special post: “calorie counting”

A question arose on a post, asking whether or not I aim for a certain amount of calories.  Great question.  And now I’ll take the time to respond with what works for me. 

I did calorie count at one point in my life when I was trying to gain weight.  When summer rolls around, my activity level can skyrocket due to hiking, walking, biking, running, etc.  Unfortunately, my appetite doesn’t always go right along with this and I can drop weight without even realizing it.  Now I’m at the point where I’ll just add in peanut butter, avocados, olive oil, etc. without giving calorie counting a second thought.  But for the first time I was trying to gain weight—about 3 years ago—I wanted to know where I could get a good bulk of calories from.

The past year has been completely maintenence phase.  No trying to gain weight.  No trying to lose weight.  Just hanging around a happy weight that can bounce as it pleases as long as my clothes still fit and as long as I’m eating normal and staying active. 😉  So the answer to the question now—at this point—is “no,” I do not aim for a certain amount of calories.  As long as I’m maintaining, I don’t see the need to know the number that I’m consuming (food is more then just a number after all!)  I’m a huge advocate of learning how to listen to your body and your own internal hunger and fullness ques.  This comes with time and I’m still in the process of being able to always listen when my body speaks (nobody’s perfect!.)  But it’s a process worth learning. 😀

Cons of Calorie Counting: My thoughts on calorie counting is that it tends to ignore the fact that a calorie is not just a calorie.  100 calories of Nabisco chocolate crunch cookies is not the same as 100 calories worth of an apple, for example.  I also don’t like that it teaches you to ignore your hunger and fullness ques.  That’s not normal.  It’s not how we’re made.  Some days you may need to eat more then other days and that is okay!!  It’s okay that you’re hungry at 8 and make a small bowl of cereal for yourself.  It’s okay.

Also, no two bodies are identical.  A calorie estimator is exactly that.  An estimator.  It could be off by hundreds of calories based on your own metabolism and daily activity level.

Pros of Calorie Counting—making it work for youI think there’s a concept behind calorie counting that might be helpful if you’re trying to gain or lose weight, and that would be keeping a journal of what you eat for 3 days or so.  This is what any registered dietitian might do when you go to see one, and they’ll usually have you write down what time you ate something and how you felt before and after.  Try doing this for two weekdays and one weekend to get a good general idea of what you’re eating and when.  This isn’t calorie counting but it holds the concept of it.  And it’s a good way to see where most of your calories are going (and whether you’re eating enough or too much!)

So, to sum it all up…no, I don’t estimate a number of calories (although I’d estimate that I probably take in about 2,200-2,600 on any given day.)  My goal is to feed my body with wholesome, healthy foods when it’s hungry and stop when it’s full.  It’s a simple concept but works like a charm. 😀 

Oh, and I posted the above a food pyramid which encourages physical activity and balance with food choices.  It’s a good, healthy concept to follow. 😀

Question: What are your thoughts on calorie counting?

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About Sarah

Hi and Welcome!!! I'm a chocolate & coffee loving Registered Dietitian with a passion for helping people reach their goals. When I'm not busy working, I enjoy photography, cooking, and spending quality time with my family (and pets!) Thanks for stopping by!

19 thoughts on “special post: “calorie counting”

  1. I’m totally against calorie counting for myself. I know it works for some people but I find that it makes me overthink everything that goes into my mouth. I prefer to just eat intuitively and clean as much as possible. I stop eating when I start feeling full to let my brain & stomach catch up and then on the occasions when I’m craving something bad and ‘less clean’ I just let myself go for it. If I were counting calories I would never let myself eat that and just feel deprived and unhappy 😦 And seriously, it’s just so much work and no fun.

  2. I agree with a lot of the points you made:
    – it’s very counter-intuitive when it comes to eating
    – all calories are not created equal
    – food is more than just a number

    I mean, I’m not totally against it & I think it’s great that we have the knowledge of calories to use as a weight loss/gain tool. But I think it should be used as a guideline…not a bible, if that makes sense 🙂

  3. I completely agree with you. I had a commenter asking how many calories I aim to consume a day and was a little thrown off by it – not because I found it rude, but because I didn’t know how to answer! I didn’t really have any idea. I just eat what my body is craving, but never feel hungry or overly full. And I also agree how calorie counting tends to make people see a calorie as a calorie, whether junk calories or healthy calories. I hate how dieters avoid bananas but will choose a 100-calorie pack, you know?
    Lovely post 🙂

  4. I think calorie counting is important for some people, but not important for other people. It is healthy either way, but it is all based on individual needs.

  5. Totally agree! When I had to gain my weight back when I recovered from my ED, I used to count. Because otherwise I would underestimate for sure. And it felt safe, I ‘needed’ it at the time.
    Now that I’m at a healthy weight, I try not to count. I know what I need and I know I still need a little extra for a few months. Sometimes I estimate at the end of the day to make sure I ‘ve had enough, but I do that less and less.

    x Julia (Taste of Living)

  6. thank you soo much! quite helpful and very insightful! im actually trying to gain weight. any pointers? xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

    • When I was gaining weight, I focused on including high calorie foods that didn’t leave me feeling overly stuffed. Try adding avocados to your sandwiches, eat a handful of almonds for a snack, include a night-time fruit and yogurt smoothie with peanut butter, etc. Sneaking in extra calories here and there will help you gain some weight without leaving you feeling stuffed. 😀

      • mary—I guess it depends how much you feel you need to gain. You may find it useful to meet with a Registered Dietitian who can help you form a plan. I wouldn’t focus so much on the number as I would just adding in extra foods wherever and whenever you can! 😀

    • Mary, you could also try drinking milk- e.g. with meals/snacks/throughout the day- there are so many different choices nowadays; dairly, almond, soy, hemp… or even a yogurt drink/kefir. If you pick one with good nutritionals it really is a superfood in itself, slips down easily and helps with general hydration too! A lot of dieticians and physicians suggest this type of thing 🙂 But definitely consult an RN etc- there are things you need to be aware of/careful of if you are starting from a fairly low weight.

  7. i don’t calorie count and i never calorie counted. i totally agree that a calorie is not a calorie…..and i know my body well enough to feed it what it needs and to back off when it is feeding to much! 🙂

  8. Great post! My background is actually very similar to yours and, while I found it helpful at first, it did get a bit obsessive. I think once you can go out on your own, it’s best to do so.

  9. I have mixed feelings about it. I agree completely with both of your points. I have/am focusing on coutning more than I have been too obsessive about counting in the past but am turning it around and using it to make sure I am gettig enough. It’s something that I really enjoy doing for some reason but it can be easy to abuse. Thank you for the post-it was very interesting.

  10. Enjoyed reading your post! I remember when I used to calorie count. I got so tired of all that math that I started to ‘cheat’ by eating pre-packaged lean cuisine meals a lot. That has so much sodium, and I was missing out on fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean meats.

  11. I agree that it is a useful device, but has to be used with moderation. Ultimately it is a guideline, and I agree with you that one has to listen to his/her body.

  12. Great information! I used to be BIG on calorie counting when I was in college, and I was so miserable. So, so miserable. Hungry all the time, and it became an obsession. Dramatic but true. I’m all for “eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full” now – such a simple and beautiful food “rule” to live by.

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