Quick post: answering email
Usual calorie/dieting/weight loss trigger warnings apply
Have a big test on Wed so no time for big posts (don’t cry.) But I got a nice email from Kathleen who had some lovely things to say and also asked a question that I thought I could post a quick answer to.
Kathleen asked me about counting calories and weighing/measuring foods. Do I do it? Is there a way to do it without becoming obsessive? Do I think it’s necessary for weight loss?
First, yes, I do sometimes count calories, but not all the time. I believe that part of changing my lifestyle is being able to actually adapt to these changes, not just keep them going with obsessive behavior. What I do is count calories for a week and by count, I mean just that. I don’t stop eating if I hit the number of calories I’m trying to eat that day and it’s still early or I get hungry later. Basically, what I’m trying to do is get used to what X amount of calories per day feels like. If I go way over or way under, I try to figure out where I might be able to change something to prevent it in the future.
Really, I don’t think about counting calories in terms of setting strict limits on what I can eat and beating myself up if a go above these limits. I want to develop enduring habits that are flexible enough for the real world. And I want to eat real food without being hungry all the time or feeling deprived of the things I like to eat.
After that week of counting, I try my best to continue eating in the same range of calories without having to count.
As I lose weight and my energy needs get a bit lower, I repeat the process. Probably every six weeks or so. That means I spend about 1 week out of 6 keeping track of the sugar in my oatmeal or the amount of dressing I put on my salad.
As for measuring, again, the answer is yes and no. The way I see measuring is that it’s not a way to figure out how much I should eat – really, you need to eat enough not be hungry – but rather so I know how much of a food I generally need to eat to be satisfied. Then I can use that information as part of figuring out how to eat a healthier diet. For example, I like to eat dry cereal in the morning while I drink my coffee. If I try a new brand, I pour myself a bowl and then get the measuring cup and see how much I’ve served myself. Knowing how much energy is in what I would consider an average serving allows me to plan for the rest of breakfast in a way that can maximize satiety while not eating more calories than I’d like to. I don’t have to ‘cut back’ on the cereal, just learn how to best fit it into my day. Again, I only really measure foods during periods where I am counting calories – it’s a way to check in and make sure I’m where I’d like to be.
Can I count calories without becoming obsessive? Yes. Can everyone? No. This is really an individual thing. I’m kind of a nutrition geek. I even took a nutrition course that had nothing to do with my major just because I find it interesting. For the most part, or maybe as much as is possible in our society, I’ve let go of the automatic calories=bad mindset. Lots of people feel like counting calories leads to obsessive and/or damaging behavior for themselves though.
Also it helps me to remember that any calorie counting is just going to be an estimation. How much dressing stuck to the bowl where I tossed the salad? Does the smaller heel of the loaf of bread have less calories than the piece in the middle? How many calories were in those three bites of oatmeal I left in the bowl? Maybe one day I think I ate 2,300 calories when I really ate 2,400 and the next day I think I ate 2,200 but really ate 2,000.
I am attempting to fall into a specific range most days, but most people regardless of size don’t eat the same amount every day. Plus, I’m more concerned about sustainable changes to my lifestyle so I’d rather it take weeks for me to find a ‘groove’ in terms of eating in a particular range than to constantly count calories and lose 2lbs/week.
Does everyone need to count calories if they want to lose weight? No. If there’s one thing I feel pretty sure about when it comes to weight loss, it is that people need to figure out what works for them. I’m a geek who loves nutrition, science and math so formulas and numbers don’t feel like work to me. That doesn’t mean reading endless papers about the thermic effect of different macronutrients and counting calories won’t make you (general you) want to tear your hair out.
Gee, this post turned out way longer than I thought it would. Hope that answers your questions, Kathleen.