Counting calories is a trend. It is commonly associated with weight loss, provides structure and allows people who are unfamiliar with macronutrients to become more aware of what they are eating. People usually experience some weight loss immediately after tracking calories, but sometimes plateau later. However, it is still possible to still be healthy and maintain a healthy weight without counting.
My obsession began in freshman year of high-school. I continued counting on and off, but I didn't start counting seriously until my senior year of high-school when I wanted to lose a small amount of weight. I wanted to look good for prom. I downloaded an application called Loseit, and tracked everything I ate. It worked. I lost a good portion of weight for my size, even though nobody noticed or cared, by the time prom came around, and I felt good. But I was under the notion that I had to keep eating less and less in order for it to work. It did work. I didn't go under 1200 calories, but the lower that I could go the better. I felt in control. But, I started to feel weaker and had less energy. I also felt hungry all of the time. I remember studying in the library freshman year of college while feeling hungry and deprived until dinner.
Around sophomore year in college, I learned to start increasing my calories due to my exercise, and began to track macros (fat, protein and carbs) to feel better, gain muscle and change my physique (1750-1800 calories a day). I felt a lot better, and while I felt like I was not restricting, there was still this notion that I couldn't go over this number. If I went over the number, I did "bad" for the day. It also determined when I should eat and how hungry I was. If I had room for the day, I would allow myself to eat more. If I overate at brunch then I would have to restrict for the rest of the day even if I was hungry. The number also determined how much I had to exercise on certain days. If I ate more than I had wanted, I would do a few extra burpees or do a few extra sets of weights just to burn it off. It also got to the point where I have forgotten how to identify hunger.
The app or most calorie counting apps also show the user when they go over their calorie budget for the day. The bar changes from green to red, and has the potential to frustrate someone (especially me) even further. The red was a sign of failure to me. Just like my desire for perfection in creating a perfect jam thumbprint for my baking business, or getting an A on an assignment, this calorie /macro counting obsession was another activity to strive for perfectionism.
I am still extremely aware of what I eat and how much I eat. Two and a half weeks ago I made a big move and deleted the app. While it was very hard at first, I am starting to break the habit of having to know how much I ate for every meal. It was getting to the point where I would check the application after every meal, after every workout, after waking up every morning, and even in my free-time or while I was doing homework. I spent more time on that application than even facebook, instagram or texting a friend. I knew it was time to stop because it was getting exhausting. I am now learning how to eat intuitively and identify hunger. If I am hungry, I am trying to re-teach myself to eat. Hunger is just like thirst. If you are thirsty, you drink water, so why deprive your body?
Here are some reasons why calorie counting is inaccurate:
- I learned everyday is different. Some days you may be more active than others, and you cannot go by a number to tell you how much to eat. Calorie counting is a number just like the scale. There are fluctuations.
- If you are exercising, your physique is constantly changing. I have put on a lot of muscle in the past year, and it has significantly changed how much I need to eat. The application can only determine your number by height and weight. It does not consider muscle mass, fat etc...
- You cannot compare 100 calories of broccoli to 100 calories of pizza or 200 calories of potato to 200 calories of pancakes, because the mass is so different and the broccoli and potato are much better for your body.
- The nutrition facts on packaged food can be off by as much as 20%. The nutrition facts on restaurants fast food chains such as subway or ihop can be off as well. I have worked in a few restaurants, and I have definitely seen different sizes of ice-cream or sauces handed out to customers even if they are given a "small."
If you want to stop, take baby steps. Decide to count 3-4 times a week rather than all seven. Then, take another step and count only in the evenings for a few days a week. For people who have been doing this for a long time, it has probably become habitual, so don't go cold turkey unless you are sure you can stop.
I hope you learned something from reading this post, and that you do not fall into the trap that I fell into. Calorie counting definitely can help you get back on track and become more aware of what you are eating when used as a tool. But for others, it can lead to an unhealthy mindset.