From the Blog

To Count Calories or Not…That is the Question!

July 20th, 2012 - Articles

23

I have received many emails with questions about counting calories, so I thought I would share my perspective in a post! In general, I do think that counting calories, especially at first can be beneficial for someone who is just starting to read nutrition labels and get familiar with different foods. However, I always suggest that the ultimate goal that people should aim for is to listen to their body, rather than counting calories long term.

Counting calories in the beginning of a weight loss journey can be helpful because you can get a realistic sense of how to space out calories throughout your day to best fuel your body, and you get familiar with portion sizes in general. On the other hand, when it comes to maintaining this long-term, counting calories really isn’t realistic, and it can even become obsessive if taken to the extreme.

I personally found that counting calories for about a month in the beginning of my journey worked well for me, because it allowed me to get familiar with how to space calories out throughout my day in a way that made me feel energized throughout the day. After becoming ‘familiar’ with proper portion sizes, I decided to stop tracking calories and start to listen to my body’s natural hunger cues.  This means I would eat until I was satisfied…Not stuffed.

Yes, I still continue to pay attention to the amount of calories, fat, sugar, carbohydrates, and protein in food. However, this is more about being informed and aware of what I am putting in my body. For example, something may seem healthy, especially with all of the tricky labels out there, but if you don’t pay attention or do any planning on your part, you could easily end up taking in a lot of calories, fat, and sugar without even realizing it!

So, although I am aware of what I am eating, I don’t keep a running total of calories for the day on paper, or in general. Here are a few reasons why I don’t count calories:

1. Eating with friends and family can get tricky if you are always counting calories. In general, if you don’t know what was put in the food, this can lead to anxiety… Or even a ‘bingeing’ mentality, when you throw all ‘care’ out the window because you don’t know what to write down. Instead, when I am at a get-together, I try to pick the healthiest choices that I see and make it my goal to focus more on enjoying the people I’m with rather than on the food…(after all that is really what life is all about isn’t it!?!)  And if I do pick a dessert, or something that I know isn’t so healthy, then I stick to one portion, and really spend time enjoying each bite (or I share it)!

2. If you count calories, you can actually over eat! Here’s what I mean… If you count calories, then chances are you will feel like you need to finish every single bite, even if you are truly full, in an effort to track the calories properly! This is a bit crazy if you think about it, because God really did put a ‘full’ signal inside each one of us for a reason! When I was first learning to pay attention to my body, I would take a few bites, put my fork down, and really pay attention to how I felt. Then, when I felt like my stomach was satisfied, I stopped, and saved the rest for later. Sure, it was tough to do this at first, and it does take practice (and prayer) in the beginning, but eventually you will be so in tune with your body, you won’t even have to think twice about it!

3. It can lead to bingeing. For me personally, counting calories led to binges when I let myself have ‘a day off’ of counting. This was most likely because I felt like I had to use my ‘freedom’ to it’s fullest  by eating whatever came across my path. Again, this is not entirely logical if you think about it, because there will always be another chance to eat any certain type of food again. However, on the days that I wasn’t counting calories, I felt as though I had to eat everything like it was my last chance to eat, knowing that the very next day I was going to be back to ‘tracking’.

Those are just a few of the reasons I don’t advocate counting calories long term. On that note, I will say that everyone is different, and everyone has different things that work for them. So, all that being said, I will say that I don’t mean to condemn anyone if this is what works for you! In general, I would say that it is better to have some kind of plan than no plan at all! :)

A realistic way of incorporating all that I have just discussed would be to start counting calories for about a month, so you can get an idea of how much to eat, and  become familiar with composing meals that are a good balance of protein and fiber to keep you satisfied. With that foundation established, you should be able to move onto truly listening to your body, and eating until you are satisfied. Like I said, this may seem ‘strange’ at first, but that is how God created our bodies to function! He gave us the ability to know when we are hungry, and full, so we would eat only what our bodies truly need! Also, with this approach, I find that it is easier to put the focus on eating healthy and nutritious foods rather than all the numbers!

When combined with the main principals of healthy eating, (limiting amount of processed foods and sugar, trying to get a good balance of protein and fiber with meals, and filling up on healthy snacks in between meals), you should be able to maintain a healthy weight in a way that is sustainable for life!

23 Comments

Cara said:

I love your perspective! I personally do not count calories either because it leads to an unhealthy obsession and just overall discontentment. However, I agree with you it is a great tool for those just starting out and learning about the composition of foods. Love your site, keep on spreading the word of Christ through food and healthy living, it is the ONLY way :)

July 20th, 2012 — 9:44am  |  Reply

Debbie said:

Oh, you have no idea how much I needed to read this today. I have been counting calories for years, and am struggling with obsessing over it and binge eating off of it. Thanks so much for writing this! : )

July 20th, 2012 — 9:47am  |  Reply

Erin A said:

I personally have to count calories. I always try to stop and Im fine for a few weeks but then I start to see the scale go up and realize I’m over eating. I haven’t had a problem with it becoming obsessive or anything so for me I think it’s a good thing. Maybe once I’m down to maintenance it would probably be fine to stop counting and if I notice my weight go up just count for a few days to go back down. It really does depend on the person, I’ve alway been a numbers person so seeing my “numbers” can be comforting.

