My Instagram feed is full of food. Actually, I think it is more like 60% food, 30% fitness and the rest, probably puppies. I get lots of great ideas from social media: new recipes to try out on my unsuspecting boyfriend, new exercises to try out in my early morning Pilates/HIIT class, a million reasons why I deserve to get that brand new puppy. But I can also easily lose my sanity floating (or hurtling) down the rabbit hole. I start comparing myself to other people, why they can eat that donut and still have those abs, why I am not a 20-something making 6-figures as a social media star, all the usual, super not helpful stuff that happens when I’m not careful to live with gratitude in the present.
Something I have noticed in posts from some of the most well-known food bloggers is their messaging around food and calorie tracking. Many of them have a history of some type of disordered eating in their past (just like me and nearly everyone else I know). Some are obviously still in the middle of their struggle. And so, “understandably, they eschew calorie counting.
Maybe this isn’t so understandable to some. I know from my education in dietetics and from many years of treatment that the most frequent message given to people with unhealthy food behaviors is that counting calories doesn’t work. That it leads back to compulsivity or that it often leads to under-calculating and overeating. Most alternative strategies involve mindfulness, food substitutions, activities like journaling and walking, and a degree of self-awareness that even after years of effort, I still struggle to master.
I tried to make all this work for me for a long time and it just didn’t. I know that it works for some, and if you have found something that helps you maintain a healthy balance of living your best life at your best, most vital weight, then keep at it! It is important to remember that we all respond differently to different approaches, especially regarding food and long term weight maintenance.
This is what happened to me: I started my full time desk job over a year ago and within 6 months, I had gained 10 pounds. Not much had changed other than a few trips to the break room midday to grab a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit. But the sneaky thing about even 80 extra calories a day (a medium sized apple or a piece of cheese) is that they tend to add up. Think about it: say you need 2000 calories a day to maintain your weight with your current level of physical activity. If you simply add on some additional input without also increasing your output (in this case, let’s say an apple and cheese because, let’s be real, that’s the best combo ever) 160 calories per day times 365 days per year is an extra 58,400 calories per year. And divide that by 3,500 calories per pound and you are 16.5 pounds heavier on January 1, 2018 than you were on January 1, 2017.
As someone who is definitely above average on the healthy food choices scale, counting calories has allowed me to become more mindful in my daily eating behaviors. I use MyFitnessPal, which I think has the best, easiest to navigate UI. It has been completely liberating. I’ve learned that I eat more or less the same thing every day and on those days it doesn’t matter so much. But on the days when I know that I have date night at the movies or a birthday party or somewhere that those extra calories might creep in, I can calibrate the rest of my day or the rest of my weekend accordingly. And as someone who has had a lifetime of battling black and white thinking, a “since I ate that piece of chocolate, I might as well eat the fries and the burger and the milkshake and the rest of the bar of chocolate too” mentality, it has allowed me to be gentler with myself, to let myself be a most-of-the-time healthy person, to not have to be perfect.
If you find that counting calories works for you, great! Find me on MyFitnessPal and let’s help each other be accountable. If it doesn’t, that’s ok too. Leave a comment below and let us know some other ways to stay on the ball with your food choices. In the end, it is quality not quantity that counts. In our movement, in our relationships, in our lives in general, and, yes, in our food.
This post brought to you by Lauren Badell. Lauren is a graduate of the RedBird Teacher Training Certification program and a movement junkie who joined the RedBird teaching staff in 2014. In 2016, Lauren graduated with honors in the Didactic Program of Dietetics from the University of Texas. She knows that abs are made in the kitchen and that the marriage of nutrition and fitness has the ability to transform lives and bodies. She love sharing her knowledge of both nutrition and movement with RedBird clients.