Calorie counting – yay or nay?

Happy weekend everyone!

Today is an extra special day for me, because I don’t have to go to work. Instead on the immediate agenda is blogging (obviously),  cleaning my room, reading a book and spending some quality time with my family.

Today’s post is going to hopefully be the first in a series of healthy living debates. I’d like to invite all readers (weather you usually comment on here or not) to give their opinions and thoughts on these topics. If you have an opinion that doesn’t agree with mine, feel free to say so. I want to hear other people’s insight into these things.

So, today’s topic is calorie counting. When people think of calorie counting they generally automatically associate it with diets and weight loss, obsessive behaviours and eating disorders or Barbie doll blonds who go into restaurants and exclaim in large, obnoxious voices “But I can’t eat THAT. It has like what, a million calories”.

Although a lot of these things are stereotypes, a lot of them have  an element of truth to them.  Yes, most people that start counting calories do so because they are trying to lose weight. However athletes also sometimes count calories – at least for a certain period of time, to ensure that they are getting ENOUGH energy to fuel them through their grueling work outs. The problem with calorie counting is that once you start, it’s easy for it to spiral into an obsession and makes it very difficult to stop.  After some time you automatically “know” the calorie content of certain foods, and although this in itself might not be a bad thing – if it makes you overly obsessive and controlling about the foods you do or don’t eat – there’s something wrong with that.

Calorie counting in my opinion is a tool, one that is useful, but that there is a fine balance to using.  I know most healthy living bloggers that have lost weight  (Kath or Tina) counted calories at some point, but once they reached their “goal weight” they stopped and started focusing on whole, real foods. The thing is, I’m wondering if the same thing can apply if you’re trying to gain weight.  Is calorie counting to obsessive, especially if you’re someone with an ED history? Or is it necessary to get you started in the right direction, and once you start eating enough you can focus on making the right food choices instead?

Right now I’ve started counting calories again, and at first it was a real eye opener for me to see how little I’ve been eating for the last while. So these last few months I’ve been tracking my calories (using this program) and simply logging in my meals for the day and seeing how they add up. The problem is a lot of the times plans change and I end up eating less/more then I expect and it gets a little obsessive logging all the foods into this tracker and constantly worrying if I’m “hitting my target”.

At the same time, I don’t know if just following an exchange plan  is going to work for me. For one, I have this habit of always choosing the lowest fat/calorie options, for two I don’t have a reliable food exchange plan (all of mine I’ve gotten off the internet and although I loosely follow them, I’m not sure if I’m on the right track.). Seeing an RD is not an option at this point, so I’m having a hard time with reliable information. I wish I could just focus on eating healthy, “real foods” but when you’re trying to gain weight sometimes the “healthiest” option isn’t always the best option – if you get what I’m saying.

So I’m wondering what you all thing about this issue? Have you ever counted calories – did you find it helpful or detrimental? If you’re gaining weight or have had to for medical reasons, how did you do it?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. Have a great weekend!

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5 comments

  1. If you can count your calories without obsessing over them and letting it consume your life or dictate everything that you eat, then I agree that it’s a wonderful tool. For me, personally, I tried counting to make sure I was getting enough, but at the same time I wouldn’t let myself cross that “enough” limit and found that I was restrictive again, thus I don’t count much of anything calorie-wise anymore.

    It does help in the sense that you need approximately 500+ calories every day for a week to gain one pound (theoretically), so if you count you can figure that in. The Super Tracker is really neat and useful too, so if you’re going to keep tabs on it, then that’s a great place to go to. I hope it works out for you! 😀

  2. Hi! My name is Laura and I’m a new reader. I found you via Dan’s blog but I don’t have my own blog. I’m 20 years old and have been in recovery for a year.
    Anyway, in response to your question about counting calories, I used to count obsessively when I was restricting. I would set a goal for myself and try to stay under it. So when I started getting treatment, I stopped counting and just let myself eat whatever I wanted for a while. That was really scary to do and sometimes I overdid it because I had deprived myself of certain foods for so long that I overindulged in them when I did have them. But I think it’s the freedom of knowing that I can have something if I want it that has given me balance. I don’t need to eat it all now because I know I can have some the next day, or whenever.
    It wasn’t really that hard for me to gain weight. All I really had to do was start eating the more calorie-dense foods that I had been avoiding. For me, simply switching from eating only fruit for breakfast and salads for lunch to more dense foods like oatmeal with soy milk and rice and beans was enough to make me gain weight.
    Also, another thing that helped me was that one of my room mates this past year was an excellent cook so he was always making lots of yummy food. At first, I would refuse anything he cooked because it was food that I had prepared, aka low-calorie, low-fat, low-salt, low-sugar. But after a while I gave in and it was a good exercise in trusting someone else to make food for me that I don’t have control over the nutritional content. That said, I am a vegan for reasons that have nothing to do with my eating disorder.
    I worked with a nutritionist and at first she wanted me to count calories to make sure I got enough but I tried doing that and it just made me obsess about food even more.
    So then we tried something else. I started emailing my nutritionist a food log a few times a week. This was really helpful for me because it took the pressure off of me to count calories but at the same time it put pressure on me to not restrict. I was accountable to someone else and she was monitoring me from the outside and giving me helpful tips like “add another carb to breakfast”. Sometimes I wanted to lie about what I had eaten or not eaten but I think it’s important to be honest about whether or not you are struggling. It’s much easier now that I am at a healthy weight. I am really trying to listen to my body more now. Still, like you, there are certain foods that I have to avoid or limit because they make me feel sick when I eat them.
    Sorry for the long-winded comment! I have been enjoying checking out your blog. 😀

  3. I like the idea of these debate posts, this was really interesting to read 🙂

    Calorie counting, as you say, is a tricky subject as it has many pros and cons to it. For some people it can become a dangerous addiction and obsession which takes over their lives leading to horrible situations like the development of an eating disorder. However counting calories can also be a really positive thing to do. My boyfriend trains quite heavily with weights and also does a lot of cardio, he tracks his calorie intake as well as his macros pretty religiously. But it is not so that he can eat less! He spends a fair amount of time studying the science behind it all and calculates his requirements based on lowering body fat % and building muscle at the same time so aiming only to lose fat, not actual weight. He tracks his food to ensure that he eats enough (and he needs to eat a lot!) and gets enough protein and fat in his diet. Personally I think this is a healthy reason to count calories.

    It’s never going to be a clear cut topic and whilst it can be a great weight-loss or weight-gain tool I think people need to be careful when starting, and need to be aware of the risks.

    Thanks for writing this lovely 🙂 I hope you enjoyed your day off!

  4. As for calories, I’ve not been able to do so for any length of time without it becoming excessive and restrictive, and it frustrates me so much! Same as you with exchanges, it’s so inexact (and that’s the point) that i get upset not really being sure that I’m doing it right. When i tried that i ended up calculating the calories to see where i was compared to how many exchanges. Not helpful. The good thing was that it helped me diversify the food i ate, which was a good lesson. That all being said, I’m not “recovered” but don’t have a technical eating disorder either. Right now i try not to count, but sometimes when i feel I’m overeating, I’ll add it up and usually find i’m overreacting… A bit of a checks and balances system, maybe?

  5. Pingback: Portion control? | A new start


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