July 20th, 2012 — 10:09am  |  Reply

Katie @wishandwhimsy said:

I love this post, especially where you say “Yes, I still continue to pay attention to the amount of calories, fat, sugar, carbohydrates, and protein in food. However, this is more about being informed and aware of what I am putting in my body.”
I think it’s SO important to know what you’re body is taking in (nutrient-wise).

July 20th, 2012 — 10:10am  |  Reply

Jill said:

I completely agree with Debbie! I have been calorie counting for almost two years and it worked great to start loosing weight and I was able to lose 50 pounds doing it and have for the most part maintained it. But now I think I am getting to the obsessed point add it’s taking up so much of my life planning my meals and I do go on binge days where I eat like I’ll never be able to eat again! Thank you thank you thank you for making me realize this is not healthy, which it’s my ultimate goal!

July 20th, 2012 — 10:12am  |  Reply

Jen@TheFitHousewife said:

Love this post! I used to obsess over counting calories. Then I realized that I know what my body needs, just like you said, we know when we are full and need to stop. It’s good to count calories to get on track, but once you know your body, then it’s time to stop obsessing! If you are only putting healthy whole foods into your body, there is no need to count calories :)

July 20th, 2012 — 10:35am  |  Reply

Annie said:

Great post. I feel that calorie counting both helped AND caused me harm. It helped me learn to look at food more on a nutritional level rather than emotional. Unfortunately, I have never ever binged until I started calorie counting. After counting calories for years, I finally let go and instead practiced “intuitive eating.” My relationship with food is much healthier now, but ironically I might not have gotten to this place without calorie counting in the first place.

July 20th, 2012 — 1:32pm  |  Reply

Mathew Freeman said:

This was a great post. As a fitness enthusiast I tend to try different ways to eat for my own personal research. I want to see how it effects my body. When I do so like my paleo weight gain approach I count my macronutritents so I can fine tune. Ultimately when I understand a way of eating I then stop recording and just go according to intuition. Quality of life is important and although my calorie counting has never become an issue because I prepare the night before an pre track my day that is only my personal experience. God has created amazing bodies capable of amazing things and I’m a firm believer in balance. If calorie counting takes you off balance stop. As everyone else said in the beginning it is a helpful tool.

July 20th, 2012 — 10:12pm  |  Reply

Sam M. said:

Thanks for posting this! I have been on the quest for a healthier lifestyle for about 1.5 months now and at first I was adamantly against counting calories. I figured that as long as I was eating ‘healthy’ foods it wouldn’t matter. A few weeks in, when I realized that I wasn’t losing weight like I should, I started counting calories and was amazed at the count on some ‘healthy’ foods. What I forgot to take into consideration was the fact that even fruits & vegetables have a calorie count. {I was used to weight watchers 0 points for most fruits & veggies}. I am slowly coming away from counting calories, because I have a general knowledge of calorie counts now. But it is so important at the beginning to make yourself aware of what you’re eating!

July 21st, 2012 — 9:52am  |  Reply

Jamie said:

This was just what I needed to read today. I love this! Thank you!

July 22nd, 2012 — 12:23pm  |  Reply

Tracey said:

Counting calories for me seems like a small price to pay..it has kept 50lbs off my body. I love that I can eat anything as long as I “track” it. It really just works for me, been doing it about 10 years now..so it’s not a pain. To each his own:)

July 22nd, 2012 — 2:38pm  |  Reply

Dashing Dish said:

so agree tracey! :) great job on keeping 50 lbs off!

July 22nd, 2012 — 6:22pm  | 

Mary Ellen said:

I totally agree! I counted calories though for 2-3 months because I really needed to lose some baby weight, be healthier and fit back into my old clothes.
Now that I am maintaining my weight I don’t count any calories at all. I make sure all of the food in our house is minimally processed and without artificial colors, HFCS, etc. This is easier when I switched to shopping at Trader Joe’s.
I eat full fat ice cream every day – the kind that has like 11 grams of saturated fat. I also drink skim milk and other lower fat items of course – but it’s all natural/homemade. I have never gained a pound eating this way and doing the recommended exercise (1.5-2 hours per week total). Well, if you visit my website you’ll see the move towards whole grains and whole foods.

July 24th, 2012 — 11:09pm  |  Reply

Mary Scohera said:

I really enjoyed your post and perspective on calorie counting – especially how you used calorie counting and the effects on your weight loss journey. It shows how every method (tip, program, etc.) is individual and we all need to find what works for us. I always resist calorie tracking yet it always works for me in terms of stopping me in my tracks and in recognizing why I’ve gained weight in the first place…mindless eating, eating too large portions, etc. Once I’m in the groove and eating healthy again, I usually stop the tracking.

July 25th, 2012 — 8:28am  |  Reply

Kelly said:

I could not agree more. I really needed to read this today. I’ve been struggling with my overall health and fitness. I read about Katie and other food bloggers who have been successful and they don’t always count calories.

