about me

    Emily Malone

    culinary arts grad. nutrition facts lover. vegetarian chef. marathon runner. country music maniac. failed dog trainer. barre fanatic. loving mama.

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    A Look Back.



Calorie Counting and the Blurry Grey Line.

Another day, another meal.  It’s funny how trends and popular ideas seem to spread like wildfire across the internet.  One day we’re all baking our kale, and the next we are clearing chia seeds off the shelves.  I’ve noticed a new trend in health and fitness blogs lately that has had me thinking. 

There is a lot of negative connotation surrounding the idea of “counting calories.”  A quick poll I did on Twitter (asking “how many of you count calories?”) prompted the following types of responses:

  • I used to but don’t anymore.
  • Not usually, but I will when I start to feel like I’m going off track.
  • No way,  I would never count calories!

And perhaps the most interesting…

  • Yes I do, I know that makes me terrible.

Seriously, how did calorie counting get such a bad rep?  Now let me just get something straight right off the bat – I am NOT talking about anyone recovering from an eating disorder, or folks that may have struggled with some obsessive food issues.  I am very aware that calorie counting for those folks can be very dangerous.

But what about the rest of us?

When I first started losing weight, I had no idea where to begin.  I read as much as I could so that I could gain an understanding of my diet and nutrition in order to be successful in getting my health back.  One of the main themes I found popping up everywhere I looked was the idea of a food journal – understanding and tracking what you eat each day.  Seemed easy enough to me.

I joined Calorie King, and began to log my daily meals.  Not only did it give me a daily calorie tally, it also showed me the nutritional breakdowns of carbs, fats, protein, fiber, vitamins, and more.  As someone who had NO prior knowledge of nutrition, I was shocked to see that a lot of my favorite foods were relatively empty in nutrients and high calories, and I quickly realized that some of my so called “health” foods weren’t quite so healthy.

I logged my snacks and meals for roughly a year, and through a healthy combination of food knowledge, good eating, and exercise – I lost about 30 pounds.  But the point of all this isn’t to talk about me or my weight loss – it’s about that grey line between counting calories and just simply being well-informed.

Nowadays, I don’t have a Calorie King membership, and I don’t write anything down.  But in general, I aim to eat about 500 calories at every meal, with a few snacks (and any additional food depending on that day’s exercise) thrown in.  So every day around noon, I wander down to the kitchen and stare into the abyss that is my fridge…

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And based on what’s in there, I decide what to eat.  Walk through an example with me – today for lunch I decided to have a big salad with some soup on the side.  When putting my salad together, I considered the following things…

I’ve got my green leafy base, which is practically calorie-free – totally non-significant in my book.  I know that I definitely wanted some healthy fats, so which nuts did I want to have?  I shook out about 2 tablespoons worth of pumpkin seeds – roughly 100 calories and high in iron.  Yum.

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Nutritional yeast on salad, mmmmm.  Two tablespoons is 50 calories and 8 grams of essential protein, so I tossed that on too.

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Shelled hemp seeds, yes definitely!  They are high in protein, omega 3’s, and fiber!  Sprinkled some on…

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Olives, one of my favorite foods of all time, and something no salad is complete without.  I knew each olive was about 8 calories (and full of good fats) so I dropped a big handful on top of my lettuce leaves – probably 8 or 10 total.  I tossed a few extras into my mouth for good measure.

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And last but not least – the dressing!  Most of the salad dressings I buy are 25-45 calories per 2 tbsp serving, and I knew that without ever looking at the label.  From my successful year of tracking and measuring, I also know what 2 tbsp looks like without pulling out the measuring spoon.  I poured some delicious vinaigrette over my lunch.

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And at the end of it all, I had a fabulous, healthy salad filled with fats, proteins, and lots of vitamins and minerals.  I knew in my head that it was probably somewhere between 300 and 350 calories, and then I drank my delicious soup on the side.

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I never pulled out a measuring spoon, or looked up any of the nutritional information or calories in a book (or online).  After a year of tracking my favorite foods, I already knew it all.  If you asked me to tell you the calories and nutritional breakdown of just about anything, I would bet that I could guess with 90% accuracy.  Nutrition and health are my passion, and knowledge is power.

