My answer to the above question is quite simple: No, you don’t need to do anything. But if you want to have a greater understanding of nutrition and weight loss/gain, counting calories will help you get there.
*Disclaimer: This blog is for someone who is looking to lose weight and specifically see the scale numbers go down. (Although it could also be applied in reverse for gaining weight.) However, please know that long term fitness and health is not all about losing weight, and depending on your situation you may need to gain muscle and gain weight in order to achieve your desired results. All of this is relative, and I will discuss it more in a later post.
I was uninterested in counting my calories until quite recently. I thought it would cause me to become obsessive and depressed about what I could/could not eat. However, the exact opposite happened. Once I began tracking everything that I ate and planning what I was going to eat, I felt liberated. I realized that I was in control. I did not have to go hungry, and I did not have to deprive myself of everything I enjoyed eating.
Let me explain.
I first began tracking my calories when I realized that was the only way to assess what was working. If we are not assessing, we are not progressing. (Thanks, Dan John.) How can we ever know if we are eating too much too little if we never take the time to track it? I hear people comment all the time, “I don’t understand why I am not losing weight! I’m eating healthy, and I only indulge on the weekends!”
My comment back, “Well, if you don’t understand, why don’t we take a closer look to concretely see how much you are consuming?”
Many times, this response is received with a bit of resistance, which I understand. I was resistant to it as well! But how else can we measure what you are doing right or wrong in order for you to reach your goals? (If you have any suggestions, please tell me!)
We can weigh you everyday, we can keep track of your weights/reps/sets in the gym and see progress in that respect, but if the number on the scale isn’t’ budging, or if your body fat percentage is staying the same, we really need to take a look at your nutrition.
But tracking calories is so HARD!
Actually, that’s a lie. It’s truly not that bad. I recommend using the app MyFitnessPal. Based on your weight, gender, how active you are in your day-to-day life, and how quickly you want to lose weight, it gives you an allotted number of calories.You can also scan the barcode of whatever you are eating and it will automatically add the correct amount of calories. It even keeps track of your carbs, fats, and protein intake!
But I cook all the time!
OK, well you can make “meals” on MyFitnessPal and save them for future use. Yes, the first time it may be somewhat annoying trying to guess how many tablespoons of olive oil you are consuming, or how many ounces of chicken you cook, but at least you’ll have some idea of how much you are eating, and the next time you make that meal you can quickly add it in.
But I always get take out!
You can search MyFitnessPal for meals from Chipotle, Panera, and many other take out restaurants. (They even have “guestimations” on different sushi rolls!)
But I just don’t want to take the time to do all of that!
Well, then stop complaining that you don’t understand why you are not reaching your goals. Weight loss/gain is a simple equation: calories in vs calories out. And once again, if you are not keeping track, you have no way of knowing what you are doing right or wrong.
So, here is where the experimentation comes into play. Let’s say that you begin tracking what you are eating and you find that you are consistently going over by 200-300 calories. And when you try not to go over your allotted calories, you are hungry and crabby.
That’s no fun.
So, what do we do? We experiment.
As you begin tracking your calories, pay attention to what is giving you the most “bang for your buck.” For example, I could eat 2 tablespoons of peanut butter for 200 calories, OR I could have 3 cups of grapes.
Next, start to monitor what fills you up and satisfies you the most. For me, it’s fruit. I can eat it all day! It’s full of water, sugar, and fiber, and it keeps me full and energized. Billy on the other hand, eats an apple and is hungry in 10 minutes. But when Billy has a protein shake, he is full for a long time. This will be a bit different for everyone, and only you can decide works best for you.
Lastly, once we figure out what keeps us full and how to plan out our days ahead of time, we can begin to “save” for indulgent snacks or meals. For example, let’s say that I know I like to have something sweet at the end of the night. My dessert of choice is a chocolate chip cookie. This cookie is 200 calories. To make sure I stay within my calorie range, I plan my day ahead of time to allow for that 200 calories. (Maybe this means less peanut butter at lunch?) At the end of the day, I can be within my calorie range and satisfy my sweet tooth.
If you do all of this and stay within your calorie limit for a few weeks or months you are guaranteed to see results.
*Side note: If you want even more results in a quicker time period, you could also take part in a strength training program which will help to increase your metabolism. But more on this later.
OK, this is where I tell you to stop counting your calories.
Once you get to the point where you are familiar with how many calories are in which foods, what gives you the most “bang for your buck” (fills you up with the least amount of calories), and how you can “save” your calories for later indulgences, it’s time to stop using MyFitnessPal.
Why do I say this?
Because there is a reason that we don’t like counting calories. It’s annoying! And there are days, weeks, months, and years, where we don’t want or need to be that specific about what we are consuming.
I’m talking about maintenance. When you get to the point where you are happy with your body and the results that you have achieved, throw that app away! (But not your phone!)
Then, when you are getting ready for a big event, (a wedding, a cruise, etc) you can pick the app back up and track your progress again.
However, if you never count your calories and reach the point of understanding all of the points above, you will never know what can get you to your goals.
Try out the app, tell me what you think, and ask questions!