There are no inherently good or bad foods. The key to balanced nutrition and weight control is learning to listen to what your body needs. I mean this is in terms of calorie intake. But I also mean being tuned in to your natural sense of fullness. And I mean doing your best to take part in aerobic activity each week. The earlier you pick up these skills, the better.
Dieting can be very damaging to women. There is a clear link between repeat dieting and developing an eating disorder. Most diets combine severe calorie cuts with increased exercise. Cutting calories can slow metabolism. Over time, this can lead to starvation. And that can trigger spikes of ravenous hunger and result in binge eating.
If you struggle with obesity but not with an eating disorder, start with a registered dietitian. They can review growth charts and your medical history to help determine a healthy body weight for you. A realistic diet plan should not result in hunger. And, it should always be balanced by moderate exercise. Avoid focusing on numbers. Rather, pay attention to an overall healthy lifestyle. Get into an exercise routine. Set manageable meal goals. And build positive self-esteem.
- What does the current research on nutrition and health tell us?
- What role do food fads play in healthy nutrition?
- Do differences in metabolism, body weight, community expectations or culturally specific diets exist across various cultures?
- Are there any “fast foods” that pass the muster of good nutrition?
- Forget about counting calories, just eat healthy & right
- Counting Calories Helped Me Lose Weight—But Then I Developed an Eating Disorder
- How to count and calculate calorie intake
- Calorie counting made easy
- Meeting your calorie target
- 8 Simple Ways to Make Calorie-Counting Easy
- Does Counting Calories Really Work?
- How to Count Calories: 4 Crucial Tips
- My Favorite Meal Planning Resources
- Calorie checker – Healthy weight
- Calorie counting in practice
- Quit Counting Calories
- Why You Should Stop Counting Calories
- WHY I STOPPED COUNTING CALORIES!
What does the current research on nutrition and health tell us?
Eating disorder research is in its infancy compared to other areas of medicine. We know that those with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder have different brain chemistry than people without them. We also know that there are both genetic and environmental factors that trigger eating disorders.
Perhaps most fascinating has been research that shows that anorexia and bulimia are almost exclusively culture-bound syndromes. They pretty much only exist in “westernized” or European societies. For example, anorexia rates are rising in the United States. They may be as high as 3 percent in some populations. But in Southeast Asia, the rates are well below 0.01 percent.
I also think recent research on the Mediterranean diet is quite exciting. Since it does not reduce calories, many Americans don’t even think of it as a “diet.” But several high-quality studies have shown that this diet has positive impacts on heart health and blood sugar. Less established are potential preventive impacts on Alzheimer’s, but the data so far is quite encouraging.
This diet is instead based on whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds and olive oil. It promotes eating fat that is vegetable-based and monounsaturated. That means fish is consumed regularly. Dairy is eaten moderately. And red meat and sugars are eaten very sparingly. The Mediterranean diet does not forbid any foods. Rather, it focuses on moderation. It also links to larger cultural and lifestyle changes. It is not something that is done briefly and intensely to lose weight. And, as such, it does not carry the risks of most “American” diets.
What role do food fads play in healthy nutrition?
At best, food fads cost a lot and have no proven health benefits. At worst, they can be dangerous.
Juicing is a fad that has come and gone over the years. Proponents argue that juicing is a great way to eat more fruits and vegetables. They claim that breaking down cellular walls prior to eating produce improves your ability to absorb nutrients. But really, that fiber is crucial to maintaining stable blood sugar levels, fullness and healthy gut function. Juices are also really high in sugar. In the 1950s, a juice glass held about 3 to 4 ounces of juice. Now 16-ounce bottles of juice contain more sugar than most soft drinks.
Celiac disease is quite real. And it can be devastating. But for someone who does not have this disease, there are no proven health benefits to restricting gluten. What it does do is result in food restriction. And that can lead to eating disorder behavior.
Weight loss supplements are even more dangerous. It is worth noting that there are tons of ads for them in women’s magazines. And they are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. I have seen panic attacks, atrial fibrillation, nausea and paranoia in patients who have paired these medications with a starvation diet.
Do differences in metabolism, body weight, community expectations or culturally specific diets exist across various cultures?
No significant metabolic differences exist between cultural or ethnic groups that explain differing obesity rates. But other factors do have an impact.
Data suggests that when someone moves to the United States, their risk for obesity skyrockets within the first year. I have a friend who came here from Peru when he was about 15 years old. He remembers being amazed by all of the food here. He was stunned by how fast food costs so little. And he couldn’t believe how delicious and calorie-dense it was. He became obese and developed high blood pressure within three years. The risk of developing a serious eating disorder for adults who immigrate to the United States remains low. But as kids are raised in American culture, their risk will quickly approach that of the general population.
African Americans are also affected by huge economic and social disparities. These sadly persist and greatly contribute to obesity among that population. Unemployment, incarceration and education rates for African Americans are greatly disadvantaged compared to age adjusted white individuals. It is difficult to imagine prioritizing diet and exercise if your family does not have the luxury of safety or steady jobs.
Are there any “fast foods” that pass the muster of good nutrition?
Any food can be weaved into a diet that gives good nutrition. The key is moderation and balance. Eating cookies and corn dogs at the State Fair is not going to hurt you. That is, it won’t as long as you do not eat like that all the time.
Processed and fast food is has been constructed in a lab to chemically overwhelm your brain and taste buds. That’s where the danger lies. It has been engineered to give you a huge dopamine surge. And that’s why we tend to overeat these foods. Your brain truly gets used to needing more to stay satisfied.
A version of this article first appeared in MetroDoctors.
Still, others in the ED community have given the filmmakers their support, arguing that To the Bone stands to do more good than harm by simply existing in the world. Kristina Saffran, co-founder of eating-disorder support charity Project Heal (which has partnered with the filmmakers to help “guide them on how to have this conversation in a responsible way”) says it would probably have been impossible to make a realistic movie that wasn’t triggering to people with eating disorders, because “when you’re dealing with an eating disorder, literally everything is triggering.” While Project Heal has said they do not support Collins’s weight loss — and their involvement with the film took place after the fact — Saffran suggests we should “take word” that she is in a better place after the shoot and that it was actually therapeutic for her to go through this process.
Even if Collins hadn’t lost weight for the part (and some of the film’s more harrowing visuals were the result of prosthetics), eating-disorder therapist Carolyn Costin — who moderated a panel on the film alongside Collins and Noxon, in partnership with Project Heal — thinks that critics would have found fault with the film’s method no matter what. “I think you have to take the basic understanding that you can’t have a film about a troubling topic without troubling some people,” says Costin. In her view, the absence of realistic representations of eating disorders onscreen means that any attempt to do so faces a disproportionate amount of scrutiny.
“I’ve been racking my brain, what would be the alternative?” Costin asks. “If you’re going to make a realistic movie, I don’t have an alternative. if you took an actress who wanted to portray someone with anorexia and they tried to lose weight, you could risk that person getting an eating disorder. And if you took someone to play Marti’s character and you kept them at a normal weight, I think you’d be accused of glamorizing the eating disorder because nobody would see anything bad.”
Some of this comes down to the different schools of thought on whether you can ever be fully recovered from an eating disorder, which Costin believes is possible. “ the philosophy comes from is more like a chemical dependency where people would say ‘you can never have a drink because your chemistry is different,’ and that’s not been proven in eating disorders,” she says. “People do this all the time, lose weight, gain weight, smoke, put themselves in compromising positions, yet there’s something about the eating-disorder field where people get very upset about it,” she says. (In an op-ed, Costin said she too was “was concerned and unsettled upon hearing the leading actress had suffered from anorexia in the past yet lost weight to play the part.” Still, she adds, “the important thing” is that Lily has recovered and did not relapse.)
Lost amid all the consternation over eating-disorder pathology and triggering imagery is the question of what it means for an actress like Lily Collins — or a filmmaker like Marti Noxon — to revisit her own traumas onscreen. Plenty of art has been born out of individual suffering, and it’s clear from Collins’s memoir that she sees being an advocate and an actress as two sides of the same coin. Her weight loss was, in its way, an attempt to access some sort of autobiographical truth — even if doing so threatened to put her back in the path of the same dangers she sought to communicate.
“My experience helped me be able to tell Ellen’s story in a true and genuine way, which benefited not only the character but also myself,” Collins told the Cut via email. “If I didn’t feel I was ready to take on this role, I wouldn’t have. But I knew in my gut it was for a greater purpose than just my own healing.” She continued:
In preparing for the role I wanted to pay tribute to the suffering 16-year-old girl I once was and portray a young woman in her situation as best I could, tapping into the mind-set but also keeping a fine distance for the woman I’ve since become. I chose to help tell this story, one woman’s story in search of recovery. Every single person’s journey is different. As was mine.