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So I created a meal using my extensive understanding of nutrition, making sure I had a balanced bowl of carbs, fats, proteins, and other good stuff.  But was I technically “calorie counting?”

If I had never tracked my calories at the beginning of my journey, I can pretty much guarantee that I wouldn’t have been successful, because I would have just been going through the motions, rather than understanding why I was eating what I was eating.  We are so quick to stress that we need to eat real food, whole grains, un-processed ingredients, but the minute someone says the word calories – everybody freezes.  It’s all about knowing your food, right?  So isn’t a basic understanding of calories and nutritional breakdowns a good thing?

Like I said above, I know there are cases where this is taken too far, and obsessive or restrictive tendencies become dangerous.  That is not what I’m talking about here.  I’m talking about the blurry grey area where calorie counting simply becomes nutritional awareness.  To me, it’s pretty clear.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts!

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327 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Jessica @ How Sweet     at 6:34 pm

I don’t count calories but I did for a short amount of time (or rather, macros) a few years ago when I did some fitness competing. I actually LOVED Calorie King. I used it when creating some meal plans for my clients and I just loved the whole format.
That being said, it doesn’t work for me now, but I can see how it can work for others. I agree with you that it IS important to have an idea of how many calories are in a food in order to be successful, but I just think so many end up obsessing over it these days.

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Stefanie     at 6:34 pm

I completely agree. “Counting calories” has been deemed bad or somehow dysfunctional. But, like you, when I first started losing weight I used calorie counting as a way to keep track of where I was. Now I can easily eyeball my meals and I don’t count calories, but it’s a great resource for those who are just starting out!

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Victoria (District Chocoholic)     at 6:35 pm

Ha. I think I’m the one who was “interesting.” Or else other people feel the same way.

People should know the nutritional content of their food. It goes beyond calories, which is why I track specific foods, and not “points” or “calories” or whatever. Just foods and the amount that I eat. That way, I also know that I am getting enough:
Vitamins
Protein
Fiber

etc.

Calories are just one measure, but it’s one that happens to get added up when I track the food I eat. Other things added up are sodium, iron, protein, fiber…yet you never hear anybody say “ugh, I would NEVER track IRON intake.”

Interesting.

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Emily Malone Reply:

Haha yes, well I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable by including names. :) And YES to your point about the iron intake. For some reason its the calories that people don’t like to talk about, but the rest is fair game? Yet weight gain and loss DOES come down to one simple equation – 3500 calories = 1 pound.

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Victoria (District Chocoholic) Reply:

I was being a little bit sarcastic with my comment, but only a little bit. Also, people get all irritating if they see me, with a BMI flat in the middle of the normal range, counting calories, but have no problem with overweight people counting weight watchers points. I mean, how the heck am I supposed to *maintain* my health? Is it only acceptable to be concerned about the nutritional content of your food if you are overweight? I mean really, people.

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cathy b. @ bright bakes Reply:

i relate to this too! Ever hear anyone say…”now YOU don’t need to watch your weight!” Hello, if I didn’t “watch” to make sure I eat healthfully then I certainly wouldn’t stay healthy for long!
cathy b. @ brightbakes

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Carly D. @ CarlyBananas Reply:

Victoria – thanks so much for that comment about, what I think, is a huge double standard in discussing food/weight.
I really don’t track much in food but if we have like 3 birthday parties at work in a week and at the third one I say “I think I need to pass on cake today” no less than 5 people will say something along the lines of “Oh, not like you need to be concerned!” I’m NOT concerned and I always ending up feeling bad and judged. I would never, in a million years, tell someone to put down a cupcake because they’re overweight but I get an awful lot of snarky weight comments because I’m a healthy weight.
Emily, I’m sorry this got way off your original post topic but it’s just something that makes me nuts and it was nice to see someone feel the same way :)

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Heather Reply:

I have this same issue at work all of the time! People are always pointing out that I don’t have a piece of cake from the fifth office birthday that week, or that I stay away from the chocolates in the break room. I don’t think people understand that maintaining a healthy weight and losing weight are both really challenging and something people work on every day. I work every day to be healthy and I hate when people put me down for it. (Great discussion Emily!)

