Healthy Habits – Is Counting Calories Necessary?
At the end of my freshman year of college, when I set out to lose a little bit of weight, I started keeping track of my meals and started to pay more attention to calories. In the beginning, this habit was innocent enough. I just logged calories on a website that automatically calculated my daily calories.
However, my habit soon became an obsession. The website wasn’t good enough for me any more — rather, I felt the need to write down what I ate almost simultaneous to my eating it. I carried a little notebook around with me and jotted down my meals. It didn’t matter where I was or who I was around. All that mattered was being accurate with my “food diary.”
By that point, the calorie counting on the website was virtually obsolete. The group of foods that I allowed myself to eat was so limited that I could easily recite the amount of calories I was consuming per meal.
Yet, that equation was entirely one-sided. Rather than considering “calories in” vs. “calories out,” I was just looking at half. As I continued to push my workouts farther and limit my calories more, the gap in my equation grew even more so that I ended every day with a major calorie deficit.
After that, I had to do a virtual 180. Instead of counting calories to lose weight, I learned how to count calories so that I could be properly nourished. This was harder to learn — I couldn’t simply depend on a website.
To start, I had to eat more than I thought was necessary. And, for the first few weeks, my mind and stomach protested. I was so used to eating less, that it was difficult for me to re-adapt to normal meals. In addition, I also had to scale back my workouts. When I did go on a run, I was diligent about properly refueling, which was a concept I never before understood.
Still, it was hard to find a happy medium. The fact that I knew the caloric contents of most food was both a tool and a weapon. It was useful when I was dedicated to the cause of getting healthier —but harmful when I wanted to cut corners.
It wasn’t really until I went to Germany during the summer before my junior year that I really loosened my grip on calories. There were so many foods that I wasn’t already familiar with, so many restaurants that didn’t post calories and so many dishes that I just wanted to try…
(That is actually a menu, if that helps clarify my point.)
Throughout that summer, I remembered how to eat without thinking — or, at least, without over-thinking.
After getting back home, I also got back to eating more familiar, “normal” foods. Their calorie contents were still logged in my memory. However, I found it was so much easier to use the calories as tools rather than weapons this time around. Now, I’m back to the happiest medium in my memory. I still check out nutrition labels and try to keep my diet in balance, but I don’t write the details down and I don’t add the numbers.
As with all things related to numbers, this is my kind of counting: something kind of vague and flexible.
Questions: What’s your take on calorie counting?