Some people swear by counting calories, while others say it causes them to become obsessed with food. There are dozens of healthy ways to track your food, but I've always been a MyFitnessPal calorie counting kind of girl. While I can totally see how it might lead some people down an unhealthy rabbit hole of binging and restricting, I've always used it as a tool to gauge whether or not I'm truly hungry or just bored. For example, if I only have 600 calories left for the day, do I really need that 200 calorie piece of chocolate? Am I hungry enough to eat an 80 calorie apple instead? If not, I'm probably just bored.
I'm fortunate enough to be able to unapologetically exceed my caloric limit during times of real hunger, so I don't fear obsession. Counting is just a good way for me to keep myself on track, not something I live and die by.
This past week, I decided to stop thinking about calories and just eat. This was prompted by a friend of mine who said that she was beginning to focus too much on calories and not enough on nutrition, so she stopped counting altogether and was choosing to eat what was healthiest for her body. In doing so, she said she felt healthier than she had in a very long time. She felt cured of her obsession with calories that was prompting her to choose processed 100-calorie packs of cookies over real, whole food.
It sounded lovely, so I decided to join her.
For one whole week, I did not consider calories. I ate what I wanted, when I wanted, and had no idea how much I had eaten or how much more I could eat.
Here's what happened.
The last time I didn't count any calories or track my food was on my honeymoon in St. Lucia. I still went to the gym every day, but I ate whatever I wanted at the resort buffet and restaurants.
This felt a lot like that.
It was so freeing to know that any food in my kitchen was available to me, I honestly felt like I was on vacation. I still skipped meat, eggs & dairy, but if I wanted Oreos, I had Oreos. If I wanted a second serving at dinner, I had it. If a handful of dates (200 calories!) sounded good, I grabbed 'em. It was glorious, and I didn't feel guilty about one single bite.
I ate this way from Friday to Friday, and, just like on my honeymoon, by day 7, I was ready to go back to normal. I got on the scale, and it read three extra pounds than last week, most of which, I knew, was from bloating. I was bloated and uncomfortable, mostly because my digestive pattern was completely thrown off - all of that extra food clogged up my pipes, so to speak. (It's important to note that this exact same thing happened to me on my honeymoon. It seems that eating too much, especially at night, causes me stomach aches, constipation and stomach cramps.)
My experience wasn't as great as my friend's, but that doesn't mean that not counting your calories is bad. Ultimately, she is able to make healthy decisions and eat only when she's hungry, but as it turns out, I cannot.
Because I am a mindless eater, I need to count my calories and track my food to make sure I know how much food I've eaten, otherwise I'll snack all day. For me, counting calories is more organizational and doesn't trigger any unhealthy behavior. Clearly, though, this is not the case for everyone, so it's really important to do what works for you.
The three pounds that I "gained" (I put that in quotes because it was definitely not gained body fat) came off within the next few days, but I did need to do a 24-hour water fast to remove all of the gunk from my stomach and reset my digestive system.
When it comes to how you eat, you've got to do what keeps you healthy and sane.
Left to my own devices, I get myself into trouble.
I'm back to counting my calories and I feel much better.