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jrf Reply:

Carly and Heather, I was about to comment on the same thing. People feel free to make remarks (not particularly nice) about the healthy food choices I make, but it would never occur to me to make remarks about the unhealthy choices they make…regardless of their weight or mine. Why is healthy eating weird and bad eating the norm?

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Melissa Reply:

I completely agree with this, people so niavly assume that healthy choices is the equavalient to an eating disorder. Which is actually quite awful. People are always nagging me about having a salad for lunch, but hello, when you make it like Emily its the best lunch ever. Also to someones comment about birthday cake, YES! Thank you, you should be praised for your self control not judged.
(I’m finding this whole discussion both interesting and comforting!)

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Clare Reply:

I think it really depends on the environment. I went to a small liberal arts college on the East coast and a lot of my (girl) friends had eating disorders. It was completely the norm to eat very, very small “meals” and someone would be much more likely to be judged for eating pizza or a quesadilla or a burrito. I’ve been out of college for only 7 months, and I am now just realizing what a skewed place it was and how it messed with my eating habits.

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Cassie @ Back to Her Roots Reply:

This happened to my husband the other day. He was eating his lunch at work and a co-worker said to him, “You eat so healthy!” and then immediately after said, “Why?” with a disgusted look. He paused for a minute, totally lost for what to respond, and then said, “To live longer.” And she just scoffed and walked off.

Seriously!??! Wanting to live longer is a negative?

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Emily Malone Reply:

At least he had a good answer!

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Lindsey Reply:

I agree with everything you ladies are saying, but I have something to add. I don’t think that healthy eating is “weird” at all and I don’t think counting calories is bad for anyone unless they take it to extremes. I think the people who are so quick to judge or so quick to make snarky comments are the ones who know they need to make healthier choices in their own eating. It boils down to the same high school catty gossip issue of jealousy. People don’t always have the willpower to eat how they should (with 20lbs left to lose before I’m at a healthy weight again, I should know)but it seems to me the ones who don’t listen to their bodies are the first ones to make a comment about a healthy person turning down that 5th piece of cake in a week.

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Amelia Dunlap     at 6:38 pm

I just read an article in the Weight Watchers magazine about how people had become so obsessed with counting calories that they forgot that a 100 calorie apple is a much better choice than a 100 calorie snack pack of some crackers or cookies.

Which is why weight watchers removed calories from their ‘points’ calculation.

To me, if I track what I eat and measure my portions – I make healthier choices. Period. Calories or not, it brings an added level of accountability to your decision making…which unfortunately, some of us need to keep us on track (like me!)

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Emily Malone Reply:

I have never used WW, so I don’t really understand how it works, but I can see if the focus is solely calories, people could be making poor choices. Part of what I like about a tracking program like Calorie King is that it sets nutrient targets for you – fats, proteins, carbs, etc. – so that you can’t just eat empty calories all day long and still reach your goals.

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Stacy @ Every Little Thing     at 6:39 pm

I think part of the problem is that for people ONLY counting calories and fat, eating things like avocados and nuts brings those numbers up instantly and they get shunned in favor of fat free cheeses and yogurts. I think it takes a balance of knowledge of all natural eating and calorie/fat/protein/fiber contents in order to achieve the best meal!

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Rachel Reply:

Agreed! I think that’s what makes me uncomfortable about calorie counting – I’ve seen too many people who *only* count calories. In terms of maintaining your health, every calorie is not the same!

