Counting Calories & Why It Works
It Might Just Be The Best Start For You
Who would've guessed that diet trends made a come up in the early eighteen-hundreds?! Believe it or not, Lord Byron first popularized the vinegar and water diet in 1820. If it sounds oddly familiar, it should - drinking apple cider vinegar with water has made its way back into our lives and is a major diet trend at the moment! Though I'm sure Lord Byron had no idea that apple cider vinegar was helpful for a number of other things besides losing weight, we have him to thank for this gut-soothing remedy.
A few other historically renowned diets include the "Lucky Strike" cigarette diet (their slogan was literally "Reach for a Lucky Instead of A Sweet"), The Cabbage Diet, and The Tapeworm Diet (pretty self-explanitory). There are a number of diets that still make news today including The Atkins Diet, Weight Watchers, and Slim Fast; although, they might start to seem like a thing of the past with the latest trends like Paleo, Keto, and Whole30.
One thing that each and every one of these diet fads have in common is reducing overall calories. Well, maybe besides the Tapeworm Diet but I think we can all agree that that's just ridiculous. Diet trends started long before we knew about calories, and how they could impact and change our bodies. All we knew is that eating less food = losing more weight, and it wasn't until the mid nineteen hundreds that we truly began to hone in on this concept. We can thank Weight Watchers for being one of the first major diets to adapt the "point system" regimen, which gave consumers an overall daily limit of how much food they can consume using number values. For example, vegetables and some fruits have an overall value of 0 points - indicating that you can/should eat a lot of veggies throughout the day. Whereas fast food or highly processed foods are anywhere between 3-7 points, making it an easy choice to avoid if you only have 20+ points for the entire day.
Trendy diets often stay clear of the counting calorie method because they say it isn't sustainable, meaning you won't do it for forever. While I do agree with that, I also believe that counting calories is a very effective starting point for anyone trying to lose weight or understand their personal nutrition. But wait, now that I think about it, did anyone ever think the Tapeworm Diet was sustainable?? That might be a bit more harmful than counting calories if you ask me! Anyways, let's talk about counting calories, why it might actually help you lose weight, and how you can maintain a healthy relationship with it.
Let's Talk Calories & Why They Matter
The concept of counting calories was made to bring awareness to the foods that you're consuming and ensure that you aren't going over your daily needs, which in turn should prevent you from gaining weight. However, that idea was overseen and what started as harmless scientific knowledge, quickly became the blame of eating disorders, body image dysmorphia, and food related anxiety. Over the last few years, counting calories has gained a lot of negative attention and it now might be just as feared as fat. Calories and wanting to count them should not be feared or forgotten. At the end of the day, whether you like it or not, if you eat more calories than what you burn, you will store the excess as glycogen or fat, thus causing weight gain. It's neither right or wrong, good or bad, or negotiable. It is what it is.
To keep things simple, a calorie is just a unit of energy. In relation to food, a calorie describes the amount of energy in foods and the amount of energy that can be used in the body. For example, a medium sized apple is around 100 calories. Once you eat that apple, your body now has 100 calories, or units of energy, that it can readily use. Our bodies are constantly burning calories, even in our sleep! Which is why it is so important that we are consuming enough calories throughout the day. It is important to note that consuming an inadequate amount of calories, or not eating enough, can contribute to stalled weight loss, gastrointestinal problems, insufficient hormone production, and many other 'hidden' problems.
Calories are important. Calories are not the enemy. Calories are nothing more than units of energy to your body. When our bodies use calories for energy, it doesn't know if that 100 calories is from an apple or a cookie. However, our digestion system can decipher that, which is why quality calories (healthy foods) are still crucial for the body. If you have ever heard of "if it fits your macros" and the argument that your body uses cream filled donuts and whole grain toast in the same way - this is why. Your body does burn calories, regardless of where they come from, but your body does not digest calories equally.
Things To Remember:
Calories are units of energy used by the body
Everyone has a unique caloric need based off their gender, age, activity levels, etc., which determines how many calories are needed to maintain life, or gain and lose weight
Eating too many calories = caloric surplus = weight gain
Eating too few of calories = caloric deficit = weight loss
Eating equal amount of calories = weight maintenance
All food has calories
Calories are not bad
You need calories to live, workout, move, and be you!