In her book, she writes about how taking the role was by no means an easy choice, about the fear that she wouldn’t be able to separate herself from the role or resist old triggers, as well as her struggles post-shoot, filming Okja in South Korea, where isolation from friends and family and a lack of familiarity with the food presented potential triggers for relapse. And she writes about how, ultimately, she took the part — along with all the risks it entailed — because she felt it was a creative and ethical obligation to bring her story to a wider audience.
“I remember driving home the night we wrapped filming on To the Bone and passing my high school where many of my insecurities, relationship problems, and eating issues had begun,” she writes. “I looked out the window and smiled. Little did I know that the troubled Lily back then was going through it all for a greater purpose. To one day share her story as part of a much larger one. To have her voice join the voices of so many other young women. It’s a weight off my shoulders, a self-inflicted burden relinquished.”
Photo: Eduardo Barraza/Corbis
A recent story in The Atlantic argued that calories aren’t a useful metric for weight loss: They’re calculated in flawed ways, and there are differences in how individual bodies digest and metabolize them. Some researchers think dieters would be better served by focusing on nutrient density or some kind of as-yet-undetermined satiety value. These are great scientific arguments, but the psychological case against calories is also worth considering.
People can and do lose weight with calorie-counting, and some swear by the system. But is it not unbelievably time-consuming and soul-sucking?
The existence of a calorie-counter is often defined by an obsessive focus on how to “spend” one’s daily allotment. In this reductive schema, Skinny Vanilla Lattes, Diet Coke, and fat-free yogurt are all arguably smart choices because they help maximize the amount of food you can eat without going over your limit. This mentality is problematic, to say the least.
So-called “diet” foods, often low-fat and artificially sweetened, not only don’t help you feel full, they can make you even more hungry. (In the case of fake sugar, when your brain doesn’t actually get the sugar calories it thinks it’s getting, it seeks them out.) Plus, they taste like garbage. But isn’t bad-tasting food and a growling stomach the price you must pay in order to lose five, ten, or 100 pounds?
Not really. Although calorie math gives the illusion that you can exert some control over your body by tallying (and, of course, limiting) what goes into it, the evidence says you can’t. Calorie counts aren’t as exact as we’re led to believe, and they don’t take into account gut microbes, which experts increasingly think play an important role in our digestion and, ultimately, our weight. The margin of error is so big that people can literally do everything by the book and still not slim down, as the Atlantic piece points out. Cue frustration and possibly more restriction that could veer toward unhealthy levels.
And for what? Experts agree that dieting doesn’t work in the long run. Sure, you’re likely to lose some weight at the outset, but most people won’t keep up a strict plan forever. And no wonder, since the concept of a calorie-counting diet is a killjoy: You must deny yourself the things you want in order to be “good.” If you do eat something pleasurable, you must do penance the rest of the day. And if you go over your calorie count, you were “bad” — and your handy tracking app has a record of every time you failed.
Deep down, we know what we should eat, namely a mix of nutrient-dense foods like lean meats, seafood, fruits and vegetables, beans and peas, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and dairy. That’s not to say that high-calorie processed foods like Doritos and triple-fudge-chunk ice cream are off the table — on the contrary, research suggests that when foods are considered forbidden, we have stronger cravings and eat more of them when given the opportunity.
The idea that no food is off limits is a hallmark of intuitive or mindful eating, a practice that also advises people to eat when they’re legitimately hungry and stop eating when they’re full. Intuitive eating might sound like hippie anarchy (after all, we do have an obesity epidemic in this country, not to mention structural impediments to people of all classes eating healthily), but it could be a huge relief to erstwhile calorie-counters who look at food and only see numbers.
Time previously spent tracking and worrying about calories could be better used shopping for and cooking or prepping food, or finding out which vegetables you like and how to cook ones you’re only lukewarm about. Learning portion sizes would be helpful, too, but not because of caloric content. Intuitive eating means consuming things that genuinely make your mind and body feel good; happy and satisfied but far short of a food coma. This approach can help people lose weight and keep it off longer than traditional dieters.
Forget about counting calories, just eat healthy & right
By Saliha Nasline
Twenty-two-year-old Reena was 5’3“ tall and weighed 70 kg. The size-zero obsession caught on with her and she wanted to lose weight, fast. She surfed the Internet and got started on a low-calorie diet programme.First, she avoided any food that was over 200 calories.Next, she refused to eat anything more than 700 calories in a day .
In a year, her weight went down to 39 kg and her energy levels hit extreme lows. Sensing something was amiss, her distraught mother one day forcibly took her to the OPD of a hospital. It took two hours of talking to make Reena understand the importance of eating right. After two years of balanced eating and many sessions of counselling with a psychologist, Reena is now at a healthy weight of 54 kg.
Reena is just one of the many cases of those with calorie obsession. Many of us think that our body is a battlefield that involves a war between how many calories go in and how many go out. It’s a belief–a wrong one at that–nowadays that if you reduce the amount of calories consumed or increase the calories burned, you will lose weight. This alone rarely works for people. Your body is not an object that works based on this simple calorie equation. If you stick to this, you may be giving nutrition a miss.
According to Dr Suneetha BS, a nutritionist at online doctor consultation platform iCliniq, “calories are units of energy and come from the food you eat. By knowing how many calories are in the food you consume, you can create a balance between the energy you take in and the energy you use. This, in turn will help you maintain a healthy weight“.
Foods that can help in calories & foods for weight loss (Image: BCCL)
“Food nutrients provide the body with the energy or fuel it needs to stay alive, to move, and to grow. This energy is responsible for our heart pumping, our lungs respiring and our body being warm. If you decide to really tip the scales by dramatically reducing the calorie intake, your body will go berserk,“ says Dr Smita Gautam, consultant homoeopath and yoga therapist at Health First, Vadodara.
Managing your food intake in the modern food environment is very tricky . In fact, calorie counting is only one way to tackle this problem, and is commonly used for weight loss.
“Counting calories can be a useful tool if you want to maintain a healthy weight, but it’s very important to understand that it’s just a measuring tool,“ says Suneetha.
According to her, “an average adult who does not exercise needs around 1,200 calories, and these are for the basic functions like movement, thinking and functioning of the organs. Extreme calorie obsession can result in consumption of calories in very low amounts, leading to eating disorders and a host of other major health problems“.
“So, count your calories, but don’t be obsessed with it,“ she says.
Calories are very important as vital processes require energy for proper functioning, says Kalpana Rangarajan, chief dietician at Vikram Hospital, Bengaluru.
Nowadays, many people, especially youngsters, are extremely obsessed with their daily calorie intake and how many calories each product has.
According to Gautam, calorie counting does work for fat loss but we always need to make sure we are properly nourishing our body . We could start counting calories and paying attention to the macronutrients and micronutrients in our food for a short period of time, if:
We have no clue about what we should be eating to fuel our body.
We don’t know how much we should be eating and our hunger cues are out of whack.
We primarily eat a lot of processed foods and rarely cook at home. We don’t know what ingredients are in our food.
We have body fat or lean mass to lose or gain One should not be obsessed with calories, if:
One has a history of an eating dis THINKSTOCK order (binge eating, emotional eating, anorexia, bulimia, etc)
One has a good understanding of nutrition and is in tune with one’s body-hunger signals
One eats a balanced diet consisting of lots of vegetables and fruits, moderate amounts of grains, lentils and beans, and some lean meats, healthy fats and treats
One tends to get anxious or obsessive-compulsive over health numbers and stats
However, it’s not good to be overly obsessed with calories. “There have been examples of people who get into a mode of extreme calorie counting. This can lead to eating disorders and nutritional deficiencies, which sometimes require psychological counselling,“ says Suneetha.
In fact, it’s good to watch what goes into your body , but be careful not to be overly concerned about it. As long as you make the right food choices, have control over the food portion sizes and indulge in regular moderate physical activity, you need not worry about the calorie count, Suneetha says.
Count the quality, not calories
Whether you lose weight or gain weight, it all depends on your food intake. “The quality of the food you consume is more important than the actual `number’ of calories contained in it. Nuts, whole grains, avocado, mango, banana, olive oil and eggs are some examples of foods that are high in calories but are healthy . So, choose your calories wisely ,“ says Suneetha.
