Beyond Calories

I’ve never been big on calorie counting. I know it works for some people, but it’s just not my thing. I either completely lose track, or I start selecting food based on its calories, not its nutritional value.

When I was losing weight three years ago, I followed this set of nutrition guidelines from the trainer I was working with. While those guidelines cut out a lot, they did emphasize eating lots of real food–plenty of vegetables, healthy fat and protein. This was so much easier for me than trying to count calories or points.

So, I don’t often look at calorie counts for food. I generally know what’s good for me and what’s not, and I try to eat more of the what’s good for me, and less of what’s not, and make sure that when I do eat stuff that’s not as good for me, it’s something I really want, and I don’t go overboard on it.

But for some reason, I decided to look at the calorie count for one of my favorite (random) lunches, chicken tacos with guacamole from Chipotle.

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Since I am not really sure of the amount of calories I consume daily (although maybe I’ll do an experiment and record a few days to see?), I’m not positive how many calories I should be having at lunch, but it’s not the 630 calories that gave me pause.

Do you see the amount of sodium? No wonder I feel so bloated. I probably have these sweet taco babies at least twice a week.

The fat levels are also pretty high, and it’s not just from the guac. The guac actually only accounted for 13 of those grams of fat and 2 grams of saturated fat.


So, just a note to beware of the health halo and how things are prepared, and that cooking for yourself is (almost) always more healthy. (That last one is a huge reminder to myself, as well.)

How do you do healthy eating? Calorie counting? Weight Watchers? Eating real foods? Also, what did you think was healthy and find out was actually not that great for you?

46 comments on “Beyond Calories

  1. Erica Sara

    I don’t pay attention to calories unless I’m training for a big race and want to make sure I’m eating enough. I’m a huge fan of chipotle but ever since calories have been posted on the menu, I’m shocked by their counts. There’s a lot of added ingredients that we don’t realize, like butter, etc… that contributes to it. I typically just try to eat whole, real foods and feel like as long as I keep running, I don’t really have to worry about it.

    1. Theodora Post author

      @Erica Sara: I think you also probably have a pretty awesome metabolism! But yeah, definitely a lot more stuff in Chipotle than I’d previously realized.

  2. Rebecca W.

    I like to think I do Weight Watchers/eating real food (the latter as best as I can!). I’ve been on WW since October 2010, and have lost 102 pounds so far. WW has taught me how to eat healthy without “calorie counting” (I have my points instead of my calorie budget), and I now I can’t imagine my life without it!

  3. April

    For me, counting calories has really worked. Since last summer, I have lost around 20lbs and a majority of that came from watching my calorie intake. I use SparkPeople and on there I noticed how high my sodium intake was. I had no idea, just like you did! Some of my favorite foods had more than half a day’s worth of sodium. Definitely something alarming. Another bonus of watching my calories is also noticing that I lack calcium and fiber in my diet. When I look back at my day, I always strive for an even balance of everything and I can make room for treats that I know I will want later on.

    1. Theodora Post author

      @April: I thought that once I lost weight, I was pretty good about my sodium intake…but this obviously served as a reminder to be more cognizant of that.

  4. Linda

    I try WW. I had success in the past with them, but I cannot be bothered to track these days. I’m trying to eat healthier foods — real foods, but it’s not easy, especially since I have a BIG weakness for sugar (addiction?). I’m reading this great book about how it’s not about simply counting calories — The Smarter Science of Slim: What the Actual Experts Have Proven About Weight Loss, Dieting, & Exercise. Sometimes it’s weird reading the book because what apparently are the teachings of science are not what we’ve been told time and time again by countless sources. I’ll let you know if it works, so far, I know I should lay off the sugar…. sweet sugar (yeah, I have an addiction…. first step is admitting it, right?).

  5. Katherine

    I try to eat clean: fruits, veggies, making my own everything, 7 ingredients or less, etc…although when my parents send me “care packages” they often include guilty treats(special k treats, nutrigrain bars, etc).
    These are, like you mentioned, great on cals but have zero or negative nutritional value-and lots of carbs. So NOT CLEAN haha.

    Anyway, do you have an iphone? there is an AMAZING free app that I should be getting paid to endorse because I don’t stop singing it’s praises; it is called FOODUCATE. it is amazing. get it!

  6. Katie @ Katie Moves

    Sometimes when i feel like i need to get myself back on track I use my fitness pal on my iPhone which is super easy to record your diet and exercise for the day. It even has a barcode scanner for any food that you buy! I love it!

  7. Ashley Pomes

    For me calorie counting works. Doing it I lost 167 pounds. But calorie counting really made me look at what I eat and see that it was so bad for me. I then switched to try and eat real foods as much as possible.
    -So many things I thought were healthy and found out it wasn’t was salads at restaurant. You figure how bad can a salad be but some are worse then sandwiches! Crazy.