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Sarena (The Non-Dairy Queen)     at 6:41 pm

I count calories and I am not ashamed of it. I will tell anybody that I do. I keep track for maintaining purposes. It is also a good guide for me to know when to up my calories. I had a period of time in my life when I was having babies and then I got a tumor in my abdomen. I lost so much weight. I am 5’2″ and weighed 90 lbs. This was not good. I also eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. These are not calorie heavy foods. I think it is important to know and understand where your calories come from and how to achieve a healthy place. We don’t all process foods in the same way and that can be very tricky. So, I count calories loosely now as more of a marker than a true number. I also know what nutrients I eat everyday. I don’t eat meat, so I know that I need to get some heavier nutrients from beans, nuts and seeds. I like that you put a positive spin in counting calories. I hate when it is put in such a negative light.

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Freya     at 6:41 pm

You have a totally awesome balance!
I find calorie counting to be a tricky area…I USEd to be a total obsessive about it (in the ED days) and went cold turkey completely to rid myself of it – it was seriously controlling my life in the most negative way possible. Now however, I tend t have an awareness of calories – like you, a breakfast is roughly 400 cals and so on, cos it gives me something to build on. 90% of the time, the method works. But if I’m having a crap day, negative thoughts can creep in, and I start to automatically want to cut them down, or I start thinking too much about how to burn extras; it’s something I’m working on!
But counting on a whole, I don’t think is a bad thing. Provided it’s not obsessive, what’s wrong with being aware? My sister will sit down and eat 10 cookies in a row regularly, cos she doesn;t think about calories (they’re just little cookies that don’t look big..) – but then she moans if she puts a few pounds on. She just doesn’t have a knowledge of calories or nutritional value, hence why I think it can be a really useful too (if that makes sense!).

Oof, long comment! great post tho :)

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Marian Reply:

Freya, I’ve experienced something similar. I struggled with eating disorders throughout high school, and the first time i started losing weight in a healthier way, I counted calories like a maniac. it was all i could think about! this time I did it (in the past year), i have tried so hard to not think about every last calorie. i still try to eat at least 400 cals for breakfast, etc etc, but i try to focus more on eating enough fruits and veggies, and creating food that satiates me. however, it IS hard to make the switch from calorie counting to not calorie counting! luckily, this healthy lifestyle change has really stuck – in part due to reading blogs like emily’s! over all, i dont think there’s anything wrong with being aware of the calories in food, but if it becomes obsessive, it’s obviously dangerous. great discussion emily!

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Lauren     at 6:42 pm

I usually don’t count calories, but somedays I may tally in my head rough estimates. I may consider counting calories (in a way) to do a dietary analysis to check out nutrient values, like iron, B12, calcium, vita D because I don’t know how much I get daily or weekly. I know foods with those nutrients in it, but I would be interested to know my values if they are low/high.

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Emily Malone Reply:

Most of the food journal programs have advanced features where you can also pick and choose which vitamins and nutrients to track – pretty cool!

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Tulip @ AppleNoMore     at 6:42 pm

I agree that at the beginning of a weight loss journey counting calories is great. I also did it for about a year and now know off the top of my head rough calorie estimates. However it became a problem for me because I focused less on the nutritional content of the food and purely on the calories. I would eat a bucketload of low calorie crackers with no nutritional value instead of a handful of nuts. And heaps and heaps of diet coke. I lost sight of what was healthy.

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Emily Malone Reply:

I did that at first too, but my program had also set up nutrient targets for fats, protein, carbs, etc. – so if I ate “healthy” junk food all day long, I would see that I didn’t reach any of my targets. I ended up realizing how to balance my choices much more effectively.

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Jennifer     at 6:42 pm

I first want to say that I can’t believe you ever weighed a plus of 30lbs. You have such an incredible blog and I really trust your advice.

I am really working hard to eat healthier…but I’ve never been a calorie counter. Because the truth is we all know what is healthy and what is not and how to eat in moderation. Maybe that is a naive way of eating…but this whole healthy living is new to me.

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Rose     at 6:43 pm

I have counted calories, but in the end, I’m always too lazy. I do make it a point to know the general caloric value of the foods I’m eating, to gauge whether something is “worth it.” Mostly, “do I like this crappy food enough to waste so many calories on it.” Sometimes, YES! There are brownies out there that I will blow a whole meal’s worth of calories on. There are cookies where I take a bite and realize I don’t like the cookie enough to eat it.