Counting Calories: The Good, The Bad, and Where To Start
If you've been following my journey for quite some time, you might be shocked that I'm even writing this post. And to be honest, I found it quite full-circle when I decided on it. If you don't know, I had a very difficult relationship with counting calories. I was very young, very naive, and very anxious to look a certain way. I became obsessed with calories; I counted every baby carrot I ate, I never missed logging a meal, and MyFitnessPal was my-only-pal. At the time, I didn't understand nutrition, I did not understand how the body worked, and I innocently latched on to the only thing that I did understand: calories in, calories out. I knew that consuming less calories meant that I needed to eat less food. I knew that burning more calories at the gym meant that I could lose weight that much quicker. I put two and two together and thought I could lose weight, looked 'toned' and gain muscle within 6-weeks. I obsessed over numbers from both the food I ate and the calories that I burned. I regret treating my body that way but I will never ever everregret counting calories.
My experience with counting calories was not as uncommon as I thought. It turns out that many of us in the health and wellness world struggle with having and maintaining a healthy relationship with calories. This is definitely the ugly side of it. Counting calories makes you look at food much differently; you see food as numbers, rather than nutrients and life. There is a very fine line between awareness and obsession, and it's something that many of us have dealt with or are still dealing with, and that's the ugliest part of it all.
Counting calories forces you to become aware of calories, one of the most important aspects of losing weight. As much as I want to tell my clients to 'listen to their bodies' while having zero previous knowledge about nutrition and trying to lose weight - I would be setting them up for failure. Consumers do not need to know about every enzyme or catabolic reaction that happens in the body when eating certain foods, that is not the key to weight loss. What they do need to know is how many calories they can consume per day according to their goals and lifestyle, as well as calories in various foods (both healthy and unhealthy). Counting calories is a great way to become more aware about the foods you are putting into your body. I absolutely agree and understand that there is much more to it than simply calories; however, consciously making better decisions based off of simple nutrition is goal number one for weight loss and living an overall healthy lifestyle.
Calories dictate whether we lose, gain, or maintain our body weight (under normal circumstances) and there is no way around it. If you could care less about the nitty gritty details in nutrition or how things break down in the body, at least learning that an apple has 100 calories and a donut has up to 400 calories, might be the reason you skip that donut for breakfast and grab an apple instead. Off the bat, without knowing anything further - you just made a healthy decision that could absolutely contribute to weight loss. It's that simple and that easy. Obsessing over calories and being knowledgeable on calories are two completely different things and can have two very different outcomes.
Some people need and prefer more structure than "listen to your body" or "eat intuitively" - especially if they have a goal weight in mind. While I do believe that we can all get there at some point, I also have found that calorie counting a really effective, safe, and realistic way to help people achieve their weight loss goals. I no longer use a food-logging app or figure out my daily caloric needs, I do eat intuitively and I do eat foods that I crave, BUT - I could not have gotten to this place without understanding calories and counting calories. I will never not subconsciously think about calories in the meals that I eat; it's information that I will never be able to forget, nor want to forget. The biggest difference now is that I have a really healthy relationship with both those thoughts and the food on my plate.
I truly believe that counting calories is much more effective than cutting out macronutrients or depriving yourself from one thing over another. You absolutely can maintain a healthy relationship with food while counting calories by understanding that calories are not the end all be all to your health, rather just a visual representation of the foods that you eat. It's simply a starting point and can help you achieve your weight loss goals in a set time.
If you're interested in chatting about YOUR daily calories, how much you should be eating, or even on breaking up with the cc obsession - email me a million times and I will be here to talk! Seriously, I LOVE getting emails and hearing about your (past and present) experiences with calories and food!
Lastly, I just want to say THANK YOU to each and every one of my subscribers. When I first started this blog, I was so unhealthy. My relationship with food was so unhealthy. I obsessed, and I mean obsessed, over calories and restricted myself from so many things. I missed out on more than I would ever like to admit because I was scared of 'gaining weight.'
Obsessing over anything is no way to live. Anxiety and depression is real in the wellness world. Most of us have gone through similar journeys and circumstances to get to the place that we are in today. But I know that place isn't easy to find and get to, and I want to help in any way that I can. I want to bring awareness and talk to this issue and let other young gals learn from my mistakes.
Binging at night, "saving calories", and obsessing over macros are all eating disorders. They represent an unhealthy relationship with food and often times your body. I've experienced it and witnessed it and I want to put an end to it. The Healthiest Me is allllll about finding YOUR healthy; with food, with your body, with your mind, with your soul. It means living a happy life and feeling the best in your body each and everyday. I'm here to get you there! Like your healthy bff guide.