count calories to lose weight

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).

photo_counting_calories

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?

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?