  8. Ryan

    I know that for me counting calories works – I’ve gotten great results from it. But, I also find it very “restrictive-feeling” (diet-y, if that makes any sense), and labor intensive. Once my life got a little more hectic, I stopped counting calories and went back to my natural eating habits and put all the weight back on. Now I’m working not so much on counting calories or watching the numbers on the scale, but just changing my habits so I default to eating healthy, natural food. And recently I’ve been paying attention to ingredient labels and seeing all the nasty chemicals that are in there so products can have a shelf life – even the “healthy” products. This has led me to start making my own salad dressings and granola bars as of late.

  9. Liza

    I do a combination of a few things. Most of the time I eat clean and work out plenty, so I don’t have to count anything. Sometimes when I want to know how much protein or sodium I am consuming, I log on to SparkPeople and get an idea. Very neat website and absolutely free. When I go out to eat, I assume I exceeded my calorie needs no matter what I ate. It is understood food gets bathed in butter and sprinkled with generous amounts of sodium to be more palatable. And looking it up and counting calories doesn’t do you any good. Just get over it and start fresh tomorrow. We all need treats sometimes. Making something your lunch staple that comes from a Mexican place, not so good 🙂 And nutrient analysis makes you cringe for a reason. Clean eating, being active, being well aware of your food’s nutritional and calorie value (comes when you cook it yourself and measure all the ingredients, healthifying along the way), eating slowly and mindfully enjoying and thinking about each bite – all of it will eliminate food related anxiety.

  10. Kim @ Kickin' it with Kim

    I count points with Weight Watchers and it works when I follow the plan. It’s like anything, you get out what you put in.

    Weight Watchers has received a lot of criticism in regards to the new plan because of fruits and most veggies being “free.” They are well aware that these foods have calories, but they’re hoping you’ll make a smarter choice over that 100 calorie bag of cookies or chips.

    I’ve never heard anyone at my meeting say, “Yeah, I need to get this under control. I’ve been eating way too many bananas.” Ya know? 🙂

  11. CEE

    When I had my first job out of graduate school, I discovered Chipotle (about ten years ago). This was before they had bowls and salads. Anyway, every Thursday my friends and I would get those giant burritos that seem to weigh a few pounds (I thought, hey it’s all healthy). Then we would hit up the frozen yogurt joint next door. Quite possibly that habit alone contributed to my ten pound weight gain that year (while marathon training).

    That being said, I think if your lunch has 630 calories perhaps that will keep you satisfied and lead to lighter eating at dinner. Sometimes if I eat too lightly at lunch I tend to overdo it in the afternoon or evening….

    1. Theodora Post author

      @CEE: yeah, I think a bigger lunch works fairly well for me, especially since my dinners are usually relatively small.

  12. Mattie @ Comfy and Confident

    Wow that is crazy how unhealthy that lunch is. It doesn’t even seem like you were getting anything that bad in it. I try to count my calories just to keep myself in check every once in a while. I don’t think it should be something that burdens your entire day, but I do think it’s important to be aware of sneaky meals that could be making you feel terrible and ruining your diet. Thanks for sharing this.

  13. Nicole

    A few years ago I started following the Abs Diet for Women – by basically eating the foods/combo of the foods on their list of power foods. Pretty simple–lean protein (turkey), nuts, low-fat dairy, berries, whey protein, greens, whole grains.
    That was a really good and well-balanced plan for me. Now I’ve cut out the meat and dairy.
    I get caught up with nut butters and cereal!

  14. Courtney

    I used to count calories when I was losing weight too, but I fell into the danger of always coming in just under the lower range of what I was supposed to be eating. Paired with a rigorous workout regime, I burned out fast and haven’t counted calories since.

    I do what you do as best I can – balance the good with the bad. Much easier some days than others. Sodium is always the trap with eating out, so I try to be as careful as I can with that and keep my daily intake under 1500 mg.

  15. Jen @ Such a Funny Fat

    I’ve been doing Weight Watchers since July 2010 and have lost nearly 175 pounds. Tracking is sometimes a pain but it definitely keeps me accountable for what I’ve eaten. Before I started I tended to mindlessly eat and then I’d eat again because apparently I didn’t remember that I’d previously eaten something. It was definitely sobering to realize how much I was eating in a day.