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Whitney     at 6:43 pm

I fall into that category of people with a history of ED and obsessive calorie counting. It is hard for me to imagine being able to eat “normally” and not count calories without gaining weight. It is actually really great for me to see your thought process with this and how you can be mindful of the nutritional aspects of your meal, and the general amount of calories, without being obsessive.

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Emily Malone Reply:

Thanks Whitney! It’s nice to hear that this perspective might actually be useful to someone in recovery. Having not had an eating disorder myself, I try to be very careful with what I say, but I’m not always totally sure what might upset someone.

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Marian Reply:

Whitney, I have gone through a similar transition, and it really is hard to not count calories anymore…..but as long as you make an effort, it will come with time! i still obsess at times, but now i try to just eat healthy, satisfying foods, and trust that my body’s cues are enough to stay fit and healthy!

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Whitney Reply:

Ya, I know recovery is going to be a very long and sometimes very difficult process but it is always so good to learn ways others are staying healthy while also staying informed about their food choices.

Emily-Thanks for posting this! As always I look forward to more wonderful recipes and more thought provoking posts!

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Emily J     at 6:44 pm

Hi Emily,
I agree greatly with this post. I, too, counted calories at the beginning of my 25lb weight loss. I learned a lot about the food I was eating. I stuck (and still stick) to whole foods as much as possible. Now, I have the knowledge to make healthy, smart, and informed decisions! As mentioned above, people need knowledge about nutrition and food so it’s not just “counting calories”.
Thanks!

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cathy b. @ bright bakes     at 6:45 pm

great topic! and I can really relate, as a few years back I became actively interested in health and nutrition for the first time in my life…and, like you, realized how little I actually knew about it! I “counted” for a year or so, and now i simply do as you described…your lunch could’ve been me…I simply keep a loose tally in my head, and more often than not, base it simply on trying to get in the foods and fruits/veg that my body needs to feel great. I certainly would not have come this far in my knowledge and general well-being if it had not been for the time I took to learn about food, it’s calories, it’s nutrients, and it’s effects on my body and mind. Just my two cents :)
love,
cathy b. @ brightbakes

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Aron     at 6:45 pm

I am so glad you wrote this post! It seems like there is such a negative vibe surrounding calorie counting when I don’t think it’s that bad in many circumstances. I often count my calories during marathon training because I am running 60-70 miles a week and its easy not to eat ENOUGH. I like to make sure I am getting enough of everything I need, plus being a vegetarian, I make sure I get enough protein, etc. It’s just making sure I am eating healthy, getting what I need and eating the right amount, but sometimes I feel like I am doing something bad!

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Emily Malone Reply:

I agree it is particularly important for athletes and vegetarians to know that they are getting the right balance!

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Jeni @ stepping out     at 6:46 pm

I think this is one my favorite of your posts to day!
I don’t count calories now but I did for nearly 2.5 years. I used the free (and wonderful) site sparkpeople.com and I don’t regret it for a moment.
I had no idea about the nutritional content of what I was eating before. It helped me lose 25 pounds, most of that fat. I would not trade it for the world.
The reason I stopped is because I realized that I was getting closed to disordered eating. I constantly thought about food. I felt tied to the nutrition tracker and exasperated when I made new (delicious!) recipes and had to enter each individual ingredient in the recipe calculator to figure out the nutritional content.
Now that I have stopped I feel so free. I take what I have learned about nutrition and use it when I try all kinds of new foods. I love it!

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Emily Malone Reply:

Love Spark People!

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Daniel     at 6:46 pm

I think that I count calories subconsciously and I’m sure there are others who feel the same. After counting, weighing and writing everything down for a few years (I’m part of that ED recovery group you mentioned at the beginning) I gave it up cold turkey for Lent and I haven’t gone back to it. I’ve either kept weight or maybe even lost some since then, but I think it would be best if people could do it without thinking too much into it. Nutrition is supposed to be easy and eating food isn’t supposed to be a mathematical equation lesson. I probably know the calories and fat (and probably a few other nutrients) of practically any food without looking, and while I don’t expect an average consumer to know that, I think that general calorie counting is acceptable and a good tool for weight management (so long as it’s not taken to an extreme).

