One of my 2018 New Year’s resolutions was to cut back on refined sugar. This led to me no longer eating processed foods and sweets, and eating more whole and simple foods like fruit, veggies, meat, and homemade bread. After three weeks, I noticed a drop in my weight and less fat around my belly and thighs.
Now that I’ve joined a gym, I wanted to take my nutrition to the next level and keep track of what I was fueling my body with. I’m not going scientific with it and tracking macros, but I do find counting calories helps me keep my portions smaller.
It turns out, I learned a lot with calorie counting because I really had no idea how many calories were in the food I was eating, and I’ve discovered I can still be full on foods I like, even while I track. If counting calories sounds stressful to you, then don’t do it. There are other ways to better nutrition that don’t involve much math, like portion control or keeping a food diary. You do you. But if you do dare to try it, here’s some of the pros and cons I’ve learned along the way that you might find encouraging.
The Pros and Cons of Counting Calories
Knowledge is Power – Before I started counting calories, I had no idea the amount of fat, protein, and carbs I was putting into my body. I knew weight loss is about calories in vs. calories out and that cheesecake at 9 p.m. (really, cheesecake ever, who am I kidding!) is not a good idea for my weight-loss regime. But what I didn’t know is how many actual calories are in the food I eat on a regular basis. After counting for a week, I had a good sense of the number of calories in fruit, chicken breast, and a bowl of cereal. Having this knowledge helps me make better choices at the grocery store and when I’m out at a restaurant, making my diet a lifestyle change and not a short-term thing.
No More Over Eating – I eat less when I keep track. It’s kind of like paying for everything with cash: one tends to spend less when he/she witnesses the money exchanging hands. Now when I cook and count calories along the way, I leave out that extra butter in hopes of making a lower calorie meal.
Portion Control is Easier – After counting calories for a few days, I became familiar with how many calories were in the foods I eat regularly. Now when I dole out food onto my plate, I find myself taking more of the lower calorie foods like vegetables and lean meat, and less rice and pasta. This way, I feel fuller with fewer calories.
Meal Prep Takes Longer – I don’t really like spending time in the kitchen to begin with, so now with the added step of keeping track of calories, meal prep is taking a bit longer. One way I’ve found to speed up the process of calorie counting is to write down the ingredients and their calories on a white board on my fridge as I go, then add them up at the end.
Guilt – I have found now that I know how much I’ve been eating, I feel guilty when I have a high calorie day. This could be a pro because then I would probably eat less, but the truth is, I don’t eat less, I just feel guilty. Averaged out over a week, I am still in the 1500 – 1800 calories/day range, but on the days where I go over 1800, I feel defeated.
It’s Not an Exact Science – There are many ways to count calories, everybody absorbs and digests calories differently, and the number of calories in our food can vary depending on how you prepare it. John Berardi Ph.D. and Helen Kollias Ph.D. said in their article, The Surprising Problem with Calorie Counting Part 1: ‘Calories In’, on the PrecisionNutrition.com website that “…once the food is cooked, or chopped, or blended, the amount of energy available for digestion and absorption changes”.1 The labels on packaged food is based on averages, which causes it to be inaccurate as well.
You can also get into the complicated (and sometimes confusing) world of macronutrients which takes calorie counting to a whole nother level.
While I’m not saying this to discourage you from counting calories, it is important to note how inaccurate it can be, which might help with the level of time and care you put into it.
Counting calories was worth the time and effort because it taught me a lot about the foods I was eating on a regular basis and helped me to make healthier choices. Now, instead of eating pasta with sweet marinara sauce three times a week, I choose foods like lean protein and veggies and splurge with a side of pasta occasionally. I’m not overeating as much as before because I get full more quickly with nourishing foods. All-in-all, the pros outweigh the cons and I’m glad I counted calories for two months. I now don’t find the need to count calories as I have a good sense of the nutrition information of the food I eat.