Calorie counting

When I read Angela’s post this morning, I immediately had a similar reaction to her. What got us (and a lot of others) so worked up? This quote from Jillian Michaels:

You have to count calories. I don’t care how healthy you are eating. It’s a universal rule.

Whoa! That’s kind of a strong statement. Now, I don’t 100% know the context that she said this in (whether she meant, for example, that it’s a universal rule for those that are extremely overweight), but it got me thinking about my own relationship with counting calories.

When I first started counting calories, it was incredibly helpful. Before starting to lose weight, I had no idea either a) how many calories I needed per day or b) what a reasonable portion size was (and how many calories it contained). I barely glanced at nutritional labels, and if I did, it didn’t mean much to me because, like I said, I had no idea how many calories I needed.

When I finally figured it all out, calorie counting was helpful to make sure I was coming in under my requirement each day. It made me aware of portion sizes and it helped me realize that it’s much better to eat 100 calories of a high volume, nutritionally dense food than 100 calories of something with lots of sugar and no fibre or good fats that doesn’t even fill the palm of my hand (I’m looking at you, 100 calorie packs). These are still “rules” I abide by today.

However, despite the initial benefits of calorie counting, I eventually became obsessive about it. I would make eating plans with really specific measurements of all the foods I would eat that day and that was all I was allowed to eat. Looking back, a lot of these meal plans were actually under the calories I should have been eating (based on my BMR). Some days I’d give myself a measly 1200 calories and expect that I could work out for 45 minutes at a moderate to high intensity. After dinner, I would be starving most days yet I’d only ever allow myself something like a fat-free yogurt (a piddly 40-50 calories usually) to ward off the hunger.

I had this irrational fear of going over my calories and would cringe at the thought of eating 100 extra calories even if I was super hungry. In my mind, I’d think “well, if I do this every day of the week, that’s an extra 700 calories this week… that’s nearly a third of a pound that I won’t lose this week”. A third of a pound. In my mind, losing that extra 0.2 to 0.3 pounds per week was more important than not going hungry. It was more important than being happy and having a positive relationship with food. In this type of mindset, food was the enemy, not fuel. It wasn’t something to enjoy, it was something that could prevent me from losing weight.

Looking back, I’m almost ashamed that my relationship with food was so negative. It took a lot of strength to stop calorie counting but I knew I had to. My weight loss was stalling at that point, probably because I was eating below my BMR each day, and I was not giving myself enough energy to just live life!

I don’t count calories anymore. While I don’t deny that it’s a valuable tool for some (and it was for me early on), I do think there is a danger to it for certain people. It can certainly cause obsessive behaviours and other issues, and I’m definitely not the only person that’s experienced this.

I have really come far from my restrictive patterns. I know I need to eat to fuel my body. I’m not afraid to eat more if I’m hungry, especially on days when I’ve worked out. I listen to my body and enjoy everything in moderation, or I find a healthier substitute. I’d rather eat when I’m hungry and end up putting on a couple pounds than starve just to maintain.

The road to giving up calorie counting can be difficult, I’ll admit that. It was challenging for me, but I think it’s possible to develop a healthy relationship with food without feeling the need to keep yourself in check through calorie counting. Like I said, it can be positive, but I don’t think sweeping statements such as “everyone should count calories” are necessarily accurate. If you’re trying to lose weight, calorie counting may or may not be for you. In the end, you need to find the method that helps you have a healthy, positive view of food.

Have you ever counted calories? Was it a helpful tool or did you experience problems because of it?

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One Response to Calorie counting

  1. Kristie says:

    Your calorie counting story sounds pretty near identical to mine. I found it very valuable in the beginning when I knew NOTHING about proper nutrition, calories and healthy eating in general but it soon became a problem, a burden and a bit of an obsession. I definitely do support being knowledgeable about calories and calorie amounts to an extent and I do believe that it can be extremely helpful in first starting out in weight loss, however I do NOT think it is a universal rule and I do not think that everyone should be counting calories for the rest of their lives. I’ve basically stopped (other than counting a day here and there) and it is much easier to enjoy food and to just BE without having to think about numbers for everything that enters your mouth. I think Jillian Michaels is great but that statement of hers was a bit too much word vomit.

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