On the other hand, if you think you are getting healthy by eating foods that have lesser calories, you may be wrong. “This is mostly true with processed foods. Biscuits and crackers that claim to be low-calorie and healthy are mostly just made of processed ingredients. You would be better off snacking on a handful of nuts instead. Also, stay away from widely-marketed `fat-free’ or `low-fat’ versions of food like low-fat yogurt, low-fat cheese or low-fat butter. You might end up eating more because you think it’s a healthier alternative, but in reality , the calorie difference between these foods and their full-fat versions may not be much. These low-fat foods may actually be stripped of some of their vital protein and other nutrient content,“ she says.
Rangarajan says, “Sometimes fewer calories are obtained from raw vegetables or cooked vegetables, without addition of fat. On the other hand, even though some foods are good if they provide more calories, that could result in weight gain.“
An obsession with calorie counting can lead to several psychological problems like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, orthorexia and over-exercise.
These can further lead to nutritional deficiencies that can present clinically with very poor energy levels, blood disorders, organ malfunction, etc, says Suneetha.
Opt for a healthy approach
Exercise helps to burn calories. If you take in more calories than your body burns, you may gain weight. Similarly , consuming lesser calories than you burn can help you lose weight.
“Some high-calorie foods can be healthy for your body , so choose your food wisely to have a healthy body which is free from nutritional deficiencies.Indulge in regular, moderate-intensity physical exercise. Before starting any exercise programme, consult your doctor to make sure the exercise suits you and to prevent injury ,“ says Suneetha.
Gautam is of the opinion that “intake of excessive food energy and sedentary lifestyle often lead to unwanted weight gain. It can also be hereditary .However, in some cases, it is caused by genes, endocrine disorders, some medication or psychiatric illness. Nowadays, stress also plays a vital role in causing obesity“. For the calorie-obsessed, a yogic approach will help in maintaining ideal weight and being healthy . Yogic asanas, however, are not practised for the sake of burning extra calories, but to develop total body awareness. Pranayama practice stimulates metabolism, which helps to burn excessive fat in the body , Gautam says.
Eating foods with high nutritive value, exercise and eating healthy meals frequently instead of skipping meals or eating big proteins should be the ideal approach to stay healthy , says Rangarajan.
As food plays a major role in reducing obesity , yoga recommends a `satvik’ diet. The ideal yoga diet is a vegetarian one, composed of pure, simple, natural and easily digestible foods that promote health and overall well-being. Raw vegetables, fruits and sprouts should be the main meals. Refined and processed food, fast food and non-vegetarian diet should be avoided or reduced as they help in weight gain, Gautam explains.
Counting Calories Helped Me Lose Weight—But Then I Developed an Eating Disorder
From left: author in high school; right after college; present Leslie Corona
I was obese for most of my life.
At 13 years old, I weighed 200 pounds. By the time I hit high school, that number was more like 230. By 21, I was fed up with being “the fat girl.”
When I set out to lose weight, I used a few different tools: I meal-prepped healthy food, exercised, and used a calorie-counting app to keep track of what I was really putting in my body. Still, I wasn’t militant about the process—I even recall eating half a jar of Nutella once and just shrugging it off.
Fast forward eight or nine months to college graduation, and I did it! I hit my goal weight of 145 pounds. I felt invincible, like I could do anything I set my mind to. I felt in control of my life—until I wasn’t.
Something had switched in my brain. I feared food. I was consuming 1,200 calories a day but was afraid to eat even the slightest bit more, because I was terrified of putting on pounds. But I didn’t know how to maintain the number on the scale. I only knew how to lose.
Eventually, I got down to 125 pounds, and while this was technically within a healthy BMI range for my height, trust me when I say that I looked sickly. (Plus, if you haven’t heard by now, BMI is a super flawed measurement of health.) My chest, hip, and shoulder bones were very prominent, my hair was brittle and falling out in clumps, and my period was irregular.
Yet, I ignored these warning signs because I was desperate to stay thin. During the day, I’d chew entire packs of sugar-free gum (which, of course, I also tracked) in an effort to avoid snacking, and ultimately, calories. Sometimes that’s all I ate. When I did eat, I’d have a bowl of broth for dinner, eat pickles or banana peppers, drink tons of diet soda—any near-zero calorie thing I could get my hands on to keep hunger at bay and stay within the calorie range dictated by my app. Ten calories for broth, five for a pickle, 20 for a few sticks of gum—all of this was tracked to fit neatly into my daily allotment. Some days, this added up to 200 calories…total.
This is also when I got a fitness tracker to be more “precise” about my calorie burn. I’d walk aimlessly for hours, sometimes reaching as many as 60,000 steps in a day. Then, I took up running because I realized it was a more efficient way of torching calories. Three miles turned into six, which turned into ten, then 14, then more. I’d run for hours at a time so I could track the exercise minutes on my app and watch the calculator “grant” me more calories so I could eat. When I fit into a size 0 dress, I felt like I was on top of the world, even if I was exhausted by all the upkeep.
I couldn’t maintain this unhealthy lifestyle, though. Eventually, I snapped and ended up binge eating everything in sight. That one instance turned into a pattern. I wouldn’t eat during the day to “make up for” my binging at night, because my according to my app, if I tracked 3,500 extra calories, then I’d gain a pound. Still, when I got home, I’d hoover down loaves of bread, polish off pints of ice cream, and demolish bags of granola in one sitting. I’d even eat spoonfuls of raw coconut sugar. My stomach felt like bursting, but I’d keep going.
When my now-husband and I moved in together, he was shocked by my ability to inhale more than 7,000 calories in less than two hours. (I tracked my extreme overconsumption too.) Once the initial shock wore off, though, he got to see just how deep my struggle with food went. The emotional toll this took on our relationship was profound. I’d cry endlessly to him about the “damage” I’d done to my body and how many calories I was “over” for the day. I was angry that I couldn’t be naturally thin and that I seemingly had to work so much harder than others to stay that way. I was angry that making healthy choices came easily to people like my husband. I thought he could never possibly understand my struggles. While he lovingly consoled me at all hours of the night, he also, understandably so, grew frustrated when I consistently refused to seek help. The truth was that I really believed I could fix this by myself.
The starving and binging cycle continued for two more years, and in my darkest moments, I would’ve done anything to make it stop. On top of all this, I’d never felt so alone. I was isolating myself to avoid food to the extent that during that time, I went to less than a handful of family parties and events with friends. It’s a pain to track foods without nutritional info and meals you don’t make yourself. I was also afraid I’d gorge myself with treats.
Then, I got engaged and hit rock bottom. I rapidly gained weight, and it felt like I had no control over my body. I’d wander my neighborhood, eating whenever I could. I’d buy chocolate bars, scarf them down, then roam over in a sugar-induced stupor to the next store to pick up cookies. My husband, fatigued by my binging episodes, was at his breaking point. He even threatened to call off our engagement if I didn’t get professional help, and I don’t blame him. I couldn’t plan a wedding in that state, and I refused to start our marriage this way, so I finally agreed.
I found a psychiatrist, and he officially diagnosed me with binge eating disorder and anxiety. He gave me a prescription for the latter but insisted I seek therapy, so I was referred to a practice that specialized in eating disorders. They required me to attend group and individual sessions weekly, which were incredibly time-consuming. (I’m fortunate that my job allowed me the space I needed to make my appointments.)
My therapist gave me homework too. There were worksheets and reading materials about intuitive eating and mindfulness, and every day I had to write what I ate and how I felt on paper—not through calorie counting apps. My therapist said to delete those because they forced me to stop listening to my body. I ignored intense hunger when I saw my daily caloric allotment dwindling. I over-exercised, even when I was exhausted. When I craved interaction, I still refused social engagements, especially the ones centered around food, if it didn’t fit into my calorie intake. The apps took over my life, but therapy helped me reclaim it. Permanently deleting the apps meant I had to finally give my body what it needed, when it needed it.
It took about a year before things started to improve, but eventually, I stopped counting calories and put the scale somewhere out of sight. Now, long-distance running is no longer a punishment, but rather a new form of therapy. Now, I fuel my body instead of depriving it. You can’t run marathons on an empty stomach.
While my doctor says I’m physically healthier now than I’ve ever been before, I still feel the emotional ramifications of all my broken relationships: My circle of friends is noticeably smaller, but I’m grateful for the ones who remain. They understood my absence was never about them. My relationship with my now husband is in a much better place too. There’s more joy and laughter, and we can finally go to restaurants without me panicking. Plus, he sleeps through the night without one of my crying spells waking him up! There are still many days I struggle with food, and I continue to see a therapist.
