fallingslowly21 asked: So I've been counting calories for awhile, and it has helped me lose weight and I think I'm eating enough (I never go to bed feeling hungry). Problem is, I find myself obsessed with food. I always want to snack on something or consume something, whether it's food or gum or tea or whatever. I would really like to continue to count calories, as I think it's really helping me lose weight, but I don't want to obsess over food. Any suggestions?
I want to start off my answer to this by saying that I’ve experienced the same when it comes to counting and tracking calories on a consistent, daily basis. It seems like this tends to be a very common struggle for those striving to lose weight by using a calorie counter or food diary to ensure they’re creating a calorie deficit in their diet each day.
I personally find tracking calories to be tedious and burdensome for many of the same reasons you mention. It can definitely sometimes make you feel slightly obsessive and when you’re constantly thinking about how many calories you’re eating or how many calories are going to be allowed in your next meal, eating can become much less enjoyable. But truly healthy eating should be more about fueling your body with the nutrients and minerals that it needs to keep you energized, and less about how many calories you’re consuming.
That being said, there’s no denying that counting calories is a very helpful weight loss tool. At the end of the day, your body weight will always be dependent upon calories in versus calories out, so knowing exactly how many calories you ate for the day is an invaluable resource when you need to be creating a deficit. Plus, keeping close track of and having to record everything you eat keeps you accountable and makes it less likely that you’ll sneak in “just an extra bite here” or “just a little snack there.” So, my suggestions to you would be the following:
- You say you “think you’re eating enough,” and I certainly encourage intuitive eating, but until you feel comfortable in maintaining a healthy weight through eating intuitively (which takes time and practice), the best way to know for sure that you’re getting enough calories for your body type, is to calculate your BMR and AMR, which will tell you how many calories your body needs per day based on your age, height, weight, and activity levels.
- You don’t have to count calories forever. But, if you haven’t reached your goal weight yet and feel like you might stray from healthy eating and go over your calorie limit without it, continue to use it as a tool that will keep you on track until you reach your goal. By that point you’ll most likely be familiar enough with the nutritional value of the foods that you most commonly eat to know what each of your meals should consist of for a typical day of eating. At that point tracking your calories will become much less necessary.
- As far as feeling as though you’re always thinking about food or wanting to snack goes, there could be several reasons you feel that way but I think that counting calories could definitely be a contributing factor. In my own experience, calorie-counting leads me to think in such a way that instead of focusing on the food in front of me, I’ll pay more attention to what my next meal is going to be. I’ll think, “Well I’m eating this, this, and that for lunch, so dinner is going to have to be X,Y,Z.” When you get in that kind of mindset, you sort of lose sight of the reason you’re eating (which should always and only be because you’re hungry) and also forget to enjoy your food.
Here are a few articles about healthy eating habits and learning to eat intuitively that I really enjoyed and think will be of help to you:
Ah, the 100-Calorie Snack Pack. I’ve been looking forward to talking about these because I very distinctly remember a comment that a high school friend of mine once made about them. We were probably in 10th grade. She was a swimmer, like me and therefore somewhat health conscious. On any given day of the week, both of our lunches would include a 100-calorie snack pack. We’d have the oreo kinds, the chocolate chip cookie kind, the cheese nip kind… We loved our 100-calorie snack packs and often joked about how our love for food always left us wanting more because one pack just wasn’t enough. Which, duh! Now that I think about it, of course 100 calories wasn’t enough when we were burning upwards of 1,000 calories in a 2-hour swimming workout!
Anyway, one day she said something along the lines of, “It’s actually really stupid, these 100 calorie things. We’re paying this company money for something we could really just do ourselves. Why don’t I just go buy a regular box of Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies and then only eat one or two cookies. All they’re doing is forcing the portion size.” We were only silly high school teenagers back then, but she was right. So right!
Obviously the calorie aspect of these little snacks are “healthy,” especially for someone who might be keeping track of their calories for weight loss or maintenance reasons. But what about what they’re made of? What kinds of ingredients go into making these little bite-sized treats? There are a handful of different 100-Calorie Snack Pack varieties from a bunch of different companies, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll use Nabsico’s “100-Calorie Chips Ahoy! Thin Crisps.”
Chips Ahoy! Thin Crisps Nutritional Info and Ingredients:
OK, so these aren’t actually that bad! I mean, the ingredients aren’t the best, but they could also be much worse. Fooducate gives these a B- on their rating scale, only making a point to highlight that they include artificial/natural flavoring and fake vanilla. Yes, it would be much better to snack on a handful of nuts or carrots but let’s be honest, sometimes you just want a damn cookie and I’d say if that’s the case, grabbing a pack of these would be a much better choice than opening a whole pack of chocolate chip cookies and trying to resist having more than just one or two.
However, if you are strictly trying to eat completely clean, then these would be a huge no. But for someone who is just beginning a weight loss journey and/or learning healthy eating habits and portion control, these are a pretty good option because they allow for a sweet treat but prevent any chance of over indulging at the same time… That is, if you make sure to only allow yourself one pack. (I’m pretty sure I used to eat like, three at a time back when I was swimming 6,000+ yards a day. Whoops!)