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Jess     at 6:46 pm

I think that for people who are a healthy weight (aka, do not have an eating disorder and are not overweight, obese, or trying to lose weight), making sure that the food that is consumed is healthy and contains lots of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients is more important than counting calories. Some very nutritious foods are extremely high in calories and I dont think people should refrain from eating those foods simply becuase they are high in calories. I worry that counting calories becomes the focus and results in lower intake of nutrients.

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Ally     at 6:46 pm

THANK YOU.

A lot of times I’ll read on blogs “I never count calories” and they can eat anything they want without any regard or fear for their weight because they know it will be stable.

I am a recovering binge eater. I HAVE to be sure of what my portions/calories are. It keeps my accountable for what I’m putting into my body. I even have a tendency to undereat if I don’t count. Nowadays I don’t log everything I eat, and I try to go by what my stomach wants rather than what I think it wants, and sometimes that means eating less, eating more. BUt like you, I know the counts of everything. Now if I could just put away that measuring spoon for good…

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Ren     at 6:46 pm

I am both someone who counts calories and someone who is recovering from an eating disorder. I’ve been in active, committed recovery since 2006, after a 13 year battle. I agree that calorie counting gets an unwarranted bad rap by people who don’t fully understand its power for health and change, and healthy change. Speaking from personal experience, counting calories can be both destructive and empowering. For so much of my life I used those numbers as a way to keep my weight down/punish myself/assess my value as a human being, etc. Now, I’ve taken something that used to hurt me and turned it into something that keeps me on track and healthy. I still count calories to this day, but I do it with the number in mind that my treatment team helped me come up with based on my height, healthy weight range, and activity level. Now, I use that number and counting calories not to rate whether I deserve to take up space in this world, not to make sure that I eat as little as possible, but instead to make sure that I enough to maintain my weight and stay healthy and on track. Counting calories sounds restricting, but to me it’s incredibly liberating. I felt petrified and powerless to make choices without information, which used to leave me to choose nothing at all rather than make a “wrong” or “bad” choice. Today I eat things I used to be terrified of eating, like a chocolate bar, or my favourite treats/sweets, because I know how many calories are in them, and I know that I have plenty of calories in the bank to eat for that day, so I can relax and just enjoy them and know I’m going to be just fine.
I hope, someday, to get to a place where you are, where I have enough information to have an idea of the calories I’m eating just by looking, without actually needing labels and the like, and not actually need to literally count. There are plenty of studies out there that prove, like you said, that knowledge is power. I think calories will always play a role in my recovery, and I’m totally okay with that.

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Emily Malone Reply:

This comment totally gave me chills – you said it much better than I ever could! Love the perspective of calorie counting actually being liberating and making you empowered with information. Amazing!

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Tricia Reply:

Ren, thanks for being so honest. I totally agree with you! Numbers can be good and bad. I used to struggle with an eating disorder also. But for me I tend to be a little ocd with numbers and such, so counting calories and scales were out for me up until this year. I don’t so much as count calories now, but I do like to read labels now to see what I am putting in my body and have learned enough to know when my bodies had enough! I don’t think calorie counting is bad as long as its done as a maintainer rather than an obsession.

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Sana     at 6:48 pm

:) Well said! I think calorie counting comes with a lot of stigma. But like you said it is about being aware of what you are putting in your body and why.

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Mandiee     at 6:48 pm

I think you’re right that knowledge is power and its best to be informed. However, I know some people can become too rapped up in all of this. For others, though, it helps them stay healthy. That makes me think that calorie counting should mean different things to different people. I think a general knowledge of food is extremely important in staying healthy, but to what extent is necessary is the question that only we can individually answer. Also, I would like to think that our bodies know what they need (keeping in mind that sometimes includes what they “want” but don’t “need”). Regardless, intuitive eating can be hard work! I guess what I’m saying is that being informed is important, but everyone has a different method that works best for them. Isn’t listening to our bodies&minds what it’s all about anyway? Then we are truly healthy!