I held off on sharing my experience for years because it always felt “too soon.” I still have a hard time believing everything I went through was real. And when I reflect on the whole ordeal, it’s hard for me to say I’m completely against calorie counting. After all, food journals are a tried-and-true method of losing weight, and I’m not sure I would’ve lost the weight initially without some kind of system to track what I was ~really~ eating.
Still, I’ve realized that this habit with tracking every bite, every step, and every calorie burned is easier for some people to manage than others. For me, it became a dangerous obsession that turned into binge eating disorder. If I can offer any advice for someone else struggling with disordered eating behavior, it’s to be kind to yourself and ask for help. It’s something I wish I’d done sooner.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, NEDA’s toll-free, confidential helpline (800-931-2237) is here to help.
- By Leslie Corona
How to count and calculate calorie intake
How many calories should I consume each day?
As with so many things, it depends on your goals. If you’re trying to build muscle, you need to consume more calories than you’re burning, while fat loss requires the opposite.
A simple and effective way to calculate your calorie target is to multiply your weight in kilograms by 29 for fat loss or 40 for muscle gain. Therefore, a man who weighs 80kg should aim to consume 2,320 calories a day to lose weight and 3,200 calories a day to build muscle.
How should I divide my calories between the three macronutrients – protein, fat and carbohydrates?
Protein and carbohydrates contain four calories per gram, while fat contains nine calories per gram. As a rough daily guideline, aim to consume 2g of protein and 1g of fat per kilogram of your bodyweight, then fill the remainder of your calorie allocation with carbohydrates.
For an 80kg man who’s trying to lose weight, this would equate to roughly 160g of protein, 80g of fat and 240g of carbs per day. If he’s trying to build muscle, the protein and fat would stay the same, but the carbs would rise to 460g.
Does it matter what food sources these come from?
Your diet should be based on whole foods, mainly fresh meat, fish, nuts and vegetables, which are the foods that tend to be the most nutrient-rich. It’s also worth bearing in mind that you need to consume around 25-30g of fibre a day to maintain a healthy digestive system. You can do this through both your fat and carbohydrates – by adding fibre-rich foods such as nuts to your fat quota, and veggies such as broccoli and spinach to your carb intake.
Do I need to eat more or less of certain types of foods at different times of the day?
Not really, although if you’re hitting the gym you should try to eat a meal containing 20-40g of protein roughly 90 minutes before exercising. This will spend the next four to five hours being digested and released into your body, so you won’t need to worry about eating protein immediately after training in the ‘post-workout window’, as many people do. In fact, most of the studies that highlight the benefits of consuming protein after training were done on fasted trainees. For maximum benefits, you just need to consume another 20-40g of protein later in the day at a convenient time.
Is it better to eat three big meals a day or six small ones?
A lot of nutrition experts used to recommend eating every three hours to keep your metabolism high – which is how the concept of eating six small meals a day gained traction – but recent research suggests this is incorrect. As long as you’re hitting your daily macronutrient targets, how many meals you divide them between is entirely up to you.
Struggling to hit your daily calorie quota? Get back on track with these convenient snacks:
A 185g can of tuna provides 23g of lean protein and 100 calories.
A 50g serving of porridge oats will give you 30g of complex carbs and 190 calories.
A 50g portion of cashew nuts contains 22g of healthy fats and 290 calories.
Calorie counting made easy
Eat less, exercise more. If only it were that simple! As most dieters know, losing weight can be very challenging. As this report details, a range of influences can affect how people gain and lose weight. But a basic understanding of how to tip your energy balance in favor of weight loss is a good place to start.
Start by determining how many calories you should consume each day. To do so, you need to know how many calories you need to maintain your current weight. Doing this requires a few simple calculations.
First, multiply your current weight by 15 — that’s roughly the number of calories per pound of body weight needed to maintain your current weight if you are moderately active. Moderately active means getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day in the form of exercise (walking at a brisk pace, climbing stairs, or active gardening). Let’s say you’re a woman who is 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs 155 pounds, and you need to lose about 15 pounds to put you in a healthy weight range. If you multiply 155 by 15, you will get 2,325, which is the number of calories per day that you need in order to maintain your current weight (weight-maintenance calories). To lose weight, you will need to get below that total.
For example, to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week — a rate that experts consider safe — your food consumption should provide 500 to 1,000 calories less than your total weight-maintenance calories. If you need 2,325 calories a day to maintain your current weight, reduce your daily calories to between 1,325 and 1,825. If you are sedentary, you will also need to build more activity into your day. In order to lose at least a pound a week, try to do at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days, and reduce your daily calorie intake by at least 500 calories. However, calorie intake should not fall below 1,200 a day in women or 1,500 a day in men, except under the supervision of a health professional. Eating too few calories can endanger your health by depriving you of needed nutrients.
Meeting your calorie target
How can you meet your daily calorie target? One approach is to add up the number of calories per serving of all the foods that you eat, and then plan your menus accordingly. You can buy books that list calories per serving for many foods. In addition, the nutrition labels on all packaged foods and beverages provide calories per serving information. Make a point of reading the labels of the foods and drinks you use, noting the number of calories and the serving sizes. Many recipes published in cookbooks, newspapers, and magazines provide similar information.
If you hate counting calories, a different approach is to restrict how much and how often you eat, and to eat meals that are low in calories. Dietary guidelines issued by the American Heart Association stress common sense in choosing your foods rather than focusing strictly on numbers, such as total calories or calories from fat. Whichever method you choose, research shows that a regular eating schedule — with meals and snacks planned for certain times each day — makes for the most successful approach. The same applies after you have lost weight and want to keep it off. Sticking with an eating schedule increases your chance of maintaining your new weight.
Some people focus on reducing the fat in their eating plan because, at 9 calories per gram, fat by weight contains more than twice as many calories as carbohydrates or proteins (4 calories per gram). By substituting lean cuts of meat for fatty ones, avoiding high-fat packaged foods and snacks, and refraining from fat-rich products such as butter and partially hydrogenated fats, you can cut out dozens or even hundreds of calories per day. On the other hand, many people mistakenly think that cutting fat always means cutting calories. Some fat-free foods actually contain more calories than the regular versions because manufacturers use extra sugar to make up for the flavor lost in removing the fat. Moreover, low-fat or nonfat foods are not low-calorie if you consume them in large quantities.
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
8 Simple Ways to Make Calorie-Counting Easy
For many, keeping a food diary and tracking calorie intake is an effective strategy for successful weight loss. Paying closer attention to both the quantity and quality of what you’re eating can increase accountability and help you to gain a better understanding of your diet and how it’s affecting your goals.
Of course, just because it’s a practical and useful tool doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Keeping tabs on every single thing you eat can become tedious and bothersome, especially because keeping a food diary is a habit that takes time to build, and like with any other worthwhile weight loss method, results won’t come right away.
There are, however, simple ways to make your calorie-counting efforts a little less mind-numbing and a lot more efficient.
Below Elle Penner MPH, RD, Registered Dietitian and Food & Nutrition Editor at MyFitnessPal and a member of the California Dietetics Association and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics shares her expert tips for easy and successful calorie-counting.
1. Don’t focus on calories too much.
Penner says the number one mistake that people make when using calorie-counting for weight loss is getting stuck in the “calorie is a calorie” mindset.
“ too much on calories as a number and not enough on the composition and quality of those calories,” she said. “1,500 calories of empty calories, like refined carbohydrates and added sugar, will leave someone feeling vastly different—and likely much worse—than 1,500 calories of fiber-filled carbohydrates, high quality protein, heart-healthy fats, and vitamin and mineral-rich fruits and veggies.”
How can you make sure to avoid this common mistake? Penner suggests paying close attention to the foods you eat by always thinking about what types of nutrients they’re made up of.
“ every calorie count by getting the majority of your calories from nutrient-rich foods,” she said.
2. Start small.
“Commit to tracking only what you know you can achieve,” Penner says. “In the beginning, this may be as little as one meal every day for a week, or three complete days out of seven. This will begin to develop the habit without making it feel overly burdensome at the start.”
3. Find a friend.
Penner says that enlisting a friend who will count their calories along with you will provide a support network to help keep you accountable to your goals. “MyFitnessPal users with friends within the app lose twice as much weight as those who join solo,” she says.
4. Use a digital tracking tool.
“The biggest challenge associated with calorie-counting is that it can be tedious and requires a fair amount of attention to detail, self-discipline, accountability, and consistency,” says Penner
She explained that using an app like MyFitnessPal will help take away the tediousness of calorie-counting by making the nutritional information of virtually any food available at your fingertips.