That being said, if you’re already at a point where you have a healthy relationship with food, do a good job at controlling your portions, and are generally knowledgeable about your body’s nutritional needs, this kind of snack is probably not something you’re reaching for. The great thing is, that if you’re striving to reach that point, these kinds of 100-Calorie snacks can be used as a stepping stone to help you get there. Just make sure you ALWAYS read the ingredients because some of the different varieties are much, much worse than others!
What are your thoughts? Do you buy any kinds of snacks that come packaged with predetermined calories and portion sizes for when you really just need a sweet or salty indulgence?
Despite previously declaring that I don’t ever count calories, which I really normally don’t, this week I conducted a little experiment using MyFitnessPal.com to monitor everything I ate. I was mostly interested in finding out whether or not I was getting enough protein, but in addition to that, I ended up finding out a lot of other things about my diet that I was completely unaware of!
Here are my totals for Monday (my first day using my fitness pal.)
These numbers correspond to a typical day of eating for me. Here’s what I ate:
Breakfast: I had an omelet (2 whole eggs) with broccoli, half of a serving of cheddar cheese, and a piece of whole wheat toast.
Lunch: Tuna mixed with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, red kidney beans, chic peas, tomatoes & lime juice with a whole wheat rice cake and 1 tablespoon of white chocolate peanut butter.
Dinner: half of a whole wheat grilled chicken wrap with spinach, zucchini, mushrooms, mozzarella cheese, & half of a baked sweet potato.
Snacks: an apple, carrots with black bean dip (homemade), 10 mini pretzels, 1 serving of walnuts, 1 serving of organic raisins, 1 small, homemade vegan oatmeal cookie and half of a slice of homemade banana bread.
Now, again…the calories are of my least concern here and none of this was too alarming to me because really this is just an estimate. I’m usually eyeballing serving sizes instead of measuring them out exactly and My Fitness Pal isn’t a genius that knows the exact nutritional values for my homemade black bean dip or banana bread. I’m also really not worried about protein or fat because I don’t think My Fitness Pal does a good job of tracking exercise (it doesn’t count any calories burned for strength training) and it doesn’t add in extra protein on days where strength training is logged in your workout, which I think is necessary. Personally, I want to be getting 80-100 grams of protein a day.
My main concerns here were sugar and fiber. Why am I getting way too much of both? Especially since I avoid things with excessive sugar in them like the plague! Well, the first culprit that I can pinpoint here are raisins! For some reason, (because I didn’t read the label!) I had no idea they had SO much sugar in just one tiny 1/4 cup serving size. 29 grams! That’s almost more than enough sugar for the entire day! But what else? Apples…apples have about 14 grams of sugar each. Not so bad but that will add up onto a daily limit of 35 grams pretty quickly.
And I could go on and on about the values for other things that I ate, but my point is that I still think, even despite these numbers, eating based on how you feel (AKA: just eat when you’re hungry!) instead of counting calories and tracking every last bite, is much more enjoyable and healthy, but only as long as you really know exactly what it is you’re eating, which as it turns out…is the hardest part!
Despite my actual hatred for recording and keeping track of everything I eat, I continued to use My Fitness Pal for the rest of the week just to try and see if I could get my diet balanced out. And by Friday, I’m proud to say that I was pretty on point.
But it was hard. It was really freakin’ hard to go through the entire day being like, “OK, I’m having this many grams of sugar at breakfast, so that leaves me x amount left for the rest of the day,” and “I love beans so much but I had them with lunch and if I put them in my wrap for dinner, I’ll have had too much fiber for the day.” Not only is thinking like this tedious, but honestly, it’s freakin’ annoying! Sometimes you just wanna eat what you want to eat, ya know? But if you want to look and feel healthy you have to make some sacrifices and I do believe there is a healthy balance between eating what you want and making sure you’re getting the right amounts of each nutrient.
So here were my totals for friday:
I’m satisfied with everything because a) I know based on the way I felt that I had more than 1,280 calories (I was FULL after dinner) b) I know that about 25 grams of fiber per day is OK c) I got lots of protein on a day that I did a kick-butt strength training workout and c) 3 extra grams of sugar never killed anybody.
There’s still much more I could talk my mouth off about when it comes to counting calories and tracking everything that you eat like:
- The accuracy of calorie counters and exercise monitoring.
- How my eyes were opened to the fact that I might have been having so much trouble losing those last 5lbs. around my tummy because even though I was full & satisfied, I still wasn’t getting enough calories/ fat.
- How having a deficit of a few hundred calories remaining at the end of the day might cause someone to eat when they aren’t hungry just to fill the “requirements.
But I’ll spare of all that now and save it for next time! As for now, I might continue to use My Fitness Pal for a few more days. My goal is to train myself to do the whole “Really Balanced Eating” thing just by habitually knowing what I need to eat at each meal. After that, I’m saying sayonara to tracking my food because I’m maintaining my goal weight without much struggle and I feel stronger and more fit than ever before!
Now you tell me, what are your feelings towards counting calories and logging everything that you eat? Do you find it helpful or annoying?