I almost feel counting calories has done more harm than good. I really need to pray and have God work within me. He can open my eyes and help me more than anyone else.

July 27th, 2012 — 3:53pm  |  Reply

Karla said:

God is AMAZING! I JUST decided to STOP counting calories today and I log in and see this post staring back at me. WOW! I know that for some people calorie counting works. And, I guess it can “work” for me too, but to be honest, while it may keep me at a certain size. For me, it is bondage. I live based on calorie counts and am not really living life. I spend too much time in my head thinking about food, calories, when I will get to eat next, fearing recipes/foods I don’t have calorie counts for, etc. So, I am deciding to STOP! I know there will be some anxiety, but I know it will be so worth it! Thanks for this post. You are such an inspiration to me!

August 1st, 2012 — 10:58am  |  Reply

Dashing Dish said:

amen karla! God loves you so much! :)

August 1st, 2012 — 11:45am  | 

Katie H. said:

Great advice!

I have counted calories for (literally) five years. Just this week, though, I decided that I need to trust myself and what I’ve learned about healthy eating. I have become much more in tune to my body’s needs, and I consistently make healthy choices. It seems scary to be “cutting the cord”, but I know it’s the right thing for my body and my mind.

I think it’s interesting what you said about how it’s possible to overeat when you count calories–I definitely have found that to be true! In the past, when I track my food, and realize I haven’t met my “quota” for the day, I eat something even when I’m not hungry and end up feeling uncomfortably full.

Thanks for the motivation and inspiration. I look forward to reading more of your blog!

August 5th, 2012 — 7:06pm  |  Reply

Starla Gunter said:

Hi Katie! Thank you for posting this! I struggle with counting calories too, just because it leads to obsessing over it. I liked your idea of really paying attention to what you eat, taking a few moments between each few bites. That’s definitely something I struggle with. Likewise, I love that you ultimately give the credit to the Lord, knowing that it is He who gives us the patience and control we need in order to lose weight or eat healthy. Such a good reminder! I wanted to add that I would love to see a post (video or blog!) about your tips for eating out in general. Living a really busy lifestyle and going out often with friends, it’s always great to have a few tips up my sleeve! I’ve just started navigating the site, so let me know if you might’ve already posted on this! :)

August 26th, 2012 — 9:08pm  |  Reply

Dashing Dish said:

hi starla! thanks for your kind words! :) you might find this helpful!

Dashing Dish Eating Out Tips:

Be prepared! If possible, go online before going to the restaurant to see what options there are that sound good to you that are reasonably healthy as well! A lot of restaurants offer nutrition information online now, and if not, the calories for specific dishes can often be found using search engines! Try to looking for something with around 500 calories or less for one meal, (unless you plan on splitting an entree with someone).

Watch portions! Most restaurant portions are double what a ‘normal’ portion size should be. One way to mind your portion size while eating out is to eat slowly, paying attention to when you are truly satisfied, (not stuffed), and getting a to-go box to take the leftovers home. Another great way to portion control is to split an entree with someone!

Beware of salad dressings! If you order a salad, always ask for dressing on the side, and ask for a low fat dressing if possible. If low fat dressing is not an option, dip your fork in the dressing before each bite.

Look carefully at salad toppings! When choosing a salad, make sure none of the ingredients are fried, (if they are, ask them to leave them off). Also ask for high fat ingredients such as nuts and cheeses on the side, (this way you can control how much goes on).

Skip the bread basket! The bread served before meals is truly nothing but empty calories, and generally a lot of empty calories at that, (with butter it could easily add up to 500 calories, which is the calorie contents of a meal!)

Don’t drink your calories! Stick with water, seltzer, or a diet soda. If you must have alcohol, limit yourself to one drink. A glass of wine, a light beer, a shot of hard liquor mixed with club soda all have around 100 calories, (which is much better than mixed drinks, which can contain hundreds of calories for one drink!)

Know your terms! As a general rule, order foods that are broiled, grilled, roasted or steamed. Steer clear of foods that are fried, and sauteed, (which means that are cooked in a pan with oil).

Don’t be embarrassed to make special requests! With all of the allergies out there today, you can be sure that wait staff and cooks are very used to getting special orders! If you ask for ‘no butter’, sauce on the side, or steamed versus sauteed, you could save yourself hundreds of calories that you would never even miss!

August 27th, 2012 — 7:27am  | 

amy said:

Thank you, Katie! I hate that I’m still struggling after your sweet notes and praying and using your devotion. It’s so hard! I have been trying to do weight watchers, but maybe feel like since i’m not losing am I eating too much fruit? So then I thought about loseit.com to really count the calories, but really “dieting” just stresses me out, and then I do binge! ugh! Thanks for putting up with me! You’re awesome and I hope I can get it soon! xo!

January 29th, 2013 — 3:46pm  |  Reply

Marielle Lindner said:

thank you so much for your post, if one would count calories for a while, how many calories do you think is healthy to eat per day? Generally?

June 6th, 2013 — 6:16pm  |  Reply

JJ said:

I love what your saying because I was doing the same thing. So thanks reading this helped a lot :)

October 31st, 2013 — 9:57pm  |  Reply

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