5. Track what you eat, when you eat.
“Taking a minute or two to log your breakfast just before or after you eat it will makes it feel less burdensome and seriously cuts down on the chance you’ll miscalculate what or how much you ate,” Penner says.
6. Stick with it.
“When it comes to diet, we tend to be creatures of habit—that is, we typically eat the same foods over and over again,” says Penner. She continued on to explain that digital calorie-counting apps like MyFitnessPal use this to your advantage because it will save lists of your most recent and frequent foods.
7. Pay attention to the bigger picture.
“I definitely think looking at nutrition intake as a whole, rather than just calories consumed, is the key to learning what makes something a healthier choice,” says Penner. “A food diary can shed lots of insight on what you are and aren’t getting from the foods you eat. By learning from this it’s possible to make small adjustments along the way that, over time, can make a big impact.”
8. Keep up the good work.
Make sure not to fall back on old, unhealthy eating habits once you’ve reached your goal.
“It’s important to realize that weight maintenance takes work, too,” says Penner. “It’s all about sustaining those healthy eating habits and looking at food primarily as fuel and nourishment for the body.”
She suggests continuing to track your food and exercise even after you’ve reached your goal weight.
“ can be a simple and beneficial habit to stick with simply because it continues to bring mindfulness and accountability to eating. For those who do continue to track, they should be sure to adjust their nutrition goals–and enjoy the bump in calories,” she says.
Learning how to count calories is an essential skill for anyone who wants to lose weight—and keep it off! Don’t worry, It’s not as boring as it seems. Learn how calorie counting works and enjoy all the benefits of this free, simple-to-use system.
Calorie counting works…plain and simple. From my experience, counting calories is the best way to lose weight. It’s how I personally lost weight and I feel it is the easiest, least painful and most natural way for a busy mom to fit healthy eating into her routine.
Not to mention it’s free! There’s no monthly membership for counting calories.
Does Counting Calories Really Work?
Regardless of what the diet industry wants us to believe, losing weight comes down to one basic formula: you must consume fewer calories than you burn in a day. This is also called a calorie deficit.
To do this you need to either: eat less, work out more or, for maximum effect, do both. While the ultimate goal is to integrate healthy eating and exercise into your lifestyle, baby steps are important.
You’ll get the biggest bang for your buck by focusing on food and getting your calories under control.
My first 30lbs lost were the result of simply counting calories. No fancy foods, no expensive shakes, no gym memberships. All I did was learn how to count calories.
Many people think calorie counting is tedious but I found it was quite empowering to get control back over my food this way. It wasn’t until I started taking a good look at the food I was eating that I realize I was in total control of my weight.
In short, learning how to count calories was the moment my life completely changed. I know that sounds dramatic but it’s true.
If you’re struggling to lose weight, and don’t know where to start, then I highly recommend starting with counting calories. You’ll be surprised how paying attention to the food you eat makes all the difference.
How to Count Calories: 4 Crucial Tips
Here are 4 tips that will teach you how to count calories.
#1 Determine your daily caloric intake for weight loss.
The magic number that we have always heard when it comes to daily caloric intake is 2000. Nearly every food label states “This is recommended as part of a 2000 calorie diet.”
The problem with that is everyone is different and that may or may not be the caloric intake number you need to start losing weight. To determine the number of calories you can consume and still lose weight, use an online tool such as My Fitness Pal. There are many free weight loss tools available on the internet but this is the one I use.
Once you sign up, you enter your weight, height, age, activity level, target weight, and other information. This is all funneled into a tool that will calculate the amount of calories you should be eating every day to help meet your weight loss goals.
Then, to lose weight, you to stay as close to that number as possible on a daily basis. There are no shortcuts in weight loss sadly. But stay the course, learn how to count calories, and you’ll start seeing results!
#2 Keep a food journal.
After you determine how many calories you should consume daily to reach your target weight, but before you actually jump into counting calories, you need to determine the number of calories you have been consuming on a daily basis.
This is a very important step. I call this a food overhaul. For me, this was a sobering experience. I discovered that I was eating close to 3000 calories a day! 500 of those calories came from coffee drinks alone. Yikes.
Before starting your calorie-counting crusade take a day or two and eat as you normally would but, this time, track everything. Be completely honest with yourself too. That pack of Doritos you found leftover in your desk drawer and then ate immediately counts as calories. Don’t pretend you didn’t eat them!
Remember when I talked about the mom moments that made me fat? Those moments were filled with mindless calories I did not account for.
Choose the Food Journal That Works for You
You can use pen and paper
, online calorie trackers, or download a calorie tracker to your smartphone. Again, I strongly recommend My Fitness Pal. It’s free and super easy to use.
However, use the weight loss tool that fits into your life and works easiest for you. I just like My Fitness Pal because it is SO simple. The nutritional information for numerous foods can be found right in My Fitness Pal.
If you don’t have a smartphone or do not have regular computer access purchase a calorie counter book
At the end of the day, look over the food you consumed and see where the calories are coming from. This way, when you start creating a plan, you know where you need to make changes.
As you start making changes and creating a plan for yourself, keep journaling. Your food journal will become your most important tool because it holds you accountable and keeps you on track throughout the day.
#3 Dust off the measuring spoons and cups and purchase a food scale.
Before I started counting calories, I only used my measuring utensils for baking or if I was attempting a new recipe. I did not even own a food scale.
Now, I use them both to ensure that I am always eating or drinking accurate portions. It’s so easy for calories to get out of control when you don’t know the amount you are eating!
For example, a serving of cereal is 1 cup and about 200 calories depending on the brand. If you just dump it into your bowl straight from the box you can easily consume 2-3 servings without even thinking, bringing you up to 600 calories. Eeek!
Measuring and weighing your food let’s you have control over the calories you are putting into your body. Some may think this is tedious and too time consuming but once you work it into your daily routine, it just becomes a habit that does the body good!
It will be so much easier to stick to your daily calories if you plan and prepare all your meals ahead of time. You can do this through menu planning, meal prep, and freezer cooking. Make healthy food easy to obtain in your house.
I know this is easier said than done so here are some resources to get you started with meal planning and plan, along with some services that I find helpful in keeping both manageable.
My Favorite Meal Planning Resources
Plan to Eat
This is one of my favorite meal planning resources. Plan to Eat is a website where you can organize all of your recipes, easily create meal plans using their drag and drop calendar, and quickly generate grocery lists.
Also, Plan to Eat let’s you keep track of the calories with your meals which makes it so much easier to put together a custom weight loss meal plan. All you need to do is add the nutritional information into the recipe if it’s not already there.
Plan to Eat can shave off hours from your meal planning routine. You can sign up for a 30-day free trial to see if it would work for you.
If you’re trying to eat healthier but struggling to find recipes or put a weekly meal plan together then I highly recommend checking out Emeals. This meal planning service will send you a meal plan to your email each week. You can also access the meal plans on their website and app.
Emeals offers all kinds of meal plans for every eating style. Their meal plans range from Paleo to Clean Eating to Low-Carb to Low-calorie and everything in-between. The recipes include the nutritional information so this takes the guesswork out of it.
Emeals offers a 14-day free trial so you can try out the meal plans before signing up.
Meal Delivery Kit Services
If you don’t know where to start with meal planning and hate to grocery shop then maybe a meal kit delivery service would be a good option for you. All of them work the same in that they create a weekly menu of recipes, you choose the recipe you want, and then they send you a box with all the recipes and ingredients.
Again, all of the nutritional information is included so there’s no guesswork. I reviewed a few meal kit delivery services so you can get a better idea if one would work for you:
- Hello Fresh Review
- Sun Basket Review
- Green Chef Review
- Home Chef Review
- Dinnerly Review
More Meal Prep Resources
Check out this meal prep resource page I put together with all my best posts to get you started with preparing meals ahead of time.
You can also sign-up for my free 7-day Getting Started with Meal Prep Email Series. This series walks you through the entire meal prep process.
The good thing with counting calories is there are no special foods, shakes, or weird recipes. You can eat what you want as long as you stay within your calories.
Choose to Nourish Your Body While Counting Calories
Keep in mind however, becoming healthy is more than just losing weight, the quality of the food going into your body is just as important. You want your body to be nourished.
Choose foods and recipes that are low in calories and also nutrient-dense. All of the recipes on Organize Yourself Skinny include nutritional information. Also, I get a lot of my recipes from Cooking Light and Weight Watchers cookbooks and they all include the nutritional information too.
