As you prepare for bed, you realize you have only eaten 800 calories today. Pleased with your discovery, you return to the kitchen to treat yourself to those remaining 400 allowed calories. All is perfect until you later remember eating gelato after lunch. You forgot to track the calories. You vow to eat fewer calories the next day to atone for your mistake and go to bed discouraged. You promise to be more diligent about recording every morsel you eat.
Is this a wise decision? Does calorie counting help you lose weight?
A calorie is defined as a unit of energy. It is measured by the amount of heat produced when food is burned. In New York City, and some other urban centers, calories are even posted directly on menus.
Counting. Adding. Tracking. It can actually hinder your weight loss attempts. I know this as a physician and as a woman who has lost over seventy pounds without counting calories or journaling food.
When counting calories, miraculous aspects of nourishing our bodies are often neglected. Water does not have calories but can help keep us alert, combat fatigue and energize our day. Is an apple simply a way to spend your last fifty calories? Have you ever stopped long enough to really enjoy it? Do you cut it in half to see the star-shaped pattern of the seeds? Do you enjoy the aroma and the crunchy, sweet texture? Because of its low calorie count, the apple is not appreciated as a luxury, but rather a necessity. As such, it loses the sensual aspect and becomes less satisfying. Internal cues are gradually ignored as hunger is perceived by a filter of calories consumed, rather than a signal from our body.
Even when the calories are evaluated for fiber and fat content, such as on the Weight Watchers points plan, the results are still discouraging. In 2011, Weight Watchers released the results of a medical weight loss study. Over a twelve month period, the average patient on Weight Watchers lost just over 11 pounds. That's a lot of work for an average weight loss of less than one pound per month.
- Stop counting calories and listen to the cues of your body. If the food grows naturally, eat all you want. If it does not, ask yourself if it's truly what you want. You may enjoy an indulgence, but eat slowly and deliberately.
- If you insist on tracking your food, switch to monitoring your fiber intake. Healthy foods are high in fiber, like legumes and bran. A goal of 25–30 grams of fiber a day will help you achieve your desired weight.
- Listen to your body. Thirst often mimics hunger. Stay well hydrated and eat only when you are hungry.
- Journal your feelings, not your food. When you obsess about food, it can be a tool to distract yourself from problems in your life.