Stop Counting Calories to Lose Weight

Recently I read an article entitled “Stop Counting Calories to Lose Weight.” I was intrigued because I lost 100 pounds by counting my calories and I’ve kept the weight off now for 5 years by continuing to count my calories. (You can read more here: How to Count Calories.)

I went into the article expecting to hate it and rip it apart. Not because I think MY WAY is the best way, but because I’ve read a lot of articles criticizing calorie counting and it rubs me the wrong way when they discredit something that works. It may not work for everyone, but it works for a lot of people (I mean really, Weight Watchers is essentially calorie counting, just in a different format–points).

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Let’s talk about calorie counting for a minute. One question I get asked a lot is how I counted my calories. I’ve written a plethora of posts on the topic but the question that stands out is that people want to know if I tracked fat, carbs, etc. All those micro-nutrients and saturated fats, blah blah blah. Sure those things are probably important but I didn’t track that. I didn’t care. All I cared about was the calorie count because it was SIMPLE. I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with all of those other things. Seriously, I couldn’t fathom tracking all of those things because I was overwhelmed as it was and I was also hand writing everything! Now things are easier. There’s websites and apps that do all that stuff for you.

“… not everyone has to count calories to lose weight. In fact, for some OCD people or people with eating disorders, it could be counterproductive. “

This is an excellent point about counting calories. If you struggle with restriction and have a history of eating disorders, it’s probably not a good idea. Instead, discuss your options with a doctor or RD. I’m sure they have some alternatives that can help you succeed without triggering disordered thinking.

Intuitive Eating is a popular thing these days. There are a lot of bloggers out there that swear by it and there’s a ton of books on the topic. I tried it once. It did not work for me. The reason it didn’t work for me was because I’m a REFORMED BINGE EATER who used to be obese. “Intuitively” I want to binge eat. I have to practice self-control and willpower in order to not do this. While binge eating isn’t something I have to worry about most days, there are still times in my life where I do want to revert back to the old habits I had. (Read these posts: Psychology of Weight Loss and Stop Dieting!)

When you spent half your life with bad habits and the desire to overeat, it’s difficult to trust your mind and your body to eat only what it NEEDS to survive and not what it CRAVES. For me, there needs to be a happy medium between intuitive eating and calorie counting. I address it in more detail here: Why All or Nothing Doesn’t Work For Me.

“…it is not necessary. Many people have gotten down to single digit body fat without ever counting a single calorie. They practiced portion control.”

This is entirely possible. I know several people that practice portion control instead of calorie counting. I believe that portion control is a crucial element of weight loss and maintenance. Once you achieve goal weight, it’s not like you can go back to eating an entire pizza in one sitting. You have to continue the healthy practices you did to lose the weight in the first place. But can you JUST measure portions out and still lose weight? You bet. I don’t see why not.

“You need to focus on the quality of the food that’s going into your mouth. Until your diet is 80-90 percent whole foods, you’re wasting your time counting calories.”

This has been an evolution for me. When I was first losing my weight I ate a TON of processed foods because they were portion controlled and I knew exactly how many calories I was eating (which made calorie tracking so much easier). Over the last few years that I’ve been maintaining 110 pounds lost, I’ve moved more toward eating natural, whole foods. The article recommends adding whole foods and remove processed foods from your diet. I agree whole-heartily. I love my veggie garden! 🙂

The bottom line is this: All Calories Are Not Equal. You cannot sustain a healthy body and lifestyle eating only 1500 calories of Twinkies in a day. It is true that there are much healthier calories we can be eating!

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So while I went into the article expecting to hate it, I did agree with a lot of their points and suggestions. Counting calories works for me. I lost my weight and I’ve kept it off for years. Because it works so well, I’ve continued it.

What’s your take on the article?

Maintenance 101: How to Eat

Maintenance 101: How to Eat

I’m beginning a weekly or bi-weekly series of posts entitled “Maintenance 101.” In this series, I’ll be addressing some of the issues I’ve found in my four years of weight loss maintenance. My goal for this series is to be uplifting, supportive and honest. Maintenance isn’t always easy as many of you guys know from experience, but maintenance is a crucial part of the weight loss journey. Our work doesn’t stop when we step on the scale and see our “magic number.”

Deficit

When you’re trying to lose weight the goal is to create a calorie deficit each day. This is the “secret” to weight loss. You must burn more calories than you consume. If you aren’t sure how many calories you should be eating to lose weight, try using a Calorie Calculator (they are a dime a dozen on the internet). You can create a deficit by Counting Calories, Exercising, and Reducing Calories.

This is not the case for maintenance. You are no longer trying to create a deficit, you are just trying to stay within a certain calorie range each day (or points if you are on Weight Watchers). Like I said, the work doesn’t end when you reach goal–but you aren’t restricting as much.

“When you hit that goal weight, your daily PointsPlus™ Target will be increased, by 6PointsPlus values per day. That’s not the free-for-all that many people may be expecting! (There’s certainly more than 6 PointsPlus values in a pint of posh ice-cream…)” (source)

When I was losing my weight I counted my calories every day and my goal was to eat about 1500 calories a day. I was usually more like 1600-1800 calories depending on the day. Some days were more challenging and I was really pushing the envelope at 1900 calories. But I worked hard and counted every bite and nibble. I was also exercising but I didn’t EAT what I burned. This was creating a deficit and I lost 110 pounds.

 

Eat More

When you reach maintenance mode, there has to be a mental shift. Sometimes it’s difficult to make this shift because you’re so used to thinking “restriction.”

After I lost my 110 pounds, I was still counting my calories and I was still exercising 4-5 times a week. I had to make a mental shift from losing to maintaining. One of the ways I did this was getting used to the idea of eating more. I wasn’t changing my healthy habits, but when I worked out I ate back some of the calories I burned. Not all of them–but some.

Here is an example: Let’s say you burn 2500 calories per day from exercise, the normal daily activities (getting dressed, showering, walking, etc.), as well as what your body does to survive (breathing, pumping blood, digesting food, etc.). This means that 2500 calories is your daily calorie maintenance level. If you ate 2500 calories a day, your body would remain the same. Your weight would not go up or down and you would “maintain” where you are at day in and day out. This is pretty much where I am currently. My weight does not fluctuate much more than a pound or two in either direction because I’m eating more calories than I did when I lost the weight.

The Cause The Effect Required For
Calorie Deficit Stored calories (body fat, muscle tissue, or both) will be burned. Losing Fat
Maintenance Calorie Level Maintenance Maintaining Your Current Weight
Caloric Surplus Calories will be stored (muscle tissue, body fat or both). Building Muscle

According to some websites, my maintenance calorie level is about 2400 calories a day. On any given day I eat between 1900-2400 calories right now.

“Eat More” does not mean “EAT WHATEVER YOU WANT” in massive quantities. You’re just feeding your body a little bit more than it needed when you were losing the weight. At this point your body should have LESS reserves of fat to burn, which is why you need to eat a little bit more–right? Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

QUESTION: Do you have the maintenance part down? Or are you still struggling to figure out what it means in terms of exercise and food?