Knowing my love/hate relationship with food and what I’ve always heard from other people I expected this post to start with, “I hate calorie counting” when I’m actually going to say I may actually enjoy calorie counting.
I’ve been using an app called myfitnesspal to keep track of my calories. (You can also use it to track workouts and how many calories you’re burning but I haven’t gone that route yet). My coach, Zeus and I decided we should be tracking calories to make sure I was actually getting enough calories to fuel my body during the workouts and to see what nutrients I was (or more likely was not getting in my diet). The interesting thing about the calorie counting and why I thought I was going to hate it is that we first tried to take a much easier approach by just having me text him pictures of my meals. He didn’t get very many pictures…
In my mind I know writing down foods to track calories and nutrition is really the same thing as sending pictures of my food. I think the Type A part of my personality likes the structure and guidance that the calorie counting provides though. In the past three weeks I’ve learned a few things about my eating habits and the benefits of calorie counting.
I was unintentionally yo-yo dieting – The first thing I noticed is that in the past my daily calorie intake was probably all over the place. Some days it was probably under 1000 calories and other days it was probably over 2000. It was like I was yo-yo dieting on a weekly basis (unintentionally of course). I have found that there are some days when I’m really just not that hungry. There are also days when I can get wrapped up in a project at work, or while I’m out running errands and just not eat. There are still some days when I get to the end of the day and have 700 or 800 calories left to eat. And then there are other days when I am really hungry and can’t stop eating. Now that I’ve realized this I’ve been working on ways to balance out my days a little better.
Calorie counting helps you make better choices – While there are some days that I am still too far under my calorie goal, there are also days when I’m dangerously close to the upper limit. Between all of the workouts and consciously trying to increase the amount of healthy calories I’m taking in, there are actually more of these days then days when I’m under now. Knowing that I only have so many calories to use throughout the day I’ve started choosing grapes over chips or water over the sugary Starbucks drink after our Sunday morning runs.
Food isn’t “good” or “bad” – I used to look at food as good and bad. I am a picky eater so of course I thought all of the food I liked was “bad” and all the foods that I really don’t like were the “good” foods. This didn’t give me the most positive outlook on my eating habits (which is really probably why I didn’t want to send anyone else pictures of what I was eating). Over the last few weeks of tracking my food I’ve learned that I actually do like a variety of healthier foods. Just because I don’t eat a lot of the foods people would classify as “healthy” (fish or vegetables), there are a lot of healthy foods that I do like. When I am tracking my calories I am intuitively making better decisions. I am not looking at foods as good or bad anymore. I am simply looking at everything I eat as food. I choose to eat grapes or yogurt as a snack instead of chips because I know I can eat more grapes and yogurt for the same amount of calories. I don’t pick the junk food because I feel like being “bad” and I don’t pick the fruit because I feel like today I need to eat something “good”. I pick the good foods because I only have so many calories I can eat in a day and I want to get the most out of those calories.
I’ve also stopped feeling like I’ve been “bad” when I eat foods that aren’t as healthy. I’ve started to realize that I have choices when it comes to my food. Last night, for example, I went out to eat with some wonderful friends. I knew we would be going out for dinner, so I made some different food choices earlier in the day. And when I ate some cheese curds and french fries at dinner I didn’t feel bad about it. A few months ago I would have eaten the same foods but would have at least once or twice (or three or four times) felt really guilty about what I was eating and frustrated that I was eating unhealthy options. I would have been down on myself and probably not eaten much the next day. Now, I knew I planned for the night by making different choices (not good or bad choices) during the day and that I would be able to do the same the next day and the rest of the week, so last night I simply enjoyed what I was eating. I workout at least once just about every day and now I’m picking better foods most of the time so I’m finally able to enjoy the times I get to the world’s best cheese curds.
I don’t “waste” calories anymore – I have started to make better food choices just by realizing I don’t want to “waste” calories. I’ve stopped mindlessly eating and only eating when I’m actually hungry. I made recipe a few nights ago for some Chocolate, Peanut Butter, Walnut Pancakes. (I’m still working on finding the perfect recipe so I’ll hold off posting a link to the recipe). I should have added the recipe to myfitnesspal before making the pancakes, but now the lesson is learned for the future. After adding the recipe I realized that the peanut butter chips I had put in added 320 calories to the recipe (a 3-serving recipe). After eating them I realized you could hardly taste them and it was basically a wasted 100 calories. I could have enjoyed a glass of milk with them instead. Last night at dinner I didn’t really care for one of the things I ordered so I stopped eating it instead of just eating it because it was there.
I’m trying not to get too crazy about knowing the calorie content of every food I eat, but a Hershey Kiss has 24 calories. I now look at that little kiss and usually realize I don’t want it enough to waste 24 of my calories. (And some days I look at it and realize that I really want it even though it means I may have to cut something else out later in the day).
I plan better – Since I’ve started keeping track of calories I’ve started to plan my meals a bit better. Once a week or so I’ve been working from my friend Cindy’s house to keep her company while she’s recovering from ankle surgery. I’ve started packing snacks and meals to bring over instead of just grabbing things she has to eat. It’s not that I don’t like Cindy’s food (she’s actually a really good cook) but when I bring my own food I already know the calorie content and portion sizes.
I know a lot of people that have difficulty with calorie counting and find it tedious or get really caught up in getting the exact number of calories. I have found it very beneficial. I have a much better relationship with food, am working hard to get a more balanced diet and since myfitnesspal also tracks other nutrients I can start seeing where I may be deficient (like my iron levels probably). I was very hesitant to try counting calories because of all the negative things I had heard and I had assumed I would be one of those that struggled with eating “good” and “bad” foods or freaking out when I go over my allotted calories for the day. Luckily, I’ve found it’s had the opposite effect. I’ve learned that I can make choices about what I eat, that I don’t need to look at food as good and bad and with some planning I can still enjoy the foods I used to think of as bad (and I don’t actually choose them as often any more). It’s a little bit more work, but I actually don’t mind it now that I have the hang of it.