Wow! I seriously HATE counting calories!! I hate prepping food. I hate not mindlessly grabbing a handful of something that looks tasty and throwing it into my mouth without thinking. But what I hate even more is feeling heavy and thick and my clothes not fitting. That's why, once again, I started counting calories a few weeks ago. And, surprise!! My weight is quickly coming back down to where I feel comfortable again (quickly-ish, anyway!...after all, I AM pushing 40 these days) I've also really laid into my clients about doing the same lately, and their weight loss results are improving as well.
I want to believe there's a better way! I want to believe that calories don't matter. But THEY DO!!
So I thought I would briefly outline the "rules" of calorie counting as I don't believe that it's as simple as "eat these certain amounts of calories and you'll naturally and easily lose weight."
1. Protein! It's imperative to make sure you're eating enough protein! The food pyramid (of which I am required by law to stay within the guidelines when making recommendations) puts a max of 20% of daily calories from protein consumption. I, personally, try to eat closer to 30% of my calories from protein but you will need to make your own determination based on how you feel and after educating yourself on the food pyramid. All I can say is that inadequate protein consumption, especially during calorie restriction, can lead to feelings of excessive and irrational hunger as well as low energy, not to mention added muscle loss during fat loss.
2. Healthy Fats. While too much fat (especially the wrong kind) can make your metabolism sluggish and (at 9 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram of carbs and protein) can leave you feeling hungry after you've consumed all your daily calorie needs, SOME healthy fat is not just okay but essential for all major functions of the body! Think natural fats from their original sources: avocado, RAW seeds and nuts, wild caught salmon, etc. Fat in the right amounts can help you feel satisfied and keep your brain functioning smoothly during calorie restriction.
3. The right kinds of carbs. This is another area where I am legally required to recommend something different than what I actually eat. It is suggested that we consume between 55-65% of our caloric needs from carbohydrates. I personally find that keeping my consumption around 40% helps keep me energized and prevents cravings that I have trouble resisting. More than anything, I think each person's needs are different so paying attention to one's body is the most important first step in determining what those needs are. What is important for EVERYONE is consuming the RIGHT kinds of carbs. Just like fat, they should come from natural sources. Fruits, potatoes with the skin, etc. Things straight from nature, as unaltered as possible. Learning what your "carbohydrate tipping point" (where you feel satisfied, energized and do NOT have uncontrollable cravings) is imperative. You MUST keep in mind, if you have a tendency to put on weight, this indicates ALMOST ALWAYS that you have at least some insulin resistance and should be wary of all high carbohydrate foods.
4. Water. We all know it but somehow we don't always do it. Dehydration can often feel like fatigue and/or hunger. Make sure you're meeting your own personal hydration needs which varies based on weight, activity level, fiber and caffeine consumption, etc.
5. Lots of veggies!!! To clarify, even if the corner burger shop has them listed as "vegetable sides", corn, mashed potatoes and fried okra aren't what I'm talking about here! Low calorie leafy greens, peppers, onions, (un-fried) okra, and all other non-starchy veggies are going to fill you up and give you the vitamins and minerals your body needs. If you don't have these needs met at the end of the day, your body is going to keep sending that hunger signal.
6. Don't make yourself miserable!! One of my favorite low calorie meals is a GIANT salad, loaded with spinach, onions, banana peppers, etc and topped with buffalo chicken and 2 tbsp of ranch dressing. Yes, the dressing is 120 calories out of my daily calories but the whole salad together is barely over 300 calories and fills me up for hours. Not to mention it's absolutely delicious and I'm left feeling completely satisfied and not at all sorry for myself.
7. Make it a game! Sometimes I like to see how far I can stretch my calories and just how much volume I can pack into a day by finding creative low calorie choices. I also use it as motivation to do a little extra movement in the evenings if I'm running low on calories and want a little more for dinner. Which leads to my next point....
8. Actually count your calories!! Don't estimate. I highly recommend using MyFitnessPal. You can use the app or just log on from your computer. I love the app because I can log my calories on my phone throughout the day and even scan barcodes. I often will log calories BEFORE making eating decisions and see how it looks on my pie chart (which breaks down the % of each macronutrient) as well as what it leaves me with for the rest of the day. I sometimes will alter what I've decided to eat or maybe even decide to walk to the post office instead of driving that day to burn some extra calories so I have more to work with that evening. I find the app to be actually fun especially because I am connected with friends and clients who can see my food diary, exercise posts and weight loss results each day.
9. Understand that you don't have to do this forever. Yes, if you struggle with your weight, you will ALWAYS have to be mindful. However, counting calories helps give you insight into your body which will carry over into NOT counting calories later on. You start to notice how foods affect you as well as becoming aware just how calorie dense certain foods are. I don't always count calories, nor would I always want to, but doing it for a while when my weight starts to creep up a little, keeps me in check and brings me back to the reality of what I can and can't get away with.
10. Understand that calories in vs. calories out is WAY too oversimplified. Every food we eat has a different hormonal effect on our bodies. Too many different effects to name here. Just know that NATURAL foods (as in, single ingredient foods, straight from nature) are going to affect our metabolism, appetite and waistline in very different ways than prepackaged "food like products".
11. Exercise!!! And don't just do it for the calories burned! Do it to feel energetic and healthy! Do it for the increased brain function. But, yeah, do it for the calories burned too! There's something about knowing that jumping up and down to a fast paced Zumba class for an hour can burn up to 600-700 calories that makes me not quit when I feel like I may drop in the middle of class.
Bottom line, calorie counting is so completely 1985! But doing it even for a couple weeks and incorporating the above guidelines can give you unbelievable and long lasting insight into your body!!