Have a lovely day!
xox

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Dorry     at 6:49 pm

Awesome post! I think there’s a stigma with calorie counting but I love the way you approached this topic. As someone who went from years of disordered eating to being passionate about nutrition and educating myself about nutrition, I think it’s important for people to know the facts about the foods they eat. And that includes calories, fat grams, protein, carbohydrates, etc etc etc. And I loved seeing the way you put your salad together. For you – it’s olives, for me – avocado. It’s a must! :)

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Emily Malone Reply:

Aaaaahhh my avocados are NOT RIPE and it is killing me!! Trust me, they would have been on there. :)

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Lauren @ Fun, Fit and Fabulous!     at 6:49 pm

I try not to obsess over exact numbers, but I definitely pay attention to how many calories go into my body. I agree that “calorie counting” has a bad rep, but when your talking weight loss, you really can’t get away from the fact that you need to exert or burn more calories than you take in. A lot of my clients really have no idea how many calories they are actually consuming.

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Marci     at 6:50 pm

I love when your posts get a conversation going. I think that in order to not count calories, you have to have counted calories. You just have to know how much your breakfast, or at least a general range. It’s like building blocks–same for math–you have to do algebra the long way before you can use a calculator. And that’s why I think Weight Watchers is also a great basic diet for breaking foods into point values that are easy to count too.

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Emily Malone Reply:

Tooooooooooootally agree! And I love a nerdy math analogy! :)

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Heather     at 6:50 pm

I am counting calories right now. I have had a membership on Calorie King for a few years and use it primarily to enter in recipes and see how many calories/protein/fat/fiber they have.

I go through phases where I count calories a lot and then not at all. I do it every few months for a few days and make “breakfast as usual” and see how many calories I’ve had. I’m not the best judge as I don’t read labels that much so this is helpful.

Yesterday and today I had almost exactly the same calories for breakfast except today I was STARVING by 10:30 am. Yesterday, it was almost 11:15 before I even started thinking about food. It is interesting to go back and compare the fat/fiber/protein and see what is more effective.

I agree calorie counting is not for everyone but for me, counting calories helps me get back on track…

Great post and thank you for writing!

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Laine     at 6:51 pm

I think of it like handling money – if you don’t know what’s in your bank account, and have no idea how much things cost you’ll end up overdrawn. But once you get things under control, you can do your regular shopping without a calculator.

Same with food – if you don’t know how many calories are in foods, and how many you need each day, you’ll probably end up overweight. In the beginning of losing you need to count calories (or points for us Weight Watcher folks) until you learn what foods and amounts help you lose. Then you can pretty much go through your day estimating.

You are right, knowledge is power.

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Emily Malone Reply:

When I started my program, that is exactly how I viewed it – like a bank account. Interestingly enough, the year that I lost weight was also the year that I totally got my finances together.

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Ashley     at 6:51 pm

This is such a touchy subject, in my opinion. While I completely agree with you and work in the same exact way that you do, a lot of people will have a hard time with this. Even from seeing how my family eats, there is a lack of understanding of what health foods really are. The healthy fats that we know + love, avocados, pumpkin seeds, nuts, etc. are still thought of as “bad” to them. Like the comment above, a lot of people are still hooked on the fat free products. I think the first step is [still] trying to spread the word about processed foods + their lack of nutritional value. The foodthought process needs to be changed! Fun topic, Emily!!

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Emily Malone Reply:

I hate when good food is thought of as bad. Part of what I like about a tracking program like Calorie King is that it sets nutrient targets for you – fats, proteins, carbs, etc. – so that you can’t just eat empty calories all day long and still reach your goals. You can’t just eat all fat free food, or the program will alert you that you’re not reaching certain targets. Maybe it would be good if the programs were more advances, and could suggest some good fat items if someone is low on fat for the day!

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Maryea @ Happy Healthy Mama     at 6:52 pm

I basically use the same approach you do. I think it’s important to have an awareness of how many calories different foods have and how much we are eating each day. It is so common for people to slowly gain weight over time because they just dont pay attention and are eating too much without realizing it.