I know many people just starting with counting calories struggle with figuring out the calories for dinners they’re making. In this instance, I recommend using the recipe builder in My Fitness Pal. You’d add all the ingredients ahead of time and then it will calculate the calories and other nutritional information. From there that recipe is saved so you only need to do it once. You can add it into your food diary at any time.
I really believe in the simple, yet powerful, habit of counting calories. It may not be fun or sexy, as some fad diets out there, but it works.
Counting calories brings a strong sense of personal responsibility to one’s own eating. There’s no diet to blame when a person counting calories fails to lose weight. The awareness that comes with knowing exactly how many calories are in our foods is empowering.
Success with counting calories also brings with it a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. Just think, how good would you feel knowing that you were the one solely responsible for your own weight loss?
I hope you find these steps helpful as you learn how to count calories – you’ve got this! 🙂
Get Instant Access to the 7-Day Getting Started With Meal Prep Email Series
Are you ready to learn how to meal prep? Awesome! Sign up now for a free 7-day Getting Started Meal Prep email series that I created exclusively for email subscribers! That’s you. I will teach you my favorite meal prep methods and provide lots of delicious easy recipes to get you started with weekly meal prep. You got this, I can help!
Do you have any idea how many calories you actually eat and drink? Many of us think we do, but truth is we’re pretty bad at estimating calorie intake correctly. The average recreational female cyclist burns between 2,000 and 2,400 calories a day, while their male counterparts burn between 2,200 and 2,700; some might meticulously plan their bike snacks and recovery meals to fuel their rides and replace calories burned, but don’t necessarily think as hard about lunches on-the-go and early morning mochas.
If you’re struggling with a few extra pounds—and really even if you’re not—it’s worth taking a day or two to read labels (or use one of the many calorie counting apps like MyFitnessPal) and adding them all up. “Calorie counting can be a great, objective way to monitor what you’re eating,” says Leslie Bonci, owner of Active Eating Advice and co-author of Bike Your Butt Off. Beyond that, it can also teach you a thing or two about the content and quality of your diet and how your calorie choices affect you, such as…
Portion sizes. Oh, you think you know. But you really don’t know what a serving size of cereal looks like until you portion out a three-quarter cup and eye the small heap at the bottom of your bowl. Along these lines, go ahead and try to eat just one serving of cereal, pasta, bread, or equivalent food during your experiment. You just might be surprised that you’re satisfied with one serving, instead of two—or three. “We’re visually used to a lot of food at this point because portions are so distorted,” says Bonci. “But honestly, most people are satisfied—i.e. not hungry—with less than they’ve become accustomed to eating.” Each macronutrient packs different numbers of calories per gram, so some high-fat foods might look tiny on your plate—but don’t underestimate their power to satiate.
More calories does not always equal more satisfaction. That Bountiful Blueberry Muffin from Starbucks? It delivers 350 calories, and will leave you hungry again 10 minutes after you eat it—if you’re ever satisfied at all. “When you start counting calories—and paying attention to your hunger and satisfaction along the way—you really get to understand the term ‘empty calories,’” Bonci says. “You can literally see the ones that don’t seem to do anything to fill you up, but can absolutely fill you out!”
RELATED: 7 Surefire Ways to Burn More Calories While Cycling
Likewise, fewer calories can often fill you up. One cup of chopped broccoli delivers 30—yes, just 30—calories. That means you can make it rain broccoli crowns all over your dinner plate without putting a dent in your daily diet. And those cruciferous crowns will fill you up, because they’re rich in fiber. “If you are a volume eater, who likes to see a lot of food on their plate, look for these types of foods that you can eat big portions of for fewer calories,” Bonci says. Just remember that fiber-fueling doesn’t lead to lasting satisfaction—put portions of protein and fat on your plate to make a real meal of things.
Holy Schamoly those beers add up. Research shows that we get an average of 16 percent of our daily calories from booze. Once you actually start adding up your empties—at about 150 calories a pop for beer—it’s easy to see how. “That six-pack may go down easily on a Saturday, but it may also fill you out, without making you feel full for any extended period of time,” Bonci says.
RELATED: Get Smart with Our Calorie Burn Calculator for Cyclists
Many of us famine—then feast. Keep track of how your calories are distributed. “Ideally, you’d like to see your calories fairly evenly distributed over the course of the day,” Bonci says. “But way too many people under-consume most of the day and then shovel them all in at the end!” Instead, look at where you tend to concentrate your calories, track your hunger and fullness, and then adjust accordingly to stay energized and satisfied from morning till night.
selene yeager “The Fit Chick” Selene Yeager is a top-selling professional health and fitness writer who lives what she writes as a NASM certified personal trainer, USA Cycling certified coach, pro licensed mountain bike racer, and All-American Ironman triathlete.
Calorie counting in practice
Here are some practical examples to show you how to work out the calorie content of your meals, snacks and drinks.
It’s easy to find the calorie content of a wide range of snacks. Use these examples to help.
Use an online calorie counter to find out the calorie content in fruits. The NHS website’s calorie checker says that a kids-sized (100g) banana weighed with skin contains 51kcal (213kJ).
Use food labels to find out the calorie content in any packaged foods. Look for the “per bar” or “per packet” figure. A 2-finger KitKat contains 106kcal (443kJ).
If scones, pastries and muffins come in a packet, use the food label. Some cafes and restaurants have calorie labelling in-store, on their menus or online.
If you’re grabbing lunch on the go, it’ll often consist of a number of packaged foods, perhaps accompanied by a piece of fruit.
For example, you might choose a sandwich, a bottle of orange juice and a banana.
Simply use food labels and an online calorie counter to find out the calorie content of each part of your lunch.
Tesco Healthy Living roast chicken salad sandwich: 294kcal (1,243kJ)
apple: 47kcal (196kJ)
Grand total = 341kcal (1,439kJ)
Buying food from your work canteen or a cafe can make it harder to work out calories.
Some cafes and restaurants have calorie labelling in-store, on their menus or online.
Cooking from scratch
When cooking from scratch, you can work out the total calories by adding up the calorie content of each ingredient.
You’ll need to use food labels, kitchen scales to weigh ingredients, and an online calorie counter.
Say you’re making spaghetti bolognese for 4 people. Use a non-stick pan so you only need to use a tablespoon of oil to fry the ingredients.
The bolognese sauce contains lean beef mince, onions, chopped tomatoes, carrots, vegetable stock, olive oil, and herbs and spices.
- 280g of dried wholewheat spaghetti: 975kcal (4,075kJ)
- 200g of lean beef mince: 342kcal (1,429kJ)
- 2 cans of 400g of chopped tomatoes: 192kcal (802kJ)
- 1 onion: 55kcal (230kJ)
- 2 carrots: 70kcal (292kJ)
- a tablespoon of olive oil: 119kcal (497kJ)
- vegetable stock, herbs and spices: the calorie content is almost zero and can be ignored
The total calorie content of this recipe is 975 + 342 + 192 + 55 + 70 + 119 = 1,753kcal (7,327kJ).
If you eat a quarter (1 serving), you’ll consume 1,753/4 = 438kcal (1,831kJ).
Quit Counting Calories
1. Give Yourself Ample Time to Eat
Why: People who say they eat quickly right up until they feel full are three times more likely to be overweight than those with slower dining habits, according to a 2008 study published in The British Medical Journal. In an irritating tribute to something your mother probably told you, researchers suspect that fast eaters don’t give the brain’s fullness signals time to kick in, which can take as long as 20 minutes after the first bite, according to research.
How to do it: Check the clock before you start eating, even if you’re having a meal on the go or while working at your desk (never an ideal way to eat, but often a necessary evil). Then stretch that meal out for at least 20 minutes. If you’re still hungry after finishing, take a 20-minute time-out (sip tea; relax; take your mind off eating). At the end of the time-out, check your hunger signals. Go back for seconds only if the signals are still strong. Other smart ideas: Be sure to sit down for meals―don’t stand or walk around―and take small bites, chewing each thoroughly. Researchers at Cornell University found that people who chew their food approximately 15 times, versus 12, tend to be thinner. That’s how much impact these subtle changes can have.
