Hello Lovely Readers!
How are you all doing now that we’re a couple of days post-Christmas? I hope you all had a fantastic week regardless of whether you celebrated or not. If your goal was to not go overboard with the food and just focus on cherishing your time with family and friends, I hope you were able to do so! And if your goal was to embrace the holidays and chow down on all those goodies, I hope they didn’t disappoint 😉
This week I’m taking a break from our regularly scheduled programming of Fit Tip Friday and I’m getting a little more personal. As some of you may know I’ve been tracking my food intake for a couple of years now. It began as a way to lose weight and then became a way to ensure I was fueling my body properly. I recently stopped all forms of counting and I’ve wanted to share how I began and why I stopped for a little while now. My hope is that maybe it will help you determine whether counting may be beneficial for you and your weight loss journey, or if it may be time to take a break if you’ve been at it for awhile.
I’ve always been a pretty active chick. I think I was 13 when I got my first gym membership and I was a competitive dancer and figure skater for most of my childhood and early teen years. My two summers working in Manning Park were spent hiking and I went snowboarding almost every single day each winter. I also hit the gym and the pool a couple times a week while I was there, but I was drinking like a fish and eating shit like frozen pizzas and Lipton Sidekicks. My vegetable intake often consisted of those microwave steamer packs that come with cheese sauce to pour on top. I cringe at the thought. Despite my activity levels, the pounds crept on as I got older.
I started paying closer attention to my food intake in January of 2011. I received P90X as a Christmas gift and along with the workouts came a meal plan. I definitely didn’t follow the plan to a T; the quantities of beer I was drinking each week probably surpassed the total amount of carbohydrates allowed in the entire 90-day program. But I was gaining a general understanding of portion sizes and became more aware of the foods I was putting in my body. Not surprisingly, the pounds started to come off.
As soon as cleaned up my diet a little bit – and I mean a little bit – I started to notice changes in my body composition. Don’t get me wrong, I would still eat a bag of Smartfood popcorn in one sitting after downing a 6-pack and nurse the following morning’s hangover with a big greasy breakfast, but drunken food binges aside, about 60% of the food I ate was kinda sorta “healthy”, and it made a huge difference. A 10 pound difference to be exact, which is quite a bit for someone who’s 5’1.
After finishing P90X I continued on eating this way for the rest of the year. Oatmeal every day for breakfast, followed by other “healthy things” like high-protein granola bars, low-fat string cheese, and Lean Cuisine frozen dinners. And of course beer, chips, fast food, and whatever other garbage I felt like on the weekends.
Fast forward a few months to January 2012. I decided it was time to pull my shit together. No more booze. No more fast food. No more processed and frozen shit disguised as “healthy portion-controlled meals!”. I opened a Myfitnesspal account & took a dive into the world of counting calories. It really wasn’t as time-consuming as I had expected. I already had practice ticking off the portions I ate back from my P90X days, and having an app on my iPhone made tracking even easier. There were days I didn’t log certain things because I felt guilty for eating them, and there were times that I didn’t log anything for days. But knowing that I was only doing myself a disservice by not tracking what I was eating made those guilty moments become fewer and farer between.
I fell off the wagon here and there, but for the most part I managed to adhere to my version of clean eating, with some treats and not-so-healthy things here and there. As my nutrition knowledge increased, I began to pay more attention to what my calories consisted of rather than how many of them I was eating. Ensuring I was getting enough protein and not eating more carbohydrates than needed became a big focus and I managed to lose a couple more pounds.
After being relatively happy with where I was weight-wise for quite some time, in February of this year I decided to start following If It Fits Your Macros, or IIFYM (which you can read a little about here). I found it fascinating to watch how my body responded to different numbers and I actually enjoyed playing around with portion sizes and different foods to see what I could make “fit”. And of course, there were always still things that didn’t fit 🙂 Combining this way of eating with the heavy weight training I was doing allowed me to lose fat and gain muscle, with my weight staying around the same.
