Why Calorie Counting?

In my long experience, calorie counting the only thing that works to keep me aware and in control. I see promises all the time about just count carbs or fat grams, just eliminate sugar and white foods, just don’t eat after 2PM, on and on. Tried ‘em all, well not the don’t eat after 2PM ‘cuz seriously? None of them sustainable. All of them require depriving myself of foods I love and limiting my choices. I will eat the foods I love and want. So there. Not giving up a damn thing.

How can I eat what I want and still lose weight? Three things:

  1. Portion control. We eat what’s put in front of us – and what we put in front of ourselves – and more often than not it’s more than we need to be completely satisfied. Hardly a surprise in this Super Sized culture that we so often fail to register when enough is enough. Once we start to eat reasonable portions of good quality, wholesome food it becomes easier to recognize and our bodies quickly adjust to them. Even works when I HAVE to have a fast food hamburger whether due to craving or just a busy day out doing errands. A junior Whopper (310 cal) tastes just as good as the big one (660 cal) and is plenty satisfying once you get used to normal portions. Yeah, I didn’t say small, I said normal.
  2. Substituting high calorie ingredients with lower calorie ingredients in the foods we love (example, replacing mayonnaise with Greek yogurt in tuna, chicken, potato salads, etc.) without giving up flavor. Remarkably easy to do very often.
  3. Planning. This is a biggie. I ALWAYS keep a selection of tasty entrees and snacks in the fridge/pantry ready to grab. If that supply runs dry and I’m hungry the What-a-Burger siren call will be too seductive to resist. With some planning it’s really easy to do without much effort or time expense.

What works for me is flexibility. I don’t try to hold myself to a strict number of calories allowed per day. My goal is a minimum of 1400 calories up to 1600 calories for normal every days with splurge days when they come up, which for me is about once a week. I’m not in any hurry – I’m not going for fast, I’m going for sustainable. I’m going for a lifetime, lifestyle-friendly, enjoyably healthy plan. 

Staying aware of calorie consumption during the day and setting a limit right there helps me make better choices in what I choose to eat. It demands a trade-off and conscious decision-making. Yes, all foods are available to me and if I really want that cupcake, I’ll eat it and love it. I will add it to my list and my total for the day just like I would a tuna sandwich. Done. All good. That said, being aware and accountable prevents me from doing that too often and when I do I make it worth it – it had better be one fantastic cupcake!

Choosing a Sustainable and Sensible Goal

Studies have well demonstrated that losing weight fast causes your body to down-shift in the metabolism department (though gastric by-pass seems to be an exception). Further, the study on Biggest Loser contestants showed that their metabolisms still remain slower (depressed? more efficient?) 6 years later. On average, the contestants are burning 500 calories at rest less than they should be. This isn’t good news. Who knew our bodies could hold grudges for years?!

Apparently there is no supporting evidence to suggest that slow weight loss doesn’t also cause metabolic adaptation. Drat. However, intuitively it seems that reducing caloric intake by just a little – especially in combination with a more wholesome diet – with a body feed-me spike every week or two would cause it to react less aggressively to hang on to the fat. I dunno but it sounds like it’s worth giving a shot. Trying to be an ally here rather than opponent.

To figure out what your daily goal numbers are, start with an assessment of how many calories your body burns every day. I’m not suggesting a battery of weird medical tests, just a general clue such as you can find with this calorie calculator.  Here’s another one.

They give me different numbers: one, 1850; the other, 1943. Good enough. I figure split the difference at an easy 1900. I’m short, old, and sedentary (I walk Buddy the dog several times a day so that’s something. Right?) – your numbers will probably be much higher and I’m eating real well at 1500ish calories a day with a weekly-ish spike day. My weekly caloric reduction is probably 1500 – 2000, so maybe 1/2 pound a week in weight loss if the 3500 cal per pound thing holds. I’m quite happy with that. I actually mentally double it because I didn’t just lose 1/2 pound, I didn’t gain 1/2 pound! What’s more I’ve already met my real priority of feeling better. I’m feeling better because 1) I’m eating better, 2) I’ve lost some weight, and 3) see #1.

You can design your positive eating plan any way you’d like. Whether you count calories, carbs, fat, all or none of them, many of the same techniques and tricks I use can help make eating a healthier, more satisfying diet easier. What I most enthusiastically encourage of everyone is to get in that kitchen, put on your favorite music, and start cooking!

(Photo by Iryna Tysiak on Unsplash)

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