Why I Stopped Counting Calories
There was a time when all that came out of my mouth was "it's ok if it fits in my macros". I think that a lot of us, unfortunately, have fallen prey to the promise of calories in versus calories out. For years, I was obsessed with counting everything that went into my mouth, which ultimately led me to the worst spiral of my life- not only physically, but mentally.
Remember when those 100 calorie packs were the junk? Well, literally- they were. Not only were we filling our bodies with processed ingredients but mentally we told ourselves that if it was so low in calories, I can afford 2-3, right? Yep, me too. But that's what society (and unfortunately, too many "nutritionists") has taught us is ok. But here's the ultimate truth- a calorie is NOT just a calorie. And here's why-
What Are Calories?
Now don't get me wrong, calories are not the devil nor should they be avoided by any means. A calorie is simply a unit of measurement for how much energy we are getting from a food. Just like putting gas into a car, it's necessary in order to get it to go anywhere. But the last time I checked, gas stations offered different types of fuels. You get to choose which one will be the most sufficient for your car and will take you the farthest. Just like gas types, food gets positioned the same way for us, yet we tend to take the quicker and cheaper route- which ultimately ends in a fast burnout and leaves us stranded looking for another station desperately, or in our case- a snack.
All of us seem to be on a "go-go-go" schedule and need all of the energy we can get. But instead of looking for food as fuel, we go straight for the coffee drive-thru in hopes that will get us through our entire day. This is where we need to change our mindsets to trust that proper nutrition, not just a set of numbers, will be far more efficient in the long run.
Are You A Computer?
Obviously, we all know that answer, but we tend to treat ourselves as such. Day in and day out we punch some numbers into a calorie tracker app for all of the calorie intake we had for that day, which in turns tells us if we did a good or bad job depending on the end calculation. Most likely, that calorie tracker just took a nice "guesstimated" answer depending on your age, height, weight and activity level in order to come up with your daily goal. I've never been asked anything about family history, blood pressure, hormone levels, last cycle, how much sleep I've gotten, or if I have any serious medical issue- which ALL need to be factored in to hit your goals.
Calories are Not Even
When is the last time you just ate a 200-calorie piece of cake? Any idea what you felt like afterward? Either one of two ways- awesome, but for a total of 15 minutes before you felt like you hit a brick wall. Or you immediately felt that nice stomach bloat coming on. But eat the same 200 calories full of nuts? Completely different reaction. I'm sure there are tons of weight loss enthusiasts that will swear by calorie counting, but I'm not sure how you can fight for something that has absolutely no nutritional contribution and no mental/physical benefits. Those nuts not only provide a good balance of carbs, fiber, protein, fats, but vitamins and minerals. And trust me, that "good feeling" you get from that piece of cake was just a dopamine hit from the sugar- exactly like drugs, alcohol, and gambling. Now don't get me wrong, you will definitely see me chowing down on that piece of cake from time to time, but it's not going to be my choice of gas each day.
So What Now?
First, to be clear, I think there is a time and place for counting calories. If you've never been very conscious about clean eating, it can be very beneficial to get you on a plan that includes counting calories but also gives you a guideline for the right foods.
When I first started counting calories, I lost a whopping 45 pounds. It was incredible. So you know I was brainwashed to not screw it up. But then once I got down to my lowest weight, I had to work my butt off to stay there- and that meant absolutely no cake was eaten during that time. Although on the outside it looked like I knew what I was doing, inside I was taking a beating by ingesting GMO products and processed ingredients- all for the goal to keep everything "low calorie". After staying there for almost 2 years, life hit me and I knew I couldn't keep that lifestyle going. The pounds started to add back on, even though I was eating a relatively normal diet compared to everyone else. My metabolism had slowed to it's minimum due to the restriction I had it on previously and kept storing my fat no matter what I tried. To say I kinda screwed myself is an understatement, but I had to remember it's never too late. After adding all the weight, plus some, back on, I had to have a lot of patience. No matter how many times I counted calories or worked out, the weight wasn't going anywhere and my digestive issues were out of control. I was always bloated and mentally fogged up, but had no idea why. Not only that, but I found I was addicted to food. Not in the way that I was eating all the time, but I would restrict myself so often that when I had a chance to eat a cookie, I'd eat the entire container and there was no willpower. I craved sweets all the time and would be so ashamed of myself after my binge.
It wasn't until I started feeding myself with whole foods and relying on that for my fuel did I find the answer. My “cravings” also disappeared and I was able to find control in that area of my life. Now trust me, I'm not perfect, but I just follow the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time, I eat clean, from the earth foods, and the other 20% I'm enjoying whatever the heck I want. I'm happier than I've ever been, more confident than I've ever felt, and free from the stress and anxiety society puts on us to have it all together. I've accepted that I will never be the same size I was years ago but I don't mind at all when I know that my body will benefit so much more long term and I can finally enjoy my life without it being controlled by my food addiction. Intuitive eating is an incredibly useful tool everyone should learn at some point. Taping into your mind-gut connection is crucial and you'll see the benefits immediately, but learning that skill won't be the same. In order to start that process, here are some important things I always keep in mind-
- 3 meals and 2 snacks all with 3 macronutrients. This doesn't need to be perfect and don't force feed yourself if you aren't hungry, but it's a start to get out of that "rigid" mindset of calorie counting.
- Fiber is your friend. Fiber is essential to digestive health by feeding the good bacteria in your large intestine. Long story short- it helps you stay regular and fuller. Win-win. Great sources of fiber include flaxseeds, chia seeds, dark berries, and beans.
- "Do I even want this?" should be crossing your mind as you are getting ready to eat something. Now obviously eating pizza would continue as a yes to that question every time, but truly ask if it's something you need or is it just there so why not. If I have part of my "20%" as a meal one night, I make sure I don't have any leftovers so I make my fiance eat it (LOL) or just throw it away. Bored snacking is not going to help you, even if it is convenient.
Hope that shines a little bit of light for you today. Have you struggled with counting calories? Let me know your story below!