2. “Legalize” All Foods
Why: Be it cabbage soup or Atkins, a diet isn’t a diet if you aren’t cutting out certain foods. But research indicates that making your favorite flavors taboo only sets you up for trouble. “When you label a particular food as ‘bad,’ you’re automatically implying that it’s desirable,” says Geneen Roth, author of When Food Is Love: Exploring the Relationship Between Eating and Intimacy ($15, amazon.com). “You’ll instantly want it more, making it easy to break down and overindulge.” Also, new evidence shows that eating foods you like in moderation will give you an edge in maintaining, even losing, weight. Scientists at the University of Oregon monitored the activity of the pleasure centers in subjects’ brains as they dined. The researchers found that the less enjoyable the meal was, the more people overate to compensate. “We strongly associate food with pleasure and comfort, so when it’s not providing either, we often try to solve the problem by eating more,” says Denise Lamothe, Ph.D., a psychologist and the author of The Taming of the Chew: A Holistic Guide to Stopping Compulsive Eating ($15, amazon.com).
How to do it: Instead of focusing on do’s and don’ts, make all foods permissible. Incorporate flavors you love into each meal. Sure, it’s always best to seek out the healthiest version of dishes, but when absolutely nothing except, say, Grandma’s lasagna will do, don’t forbid yourself. Cut a reasonable portion (about the size of a deck of cards) and relish it.
3. Ditch Derailing Diet Habits
Why: Most weight-loss tricks―ranging from ways to blunt hunger signals (sipping on coffee or diet soda in lieu of eating) to satisfying cravings (with low-calorie or artificially sweetened foods)―backfire in the long run. Drinking coffee, for one, will temporarily stave off stomach rumblings, but you may feel jittery later on and then overeat. When it comes to downing diet soda regularly, study after study links this to weight gain. Why? “People know they are drinking something virtually calorie-free, so then they tend to indulge in food,” says Lawrence Cheskin, an internist and the director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, in Baltimore. Your body is also receiving a mixed message: It’s tasting sweetness but not getting full. “So your cravings intensify and you find yourself eating more food than ever,” says Cheskin.
Similarly, small-size versions of indulgences, like mini candy bars and single-serving snack packs, can also lead to overeating. Studies show that people lose track of how many minis they eat and wind up consuming more than a regular-size portion. Then there are the healthy-seeming packaged foods, like organic granola, that have an aura of health about them, so people consume more of them. But a wholesome-looking label does not mean you’re eating health food. Many granola varieties, for instance, contain a fair amount of sugar, fat, and calories.
How to do it: Sip on seltzer with lime or herbal tea in between meals―especially if you tend to eat out of boredom. This will keep your hands busy and your stomach satiated until your body is truly hungry. When noshing on mini-size snacks, first remove the amount you want to eat from the bag, then put the bag away. Or simply eat the regular-size portion, like one Snickers bar instead of six minis. And don’t let a product’s perceived health quality give you a license to eat more. When in doubt, study the nutrition label for sugar and fat content.
4. Understand Hunger
Why: A craving represents the body’s need for fuel or a specific nutrient. Evolutionarily speaking, you’re especially susceptible to―surprise!―foods with salt, sugar, or fat, because these substances helped people pack on needed pounds to survive food shortages. However, “there’s also the modern- day mental component to contend with,” says Elizabeth Somer, a nutritionist and the author of Food & Mood: The Complete Guide to Eating Well and Feeling Your Best ($19, amazon.com). “Just seeing a food you like can pull up positive associations and make you want it.” Additionally, if you’re used to eating something every day, you’ll want to keep doing so―not because your body needs the food, but because your mind has made a habit of it.
How to do it: Listen carefully to your body before digging in. True hunger manifests itself in stomach grumbling or feelings of sluggishness, often within three to four hours of your last meal. Consider when you ate last. Has a reasonable amount of time passed for hunger to return? Try drinking something first. Hunger and thirst are sometimes indistinguishable; a tall glass of water might be all it takes to satisfy you for a while.
5. Recognize Fullness
Why: Technically, you’re full when you’ve eaten enough to fill your stomach and given your body adequate fuel to run on for the next several hours. At that point, your stomach tells your brain it’s done, and your brain starts producing fullness hormones that make you intuitively know this. But fullness is a subtle concept. Mostly it involves a physical heaviness and a vague sense that you don’t want to eat any more. And it can be easy to ignore accidentally. In a Cornell University experiment, people eating soup from bowls being secretly refilled consumed 73 percent more than those eating from regular bowls. A good way to avoid overindulging is to get reacquainted with your hunger signs.
How to do it: Midway through your next meal, with half your food left on your plate, pause and place your hands on your belly. Close your eyes and ask yourself how full you feel on a scale of 1 to 10, with “just right” being six or seven on that scale, says Lamothe. Three should mean “Eat a little more,” and nine should signal “Have more and you’ll be uncomfortably full!” Over time, you’ll train yourself to stop automatically, no matter how much of a favorite the food is. Remember: You can always have more of something later, when you’re hungry again.
6. Plate Your Food Differently
Why: Sure, your body can trick itself into thinking it’s hungry when it’s not, but how you serve your food can influence how much you’ll eat. “If you switch from a 12½-inch plate to a 10½-inch one, you’ll eat 22 percent less―without feeling any hungrier or less satisfied,” says Brian Wansink, Ph.D., author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think ($25, amazon.com). Also be aware of how easy it is to space out during a meal: A 2007 Cornell University study found that restaurant customers eating chicken wings consumed significantly more if the bones were bused away as they piled up, essentially removing the evidence of how much the people had already polished off.
How to do it: Use the half-plate rule: Fill 50 percent of your dish with salad, vegetables, and fruit. These foods all have a lot of mass but little fat and calories. That way, you cut down on the amount of room left for more caloric foods, such as meats, pastas, or sweets.
7. Choose the Best Fuel
Why: Our bodies weren’t designed to eat something made in a lab,” says Somer. Whole and unprocessed foods are packed with vitamins and nutrients and are often lower in sugar and fat than packaged ones. What’s more, foods high in protein, fiber, or water can help satiate you faster and for longer. “The more time it takes your body to break a food down, the longer you’ll stay full,” says Cheskin. Meals high in protein make you feel up to 25 percent fuller and are more filling calorie for calorie. On the flip side, sugar and simple carbohydrates take practically no time to be absorbed.
How to do it: Make simple, whole foods your first picks when you have a craving. Go with dried fruit when you have a yen for something super-sweet, for example, or nuts for something savory. Choose protein-rich foods, like nonfat yogurt and lean meats, and load up on fiber-dense legumes and vegetables.
8. Check Your Mood
Why: Anyone who has ever soothed a broken heart with a pint―or two―of Ben & Jerry’s can probably attest to the fact that hunger isn’t the only thing that can make you hungry. Data from the University of North Carolina indicate that stress, loneliness, anxiety, anger, boredom, guilt, and sadness can all make people crave food when their bodies don’t physically need it. Research also shows that people eat more when they’re experiencing joy, excitement, or anticipation. The key to breaking these habits is how you deal with the eating slipups while they happen or right afterward, says Marsha Hudnall, a registered dietitian and the director of Green Mountain at Fox Run, a women’s health retreat in Ludlow, Vermont. Indeed, a 2007 study found that most people can stop an episode in its tracks by being aware of it and not beating themselves up for the slip.
How to do it: Create a list of coping mechanisms that don’t involve food―taking a walk, calling a friend, reading a book. Each time you’re tempted, act on the list. And if you’ve already leapt into a pizza binge before you looked, remind yourself that it happens to everyone, then turn to the list. And plan ahead: If you know you snack because of stress or nerves (staring down a deadline, say) or out of habit (watching a favorite show while crunching chips), make your need to nosh less damaging by having something healthier on hand. In time, you’ll wean yourself away from mindless munching when you realize you have no desire to devour cruditÃ©s with the same abandon.
9. Eat a Little, Often
Why: It bears repeating: People who skip breakfast are 4½ times more likely to be obese than others. In fact, studies overwhelmingly link any kind of meal skipping or irregular eating patterns to obesity.
How to do it: Eat something small and healthy every few hours, suggests Cheskin. Then you’ll never be so famished that you lose control at the sight of food, and mealtimes won’t feel like the last supper. Rest assured―you’ll eat again.
Why You Should Stop Counting Calories
WHY I STOPPED COUNTING CALORIES!
Ok my beautiful sistas, it’s time for a secret, Sezzy squad, honesty chat! I’m here to open up and let you in on my experiences, research and results with the infamous CALORIE COUNTING!!
Years ago when I began my ‘fitness journey’ I was consumed by the concept of tracking my macros and calorie counting. I viewed food as numbers and a breakdown of macronutrients. To me, it wasn’t a banana… it was a yellow piece of carbs and sugar. At this point in my life I neglected the importance of MICRONUTRIENTS and failed to acknowledge this ‘banana’ as fibre, potassium, vitamin A or energy for my daily activities. Like I said – in my mind ‘banana = sugar = fat = sad”.