I decided to take a break from it all in October for a few reasons. The main reason was because I was going on vacation for a week and couldn’t be bothered to track anything. It’s always good to take a mental break from things we consistently do, even if they don’t cause us stress. A couple of days after getting home I had some teeth extracted, and with eating being as difficult as it was I didn’t want to make matters worse by thinking about the numbers I was going over or wasn’t able to hit. For your sake I won’t go into detail here, but during this time a hormonal issue I’d been struggling with for the past few months sorted itself out. I figured this had to do something with my eating habits because it was the only variable that had changed, so I decided to stop counting for good.
I let go of the need to “hit my numbers” before going to bed. No more eating egg whites throughout the day to ensure I took in adequate protein. No eating when I wasn’t hungry to make sure I hit my calorie target. I’ve been counting calories and macros long enough that I could probably tell you the stats of a meal if you tell me what’s in it, so I trusted my knowledge and decided to go with it. There’s a community that calls this method of eating “Intuitive Eating” – only eating when hungry and really listening to your body and feeding it what it needs. That’s fine and dandy and all, but I just call it fuckin’ eating, dudes.
I’ve been at it for just over two months now. Some days I’m a little hungry and I know I didn’t eat enough. Other days I know I ate way too much. But I’m training like a monster in the gym and feeling great, both inside and outside, so I plan on stickin’ with it. I’ve read a lot of blog posts about people feeling “freed” when they finally stop focusing on the numbers, but that’s not the case for me. I never felt held down by it. Like I said, I enjoyed it! I felt a bit like a scientist. But I had to take a good look at why I was doing what I was doing.
When you begin a weight loss journey it’s easy for certain thoughts you had at the start to stick with you. While I was comfortable with my body and didn’t necessarily have “losing weight” as a goal this past year, there were always the thoughts of Ooo if I could just lose a little bit of this thigh fat I’ll be satisfied or maybe, just MAYBE I can get some abdominal definition floating around my head. Yes I wanted to make sure I was fueling my workouts properly, but I’d been doing it for so long I had the knowledge and didn’t really need to track things. I finally asked myself “when will it be enough?” If I lose that thigh fat and get that 6 pack will I actually be satisfied? Or will I find something else to pick at?
I don’t think I’m alone in being the type of person that’s always striving for something better, but it was time for me to step back and just be happy with where I was. If that thigh fat comes off then great. If a miracle happens and I get a 6-pack then great. But if not then that’s okay too. Excess fat on my thighs doesn’t determine how good of a personal trainer I am, and it definitely doesn’t define the type of person I am.
My take-home message here is that while counting calories and macros is a great way to begin a weight loss journey, it’s not a NECESSITY, especially when you’ve been at the weight loss game for awhile. As I said above, my initial big chunk of weight loss came not from counting, but merely PAYING ATTENTION to what I was eating and EDUCATING myself. “This is what a serving of rice looks like.” “This is what a serving of peanut butter looks like.” “This is what a serving of chips looks like and I’m eating way more than that and don’t give two fucks about it.” That kind of thing. As my body got used to me eating in this manner it responded less so I found the need to take a different approach. Counting calories worked for me, but it doesn’t work for everyone, and it doesn’t have to! Find something that works for YOU. It will take some trial and error, and the process may be slow, but the faster you drop the weight the faster you’re likely to put it back on again. Call it a cliche, but slow and steady really does win this race.
The process of counting your calorie and macronutrient intake should be an educational one. You don’t want to do this your entire life, nor should you have to! If you make a conscious effort to learn how certain amounts of food make you feel along the way, when you find it’s time to stop you won’t feel like a fish out of water. You don’t want the process to be so stressful that you feel “freed” when you finish, but you also want to come out of it confident in your ability to maintain your healthy lifestyle without being bound to numbers.
Most importantly, love your body at every stage of your journey. Maybe you’re just starting out and you’ve got 50 pounds you want to lose. Thank your body for whatever it allows you to do, whether it’s short bouts of low intensity exercise or even just navigating the grocery store to pick up some healthy food. Maybe you’ve been at it for awhile and you’re ALMOST where you want to be, if only you could just lose that extra bit of jiggle. Thank your body for the way it’s responded up to this point and respect it for the bullshit you put it through during a workout. Don’t look at others and wonder how they lost weight so fast and why it’s taking so long for you. Your journey is your own.