Iâ€™ve been getting questions lately about counting calories: how to do it best, who it works best for, why it works or doesnâ€™t work. I tried to address those questions as best I could in this guest post.
TO COUNT OR NOT TO COUNT â€” BY NUTRTIONISTA
â€¦Calories, that is.
Arguments for counting:
- Accurate calorie counting prevents weight gain and can lead to weight loss.
- It can help people learn what about portion size and what constitutes a single portion of various foods.
- It provides a reality check for people who have no clue how much theyâ€™re consuming.
Arguments against counting:
- Focusing on calories often means ignoring nutritional composition of foods.
- It can be tedious and time-consuming, even discouraging.
- It can desensitize natural hunger and satiety cues.
SOâ€¦ WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
- Get A Budget
Calorie counting works for some people and not for others, but everyone should knowÂ about how much they can consume to lose, gain, or maintain their weight. One of myÂ six Nutritionista principles is â€œGet a calorie budget.â€ That doesnâ€™t mean you have to count calories, it just means get a sense of how much you can eat to meet your individual goals.
- Portion Control
For people whoâ€™ve never paid much attention to calories, Iâ€™d recommend starting to figure out what aÂ single portion looks like for the foods you eat regularly. It may surprise you. If you like the idea of counting calories rather than just paying attention to portion size, there are several free websites that will do it for you includingÂ SparkPeople,Â Calorie King, andÂ The Daily Plate. If you do decide to log your intake, make sure youâ€™re accurately reporting your portions since many people underestimate by as much as 25%. Overestimate slightly if you donâ€™t have a food scale or other way of precisely measuring.
- Establish A Range
Once you have a calorie budget, subtract 100 or 200 from it. Now add 100 or 200 to the original number. Those numbers represent your target calorie range. On days that you work out intensely, your intake should be on the high end of that range. On days you donâ€™t work out, your consumption should fall on the low end. Some of the free calorie counting sites also include exercise logs that automatically update this information, but sometimes that makes things too complicated. Having a calorie range instead of a precise number gives you flexibility without having to do a lot of calculations.Â
It doesnâ€™t matter how good you are about sticking to a calorie budget if you donâ€™t spend it wisely. TheÂ 25/25/50 principle (25% lean protein, 25% whole grains or unrefined carbohydrates, 50% fruits and vegetables) will help you with this one. Focus on eating food thatâ€™s as unprocessed and close to its natural state as possible.Â
Iâ€™m not saying eliminate all empty calories, Iâ€™m just saying take a look at your budget and spend it wisely. If you spendÂ most of your budget on things that will fill you up while giving you energy and nutrients, you can afford to spend a little on treats.
HONOR YOUR HUNGER
Whether or not youâ€™re counting calories, you should always practiceÂ intuitive eating. I read recently that if you have the urge to eat but a bowl of steamed vegetables and lean protein like chicken or tofu doesnâ€™t sound at all appetizing, then youâ€™re probably not actually hungry. That might not hold true for everyone, but I think itâ€™s a good measuring stick. Obviously, sometimes weâ€™re only in the mood for chocolate, or carbs, or sweets, and we have to honor those cravings, too. We just need to do it in a way that doesnâ€™t completely derail our health. Never swear off a food or food group forever. It just doesnâ€™t work!
DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU
Lastly, calorie counting and everything associated with it (measuring food, logging exercise, etc.) is a tricky business and for some people, it triggers deep-rooted issues regarding disordered eating or body image. Iâ€™m not a mental health professional and I recommend that anyone who has serious issues with emotional eating, binging, or eating disorders seek professional help immediately. The techniques outlined here have worked for me, but they may not work for you. But for everyone: Be kind to your body. It does so much for you every single day.
I know I’ve been a bit light on the original posting lately — beyond the food pics — but this one is an interesting one.
For the most part, I don’t count calories. It’s true. I lost ~25 pounds (more on the ~ to come later…) by not counting calories. The nutritionist recommended I eat around 1,600 calories a day.
How do I know what 1,600 calories is if I’m not counting? I’ve learned what a portion is. For meat/protein, it’s a deck of cards. For veggies, it’s a little more than that. And I totally follow the 25-25-50 rule. Basically, I just try to load up my meals with as much veggies/fruits/good-for-me-stuff as I can. When I eat out or do takeout, I do try to check what the caloriesÂ are (when possible) to make sure I’m on track. And, crazily enough, when I do try to count calories (when I’m being good…) I tend to be not eating enough. Trying to acheive the “right” number of calories drives me nuts, so I just generally don’t count.
That, doesn’t, however, mean I don’t read every single food label. I’m do look at the calories to make sure I’m staying in an approximate range. I look at the fat (some fat, naturally, is good) and sodium, but what I’m most interested in is protein and fiber. I’d like most everything I eat to have at least 3 grams of each. The more the better!