I lived through my food tracking apps and feared eating out at cafes or restaurants because I couldn’t accurately weigh my foods or know what was in my meals. Food was CONSTANTLY on my mind and I felt guilty if I didn’t stick to my calorie/macronutrient goals. I was scared of fats due to their high calorie content, and I began snacking on low calorie ‘fit foods’ I found in the grocery store, AKA… chemicals (btw, SO many of these low cal protein bars and sodas are literally poison for the body and absolutely ruin your adrenals, cortisol levels, skin, hormone balance and nutrient absorption).
For a while I stuck to my strict calorie limit and trained extremely hard in the gym. I was exhausted every single day and honestly… it was a constant mind game to count my calories. This experience had taken the enjoyment out of food. Like… I couldn’t even eat an acai bowl because I saw that as a bowl of pure sugar that was going to make me gain weight (face pal, face palm, face palm!!).
(*side not – I now make a homemade acai bowl that I consider a delicious bowl of anti-aging, antioxidant goodness!*)
Long story short, my life turned… to crap! Yep, just being honest.
After diving into loads of research, not so much about calories, but about the importance of vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, fats, fibre and biodiversity in food, I began reflecting on my own eating habits. What happened to me!? I became so obsessed with the health and fitness industry (and getting abs) that I completely lost sight of what a healthy diet TRULY meant to me. eating whole, fresh, real foods and most importantly, LISTENING TO MY BODY.
Enough was enough! I was sick of fearing food, calculating my meals and just being obsessed with calories and numbers. I gave myself the ‘challenge’ of not tracking ANY meals or snacks for a week and just trying to listen to my body and eating intuitively. Sure the first week was difficult, and I found myself somewhat bingeing on the foods I previously denied myself of. However, after a few weeks (of getting that out of my system) I finally started to feel BALANCE! One of the most important elelments in this whole journey was research and understanding the role that omega 3, fibre, iron, protein, carbohydrates and active enzymes etc. played in my body. This helped me feel GOOD about fuelling my body with things like avocado, flax seed oil, almonds, walnuts or coconut (foods that I used to see purely as ‘high calorie’).
Fast forward a few years and I’ve never felt so balanced, content and proud of the way I eat. I know it takes practise, but the ability to listen to my body, remove the relationship between food and guilt, and truly ENJOY eating real, whole foods is LIFE CHANGING!!
Ok so… back to the ‘calorie’ theme. The other day I went out to a cafe and ordered my usual plate. “Can I please have the salmon nourish bowl, add half an avocado, slivered almonds and swap the rice for quinoa. Oh and… extra salmon please!”. The new waitress looked at me and said “Wow, you’re hungry”. I laughed, shrugged my shoulders and told her this is just a usual breakfast for me. By the end of our breakfast, the waitress had told me she could only ever dream of ordering that for breakfast, and that meal was too ‘high calorie” for her and she would gain fat. My heart sank for her. I had a flash back of my past self, and I just wanted to hug her and say “noooooo”.
If you haven’t realised by now, I could literally talk about this topic FOREVER. It is something I am SO passionate about! As much as I want to delve into the science behind stress, calories, micronutrients and intuitive eating, I’m going to try my hardest to keep this message as relevant and concise as possible…
Yesterday I thought it would be interesting to track my morning food intake (mostly for the sake of this message). I stuck to my usual routine, fuelling my body with my go-to savoury brekkie of poached eggs, avo, tomato, paleo toast, spinach, lemon water and some almonds and fruit before lunch. Before it had even hit 12pm I was sitting at 1120 cals. For a moment there… my stomach dropped a little. I couldn’t understand HOW!? Years ago, that would have been close to my ENTIRE days food intake. But now.. that’s half my daily intake! Before I continue, let me also say that I train LESS THAN EVER now! My workouts change every day (depending on my mood etc.) and usually run for around 35-45mins. I sit at my computer editing for majority of the day, so keep in mind that I’m not some crazy elite athlete who just burns through food like Usain Bolt. I’m just a regular girl, trying to be fit and healthy while juggling a busy schedule.
Nowadays, people say to me “you have a healthy glow about you, you look so happy”. I often respond with *wink* “healthy fats”. If my friends comment on my energy levels, I respond *wink* “good quality carbohydrates”. My workout buddies ask how I can train the next day after a big booty session, and again I’ll dive into the importance of amino acids and good quality protein for maximum recovery and cell reproduction. Not to mention fibre (yes this is a topic I’m obsessed with right now) vitamins and minerals. I know we hear this all the time, but try and take a moment to truly absorb this concept and sit with it for a second…
YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT. Our cells are constantly regenerating, regenerating and literally creating our own bodies! Beautiful food = beautiful cells!
Like I said, I could talk about this topic for hours, and if you haven’t guessed it already – nutrition is my FAVOURITE topic on the planet!! If you would like me to dive into more of the science and research debunking the concept of ‘calories in vs. calories out’ then throw me a comment on my IG or YouTube and I can definitely embrace my inner nutrition nerd and reveal some interesting articles!
For now though, I’m the fittest I’ve ever been while feeling the most balanced and content. I now eat in a way that is maintainable, sustainable and enjoyable. I want to live a life that is flexible and honestly… makes me happy. I’ll be the first to tell you that counting calories to be shredded is SO over rated and down right exhausting!
It’s time sissys! It’s time to nourish, respect and listen to our bodies.
Eat real, wholesome, natural and fresh foods! Don’t over complicate it or become over whelmed by numbers. Use your PRIMAL INSTINCTS and trust your human intuition. Eat a rainbow collection of natural, whole foods and mix it up daily to ensure you’re getting a range of micronutrients in your diet.
As much as my focus has shifted away from just how I look and how defined my abs are, for the girls who need to hear this right now… I still have abs and a petite frame and I eat more than 2600cals a day.
Everyone is different and thrives off different amounts of food and that’s ok!! Don’t force yourself to eat more or less, just try and listen to your body, eat intuitively and ENJOY FOOD!!
I hope this message helped anyone who needed to hear this today!
Love you sis. You’re BEAUTIFULLY YOU!!
By Jonathan Bailor and Catherine Britell
Being obsessed with counting calories can be a great way to preoccupy and punish yourself for trying to be healthy. When you count calories every single time you eat something, you take what could be a happy, joyous and nurturing experience and turn it into a source of deprivation, stress and negative self-talk. And when you consistently force yourself to do hours of exercise strictly to burn off a certain amount of calories, you take all the fun out of physical activity.
It’s time to break out of your calorie-counting prison! See if any of these excuses resonate…
But… if I stop counting calories, won’t I gain weight? Actually, it’s the quality of the food you eat — not the calories in that food — that determines what eating it will do to your metabolism. A number of studies (both animal and human) have shown that a junk-food diet will cause significantly more weight gain than a nutritious diet that contains the same number of calories. Furthermore, the act of counting calories itself can cause weight gain. When we consciously count and limit our calories, our cortisol levels go up. As a result, our appetite increases, we crave processed fatty and sugary foods, and our bodies store belly fat. So, the very thing we do to lose weight might actually have the opposite effect!
But… how will I know how long to work out if I don’t track calorie-burn? Actually, bodily functions — such as digesting food, replacing old tissue, thinking, breathing and circulating your blood — burn 60 to 70 percent of the calories you ingest. You also burn a lot of calories doing things like carrying out the garbage, taking a shower, cooking supper, making love and getting the kids’ clothes on. These activities add up to many times more calories than you can burn in half an hour on a treadmill. So the way to burn more calories sustainably is by building stronger and more metabolically active muscles, cranking up your overall metabolic rate and changing your fat-burning hormones with the right nutrition and exercise.
But… calorie-counting is the only weight-loss technique I know. Try this: Satisfy your hunger every day with double-digit servings of non-starchy vegetables, three to six servings of nutrient-dense protein (seafood, grass-fed beef or organic chicken) and three to six servings of whole-food fats such as avocado, coconut, cocoa, olives, eggs or macadamia nuts. If you’d like, add a serving or two of low-fructose fruits such as strawberries, blueberries or oranges per day. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full and eat again when you’re hungry again. Do 10 minutes of high-resistance eccentric strength training of your largest muscle groups once a week, and 10 minutes of high-intensity and no-impact burst activity (such as interval training on a stationary bike) once a week. Dance, learn, sing, play, love and laugh in between. These simple changes will optimize your fat-burning hormones and make you metabolically healthy — and a lot happier, too.