#26: Calorie Counting
Although calorie counting comes with many negative connotations (usually associated with eating disorders), it’s an effective way to track eating habits to lose, gain or maintain weight. Now that I’ve said that, let me talk about my thoughts and how it affects me.
Growing up, I hated counting calories. I thought it took the enjoyment out of eating. I was focused on succeeding and controlling every other aspect of my life that the last thing I wanted to do was control what I ate too. If I went through a phase of counting calories, it was all or nothing. If I ate one more cookie than I was supposed to, I’d have a “what the hell” moment and eat the entire box of cookies. This was my way of rebelling, and eating so much that I no longer knew how much of a failure I was that day (failure = how many calories I went over). Obviously, that’s flawed logic. Calories count whether I count them or not. I ate so much on “what the hell days” that I would make my life more difficult because I’d end up gaining weight rather than making no progress. There were other times in high school that I remember doing random cardio activities for 5-10 minutes to earn the calories for an extra banana Laffy Taffy, which was just as toxic.
Near the end of college, I became more comfortable counting calories and realized that it’s necessary sometimes. I’d still eat an entire loaf of bread all at once and say I wasn’t going to log the calories later, but I would inevitably track the calories within the hour and regret what I ate. I became so used to tracking calories that it didn’t deter me from eating whatever the hell volume of food that I wanted.
When I finished losing the most of the weight (it was two years ago now, the time really flew by…) I was in a great place. I got full quickly, so I could eat whatever I wanted and I knew it wouldn’t be too much, so I didn’t need to track calories. However, my stomach capacity gradually increased, and here I am today needing to track calories again.
I never track exercise calories. I exercise because I enjoy it, not to eat more food, and I know I would overestimate the number of calories I burn. I would reach another new level of insanity if I factored in exercise calories. I’m never doing bicycles on the kitchen floor to eat an extra bite of food again.
No matter what I eat, I know myself well enough to know that I’ll enter it into MyFitnessPal later no matter how many times I tell myself that I won’t. I’ve used various apps such as Numi, Noom, MyMacros+, and an excel file. I used to hate MyFitnessPal because it gave me flashbacks to the Laffy Taffy days, but my coach prefers me to use it and it’s had some great updates since then. I like it because it has the largest database of foods. I try to remind myself that I’m going to immediately regret going over my calorie budget. Why don’t I just save myself the guilt and just not do it? One day, I’ll get to that point, but for now I’m still learning. If I know exactly how I’m going to feel, why do I repeatedly eat too much? Some of it is because I want instant gratification. Maybe another part is the remaining what the hell mentality. The main reason is because I refuse to believe that I’m actually eating something I shouldn’t be.
This type of overeating isn’t a traditional binge. I used to have a true binge problem in high school, when I’d come home and eat as much as I could either because I had been restricting myself or because I wanted to feel numb (or both). I remember eating nearly an entire Costco chocolate cake on the floor of our unfinished basement with the freezer open before going back upstairs to find the next target. I’d start with the good stuff and gradually make my way to whatever I could get my hands on until my parents came home. I don’t have this feeling anymore when I’m overeating. I’m usually overeating because there’s a specific food I want, not just to eat. (It doesn’t matter if the food is in my apartment or not, I’m not lazy when it comes to cravings.) This might be binging on a smaller scale, but I refuse to label it as a binge because that was a terrible point in my life and I’m not that person anymore.
Within minutes of overeating, I feel my clothes tighten on my body. I have to look in the mirror to check if I’ve gotten bigger. I start to feel the fat on my face and I want to cry. I knew exactly what I was doing while I was eating, right? Sometimes, I look at myself in the mirror or my app and try to rationalize that what I ate wasn’t that bad. I know I don’t perceive myself accurately, so I tell myself to cut it out and stop making excuses. If I can’t perceive myself correctly, I still have no way to know what’s an excuse and what’s not. I can’t trust someone else to tell me because they’re probably trying to make me feel better, and I shouldn’t feel better or I’ll let it slide.
I know that I have a problem, but I’m afraid that I’ll gain weight if I “fix it. Fixing it might mean a better relationship with food, but it would also mean gaining weight. My solution to “fixing it” before was not to think about what I ate, but that got me to the weight I was in Spain. I’m not giving up on finding a way to get myself to understand that I’ll feel better if I don’t go overboard on what I’m eating. I’m always open to suggestions, but for now I need to text my coach when I have these urges (I’ve done a TERRIBLE job this week, for the record, although it’s hard for me to put that in words.)
One of my biggest pet peeves is not knowing the nutritional information of home cooked meals or when I’m out to eat. I’ve heard countless times that humans tend to underestimate what they’re eating. I’m afraid of this, and there’s no way to know if it’s accurate or not. I want to enjoy going out with friends, so I don’t decline plans to go out to eat because I don’t know the calories, but I go through phases where it causes me a lot of stress. Sometimes, I put one number into the app and go back later to lower it so that I can eat more, which doesn’t solve anything. Humans aren’t great at judging serving sizes either. I can totally convince myself I had half a bar of chocolate when I had 3/4. Also, how am I supposed to know what 4 oz of chicken is? Does the package mean cooked or uncooked? (I recently purchased a food scale to solve this problem.)
Then there’s calories from alcohol… I’ve been tracking my calories from alcohol lately, but it’s depressing. I’ve started to choose lower calorie drinks such as a seltzer or gin and tonic too. I’m grateful to be a lightweight, but part of me is still convinced that calories in alcohol don’t count. I’ll do a full post on drinking soon.
Whether I get the number of calories correct on paper or not, it doesn’t change the amount of food that I consumed and my body will adjust accordingly. I think I’d be better off knowing an accurate number even if it means I’m way off for the day. At least I would know.
As much as my habits around counting calories probably sound extremely unhealthy, I’m doing much better than I did as a kid. Calorie counting is a tool and that it has a time and a place, and I no longer resent it. It’s important to understand that I only have these issues when I weigh more or look bigger than I want to be. I have good days and bad days, but I’ve been incredibly happy with myself for the majority of the last two years and I know that I will be again once I get my habits under control.