We've all been there at one point or another. An insecure teenager willing to do just about anything for the approval of others. In my case, I was a young sophomore in high school when I discovered the magical idea of calorie counting. Upon first hearing about it, and hearing the success stories of people who had tried it, I was immediately convinced that this would be my one way ticket to the perfect figure.
Looking back, realistically, I was a healthy weight for my age and height. Nevertheless, the idea of tracking exactly what I put in my body was very appealing to me. I guess this curiosity may have been the budding dietitian inside me. This was the beginning of my 4 year journey with calorie counting.
At first, it was a very educational experience. I was forced to learn how many calories were in certain foods so I could "budget" my daily intake. This is when I believe calorie counting was most beneficial for me. To anyone considering it, I would encourage you to do so only if you lack the general knowledge about your calorie needs and what foods are best to fulfill these needs.
As time went on, I became better and better at staying under my calorie goal. But naturally, the process wasn't as new and exciting as it had been when I first started. So I started coming up with ways to cheat the system in order to eat the foods I really wanted. One of the main ways I did this was not measuring out my foods. Portion control is a huge aspect of calorie counting and without it, the entire process is essentially pointless. So yes, I was "calorie counting," but I wasn't being honest with myself. And this defeated the purpose of all of my efforts.
Over time, I admitted to myself that I wasn't calorie counting correctly. So I tried to fix it. And in a way I did. I began measuring out my portions and made sure I was being honest about everything I entered. I still cheated every once in a while, but for the most part, I was entering everything I ate. But I still wanted to eat my favorite tasty foods. I would eat tator tots for "lunch" or ice-cream for "dinner" and enter those in as my meals. To me, everything was fine. As long as I stayed within my calorie goal, I was in the clear.
By doing this, I wasn't giving my body the nutrients it needed. I was so focused on calories, that I had lost touch with what really mattered. Over the years, I was surprised when I didn't lose weight, despite my adamant calorie counting and daily exercise. In fact, I ended up gaining a bit of weight in the process.
It wasn't until winter break that I was forced to confront the reality of my situation. Over this break, I had taken a trip to Italy. Because of their exotic foods, I found it nearly impossible to calorie count, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Rather than basing what I ate on how many calories I had left, I would simply eat when I was hungry and stop when I was full.
It sounds so simple, but it's something that I struggled with when my food diary was constantly hanging over my head. I was shocked when I came back from the trip, thinking I had been stuffing my face like a mad woman, to find that I had actually lost weight. I was suddenly optimistic, thinking that maybe I don't have to spend the rest of my life confined and restricted by my calorie counter.
Since that trip, I decided to take a break from calorie counting and see what happens. So far, I've noticed a significant improvement in what I eat. My refrigerator is stocked with fruits and vegetables that I eat freely whenever I'm hungry. I've somehow stopped cherishing Cheez-Its, my go-to snack, and tried to eat simpler, more natural things, like a banana with peanut butter.
At lunch, rather than choose something small but unhealthy, I'll have a huge salad topped with tons of veggies and protein. I'll also include a piece of whole grain bread with butter. This meal will keep me full for a while and leave me feeling satisfied and guilt-free. In the end, I realized I was eating fewer calories than I had been before, simply because I wasn't constantly trying to cheat my calorie counter.
I will not deny that calorie counting has its benefits. For someone who is just beginning their journey to a healthy lifestyle, this is a great way to start. However, for those of us who are weary travelers on this journey, and know exactly what we should and shouldn't be eating, there is another way to go. If you are in my situation, I strongly encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone and ditch the calorie counting. You may find yourself eating better than ever.