    The one thing I thought was healthy that wasn’t was a love affair I had with Arizona iced tea. Right before Thanksgiving last year I’d found a can of Cranberry Iced Tea and loved it. So over the week leading up to Turkey day I’d go through about a can or two per day but I was still working out like crazy so I was confused when I stepped on the scale and had only lost a little bit. Maybe about 2 weeks later I’d found this fabulous tea again in the grocery store and was going to load up the cart when I thought I should calculate the points on a can. Each can has 3 servings and each serving was 3 points so each can was 9 points!! Having only about 30 points per day it was no wonder that I had minimal weight loss… oh goodness!

  16. Emily

    I’m with you on not counting calories. I’ve done that version of dieting several times and always fall off the wagon. I also have the tendency to become obsessed with the number and spend a lot of the day figuring out calories and often end up under because I’m “saving” them.

    In February things started coming together for me–I started paying close attention to ingredients and eating whole foods because I truly care about clean eating now and making sure I’ve been active enough during the day with my desk job. I have also been exercising my dogs a lot more. I need to lose weight, but since I have made the lifestyle change and integrating all of the things I’ve been observing on health and fitness blogs like yours at the pace that works for me, I’ve lost 13 pounds! I don’t buy the foods that contributed to my 70 pound weight gain (frozen pizza, ice cream, bread bread bread). Many of the lifestyle changes are helping resolve some of the bored and avoidance eating I used to do a lot. I know that if I kick up my fitness activities I’ll move this along faster, but right now I’m more interested in eating clean, learning more about what goes in, and building up a natural level of daily and weekend activity that fits. Thanks for the inspiration!

  17. Megan @ Run Like a Grl

    I don’t concentrate on calories too much either but I’ll always glance at calories and fat (a remnant of previously being on Weight Watchers). Sometimes the amount of calories/fat surprises me so I just check. But I just try to eat a lot of fruits and veggies.

  18. SkinnyRunner

    I ate so much chipotle in college and had always heard that their huge burritos with cheese, sour cream and guac were over 1000 calories. eeeekk.

    granola for me is one of those healthy but not that healthy bc i eat so much of it foods so i tend to stay away from it.

  19. Jamie

    I try to count calories occasionally just to see if I am in the range that I want to be in. I eat around the same amount of food every day so I figure it will be ballpark my typical day. I try on a daily basis to make my food about 90% clean with 10% extras (cheese in my egg sandwich, a little creamer). I have maintained my weight doing that for a long time. If I find myself becoming obsessive, I back off for a while. I had an ED when I was younger, so I try not to get crazy about it.

  20. Dawn

    I am so glad to see somebody else…other then myself say something about Chipotle. Don’t get me wrong…I love that place…and am addicted and thats why I need to keep my distance from there. I went online to check out the burrito bol that I always get and got a major shock. I thought Chipotle was a good eating out choice…boy was I wrong.

  21. MCM Mama

    I’m horrible at tracking calories too. I generally just rely on making most of my food at home and making sure that fruits and vegetables are at the forefront of most of my meals. Since we only go out once a week, I usually just bury my head in the sand over that meal. LOL

  22. Katie @ Talk Less, Say More

    I’m not one for calorie counting either. I may pay attention to calories on a specific product but it’s not so I can count but rather as one way to gauge it’s nutritional value. Since I’m in no way a RD, I have to determine on my own if something is “healthy” for me to eat.

  23. KatieG

    I am a big calorie count fan but I agree it does make you focus more on calories than nutrition.
    Anyhow I had a really healthy bowl in Chipotle the other day on my first day in New York 😀 We need this chain in London!

  24. YC

    I agree that calories aren’t the only thing to watch when reading labels. I have an aunt who had to watch sodium due to health issues–once she cut back and realized how many “healthy” foods have tons of sodium, she went from a size 12 to a 2/4. Hasn’t looked back since! And her health greatly improved.

  25. Valerie

    In the past I counted calories, and lost weight doing so, but it was too compulsive for me. I now just focus on not eating too many processed foods and I try to eat a lot of vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats and proteins.

  26. Ari @ Ari's Menu

    I used to be really meticulous about counting calories, and you know I actually lost more weight when I didn’t. It’s so easy to get sucked into that trap and every saying “It’s as simple as calories in vs calories out”, but I really don’t think it is that simple, and I feel like when we just fill ourselves with more real, nutritious foods, we feel a lot better. I still check out calories because I like to have a general idea, and especially with eating out, it can be hard to tell which choices are actually healthier, so I like it as a tool, but not as a way of life if that makes sense?

  27. aquariann

    I’ve only ever lost weight when counting calories through the free trackers, but it’s not fun and doesn’t last long. It’s definitely helped me to maintain when I’m not actively counting, though – I’m much better at loosely staying in the range.

  28. Tania

    One of my favorite things to do when cooking is to try and recreate stuff I love to eat out in my own kitchen. I bet you could recreate those chicken tacos at home with a lot less sodium and fat, and not too much effort.


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