Should You Count Calories? – Fitness Plan to Lose Weight Part 2
If you haven’t already, you might want to read through Eat Better Foods – Fitness Plan to Lose Weight Part 1 before reading this. The first phase of my plan is to simply eat food that is better for you.
It wasn’t long after I was eating more healthy foods and less “junk” that I started controlling how much food I would eat each day. The typical method that anyone uses to control their eating on any diet is some form of calorie counting. There is no shortage of smart phone apps, spreadsheets, web sites, and books that will help you measure portions and track the number of calories you eat each day. If counting calories is something you like to do, then pick your favorite tool to track calories and go for it!
I started my fitness plan by counting calories (which wasn’t a bad idea because it helped me understand how much I was actually eating), then I realized something.
I hate measuring my food and counting calories each day, so I don’t do it anymore. Period.
In my experience, simply eating better foods takes you a long way towards losing weight and increasing your overall health. I still eat what I consider “bad” foods, and need to control how much of those foods I actually eat. Once you’re eating better foods, you will want to limit and monitor how much of the the so-called “bad” foods that you eat, and here’s one way to do that.
Tracking Foods You Want to Limit
Oatmeal is a good example of a food that I want to limit. The right kind of oatmeal is good for you, specifically either steel cut oats or old fashioned rolled oats. Instant oatmeal, quick cooking oatmeal, and any kind of oatmeal squares cereal won’t help you lose weight like steel cut and rolled oats. As a grain, I still want to limit how much I eat, so I have it on my list of foods to limit.
The first few times I cooked oatmeal, I measured out one serving (as indicated on the box) in a measuring cup, then poured it into a bowl. I then took a mental picture of what that looked like. Now, whenever I cook oatmeal, I just pour the oatmeal directly into the same size and shape bowl until it looks the same as I remember it from the days I measured. If I’m ever not sure, I can always measure again. This way, I don’t have to measure every time I eat oatmeal. If you can’t remember what your measured oatmeal bowl looks like, you could always take a picture and keep it in a convenient place to review when cooking oatmeal. If that’s too complicated, then you can just measure it each time.
You can use this same process with any food that you want to monitor the amount you’re eating. It’s kind of like counting calories, but not exactly. I use this monitoring mostly to limit myself to more reasonable quantities.
Bad Foods In a Social Setting
If you have co-workers that like to bring cake, doughnuts, bagels, and other foods that you’re trying to avoid, then you have two choices. You can either not eat any at all, or you can just cut a little slice of cake or eat half a bagel. Even if you eat a doughnut one day, it doesn’t mean your weight loss and fitness plan is doomed to failure.
I completely understand that there’s social pressure to sample the foods your co-workers bring to work. The key is to be selective about which “bad” or “limited” foods you eat, limiting the amount, and doingand try to do it as infrequently as possible. There’s no point in torturing yourself about not being able to eat any doughnuts until you lose weight and get fit, because if you’re like me, you’re more likely to experience a breakdown where you eat an entire box of doughnuts in one sitting, then feel horrible about yourself later.
How much should I really eat?
There are a lot of books and articles that try to tell you how much to eat. There’s a huge debate about how to determine what your calorie intake should be to effectively lose weight. I would argue that if you are eating mostly healthy foods that it really doesn’t matter exactly where your daily calorie intake lands. If you are truly hungry, then you should eat something, but just make sure it’s something healthy like lean meats, vegetables, or unsalted nuts.
If you are not exercising now, then when you begin an exercise routine, your calorie needs (and hunger level) will likely increase. There’s more on that in a future post about exercise. Basically, if you’re eating healthy foods and only eat until you’re full, counting calories shouldn’t be a big concern.
Steve over at Nerd Fitness has a lot of good information about healthy eating, the paleo diet, and has been a huge inspiration for me, but more specifically, his Beginner’s Guide to Healthy Eating will provide you with a lot more details about how to eat healthier in general. He covers the entire spectrum from counting calories to moving to a complete Paleo diet. I highly recommend you check his guide out. Oh, and if I sound like Steve in any of my fitness and health posts, it’s because I’ve read a lot of the articles on his site, done many of the things he suggests, and have succeeded. Steve is a smart guy and I’ve learned a lot from what he has shared.
The Best Path
The best path to follow regarding how much of which foods to eat is anything that you can do for a long time. You want to make long term life changes that don’t impact your overall happiness. For example, you might love doughnuts, so you don’t have to give them up completely, just eat less (or a lot less) than you do now.
Should you count calories? If you want to eat mostly healthy foods and little to no junk food, then no, you don’t need to count calories. If you want to eat more “bad” or junk foods, then you need to pay more attention to the calories you consume each day to increase your health and overall fitness level.
Make small changes to what you eat every few days or each week. If those changes work for you, then keep them and continue with more little changes. If you stop eating a food or eat something new that makes your life miserable, then find an alternative. Just get better a little bit at a time.
The above commentary is based on my personal experience and research. It is not a substitute for the advice of a professional, it’s simply what I’ve done and what works for me. You should consult your doctor before beginning any changes to diet or physical activity.