is in relationship to when I first got on this scale.

    I think if you don’t like numbers, then counting can lead to issues. I like charts and graphs and all that dorky stuff πŸ˜€

  3. You know, I quit counting calories in October because after my marathon I was SO DEPRESSED that I was still eating around 2,500 calories a day but wasn’t putting in the miles for it. For the first time in 3 years of counting the numbers really got to me. So I quit, and vowed to learn to eat intuitively.

    8 months later, I might be finally getting the intuitive eating thing as I’m slowly seeing the numbers go down on the scale. I really think that intuitive eating takes TIME to learn and along the way there might be a few roadblocks (aka a few pounds gained). I thoroughly enjoy not counting my calories anymore and hope to never do it again – that being said, I know it is a VERY effective tool for weight loss and completely understand why others do it. I also encourage people who are just starting a weight loss journey to do it.

    Counting my miles is another thing that can get out of control for me. I’m injury-prone so thrive on lower-mileage weeks (20 – 25 miles per week running) but sometimes I get it in my head that I should be hitting the big numbers (50+) that other runners hit. I love tracking my miles and won’t ever stop, but it definitely can have a negative effect on me sometimes.

    1. That’s great that IE is working for you. I tried to do it for about 10 months. I stopped counting calories and tried to eat intuitively. That in combination with taking Celexa caused me to gain 15+ pounds. It does NOT work for me. Numbers, calories, tracking, all that works. I’m successful so I need to keep doing it.

      But I’m totally with you on the mileage. I am injury-prone too and have to be really careful.

  4. First off – congratulations for losing so much weight and becoming more healthy! I feel that counting calories and tracking weight can lead me to easily into obsessive behaviours. Therefore I tend to track my measurements and how I’m feeling. I use the awesome Fitango Women’s Measurement Tracker. It’s FREE and has really helped me keep myself on track.

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