Weight loss is all about figuring out what works for you. Unfortunately, it often takes a long time to figure out what that is. In the meantime, we need to try out a whole lot of what doesn’t work. ‘Count calories’ is an extremely common piece of advice said to help us lose weight, along with ‘exercise more.’ Well, I did count calories. For years. And for years I saw zero results (in fact, I gained weight) and just kept on counting anyway. Finally, I realized it just wasn’t working for me. Here are 7 reasons why I stopped counting calories.
1. I stopped looking at food as FOOD, and only as calories.
Food is fuel, but when you become obsessed with calories you lose sight of what fuels you. Instead, you often focus on what you can have for X amount of calories, regardless of whether it’s nutritious or not. I have consumed countless “diet” and “100-calorie” snacks laden with chemicals and ingredients I can’t pronounce all in the name of quantity. “But I can have seventeen of these!” Sound familiar?
Sure, you can have sugar-free “chocolate” or seventeen paper thin mini “Oreos,” but what you don’t get is any nutrition. I was left hungry and unsatisfied constantly (and often returned for more in search of satiation, which resulted in increased calorie intake.) Now I know I could have just had an apple and a tablespoon of peanut butter or heaven forbid, some actual real dark chocolate and been done with it. More calories, sometimes, but also long lasting fiber, protein, and vitamins. Best of all, the wonderful feeling of knowing I gave myself something nutritious and didn’t need to keep rummaging for sustenance.
I’ve since adopted Michael Pollan’s philosophy on food. “Eat real food. Mostly vegetables. Not too much.”
2. Calorie counting made me obsessive.
I am a stickler for accuracy, which became an obsession when counting calories. I weighed and measured all my food, adding and subtracting chips and dry pasta until I had the perfect one or two ounces allowed. When I didn’t know precise measurements I agonized over my estimates. My husband mistakenly taking my perfectly portioned lunch and leaving me his was enough to make me cry with fear and uncertainty. I became inflexible and rigid and loss of total control over my food made me nervous.
3. Calorie counting is an enormous time suck.
Food-shopping, cooking and eating all took longer. The comparing, the weighing, the measuring, the counting, the adding, dictating nutrition facts and entering them into the app I used… it had become such a chore! Many times I ate the same things or bought the same brands, even if a comparable one was on sale, for the sole reason that I didn’t feel like entering new information into the app. Which leads me to my next point…
4. Calorie counting made me hesitant to try new things.
After so many years of calorie counting I know roughly how many calories are in most anything. But when faced with something new that wasn’t accompanied by a package or had a lot of components, I was hesitant to try it because I couldn’t account accurately for the calories. I hated not knowing and didn’t trust guessing. Even if it did come with a package, sometimes I still avoided things if I wasn’t in the mood to list all the nutrition facts into the app. Better to stick with what I was certain about. For someone who loves trying new things as much as I do, this was a huge deterrent.
5. I wanted to minimize my obligations.
If something you do to HELP yourself becomes a stressful burden that you dread, then it’s time to rethink it.
6. I learned enough to get by without counting calories.
This is where I will say that I am grateful for some of the time I spent counting calories. Counting calories taught me portion sizes and how many calories are in most foods, as well as how to calculate calories of most things in my head. But if you’re reading this, then you most likely know these things by now, too. Cutting the chord isn’t easy. But if counting calories has you obsessing or stressed out, and you know the basics, then try striking it out on your own. Chances are, like me, you know what and how much you should be eating.
7. I want to live my life fully, freely and BALANCED.
I don’t have the time, energy or desire to obsess and worry over every single thing I put in my mouth. What I want is to achieve balance. My friend, Amanda, said something to me last week that makes me believe I’m getting there. I had lost my first ten pounds for the year and she said, “And you’re doing it right. Don’t forget you went out for restaurant week and had fried chicken!”
Yes, I most certainly did! I also had several drinks, two huge biscuits that accompanied the chicken, and some of my dessert (I would have eaten all of it if I wasn’t so full.) I don’t want weight loss to mean I can never go out for restaurant week again, or drink with my friends, or have dessert. It is possible to find balance. I have witnessed it, not only in my first ten pounds, but in others.
I have been inspired for years by a random woman I saw leaving the gourmet Italian deli and bakery next to my office. She was in her running clothes, all sweaty, and she had a huge hot drink and a cinnamon roll the size of her head! I thought to myself, “That! That is what I want!” Not necessarily the cinnamon roll (although it looked phenomenal) but the BALANCE. Here was a fit woman who clearly just went running and then got herself what she wanted.
I don’t believe I can achieve balance while counting every calorie. Some people can, and I say good for them! But it’s not for me.
I have felt liberated since I stopped counting calories at the start of 2016. I still remember saying to my coach, “I don’t want to do this anymore. Is that okay?” I was worried she’d say I had to keep doing it, but it was just so clear it wasn’t working for me. She agreed and gave me the permission I was looking for.
I got my time back, became more relaxed with food, and saved myself $9.00/month from canceling the subscription to the app I used. Once again, I made new recipes, tried new things, and enjoyed my renewed food freedom.
I also found that everything I learned had stuck. I didn’t all of a sudden forget how to check nutrition facts or serving sizes or how many calories are in a banana. And I still sometimes weigh out an ounce of tortilla chips with my chili or 2 ounces of pasta for my lunch, just to keep from accidentally over-eating. And I actually do write down everything I eat in my planner every day – just little notes to jog my memory and help me keep track of things. I don’t include specific details like quantity or portion sizes. Just enough information to help me figure out what works, what doesn’t, and how certain foods make me feel.
That’s what works for me. Calorie counting didn’t. Remember, it’s all about what works for YOU.