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kelly     at 6:52 pm

Thank you for this post. I have quite a bit of weight to lose and have chosen to count points. It’s easier for me. I enjoy reading several different healthy lifestyle blogs and they all seem to look down on people who count calories. Someone who has 100 pounds to lose isn’t an intuitive eater. Thank you for such an honest, well-balanced post.

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MA* Reply:

Kelly, I am a life-long advocate of points, especially for someone who is not a natural “intuitive eater”. Weight Watchers teaches you what you need to know, and you’ll never feel restricted. Good luck on your journey! :)

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Renee Reply:

I’ve counted calories and I’ve counted points on WW and the points system, to me, is just easier. Also, when you find out a Margarita is 9 POINTS it makes you go “Whoa…I may not want to drink that.”

Personally, for me…I’m going back to “Fat Church” aka Weight Watchers this week. (Think about it…it’s like church! LOL Everyone prays before going on the scale and they sit in the same place every week.) I’ve gained 5 lbs over the holidays and 5 more before that. Trying to eat healthy on my own isn’t working…I NEED the peer pressure of the scale and meetings.

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Emily Malone Reply:

Totally agree with you about people who have a lot of weight to lose. At some point when someone is obese, restriction is actually necessary to a point (and a healthy amount). Knowing how to do that safely and effectively seems to be the greatest tool for success.

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Ashley     at 6:52 pm

Ooops, haha…when I wrote my comment the one above mine, that I was referring to, was Stacy’s..haha, there are way more now!

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Tiffany @ Conor & Bella     at 6:52 pm

I counted calories for a short time years ago, and it was very unhealthy for me. I found myself restricting certain things and in general, food became kind of a drag. Nowadays, I just do my best to eat a well-balanced diet. I eat when I’m hungry and I don’t eat when I’m not. Now I LOVE food and I’m also the healthiest I’ve ever been.

Awesome topic!

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Kerry     at 6:53 pm

I count calories- every day, every meal. It’s somewhat obsessive but I also really am a control freak! On days I am a bit relaxed in counting I do just simply make good decisions. My need for it comes in when I have a big night planned (dinner out or a bday party) and I need to keep myself in check earlier in the day to not completely overdo it at that special occasion to ruin my whole day. I would love to lose weight easily but truth is w/ counting and working out every day I still don’t lose weight, I lose inches- slowly! I wish I could lose 30 in a year!

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Emily Malone Reply:

Losing 30 lbs in a year also involved cutting out alcohol completely, which dropped 10 lbs off my frame almost immediately. I was also doing a lot of weight lifting, which really helped my metabolism!

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erica     at 6:55 pm

i counted calories last year. there were both postives and negatives. it helped me realize the impact of “just one…or two…or three” cookies, and how much (or little) my time at the gym actually negated those calories. (3 cookies=way more time on the tredmill than i would’ve thought)

BUT then it also made me feel guilty. “i already ate X amount of calories?!?! that means i have to limit my dinner!!!” <–not good.

i think it helps in the beginning to show you just how much empty calories add up…

i don't think it's a bad thing. i just think you need to do it wisely.

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Emily Malone Reply:

I learned so much about empty calories from tracking my food, and I’m not sure I would have realized how those things measured up without it. Also totally agree with you that people grossly over-estimate that amount of calories that exercise burns!

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Heidi     at 6:56 pm

Great post! I think it is very important to get that basic nutrition foundation as it helps you know exactly what you are putting in your body. It can also help people stay motivated to keep up healthy eating when they can see what exactly is in their food. I’ll start writing down calories if I feel like my pants are getting a little tight, but in general I find that the knowledge of what nutrients are in the food helps me stay on track.

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Amber from Girl with the Red Hair     at 6:57 pm

I definitely would not be a) as knowledgeable about food and nutrition or b) 25 pounds lighter than I was three years ago if it wasn’t for counting calories.

I was the same as you – had NO CLUE about portion sizes, calories, nutrients etc. I ate what tasted good. I used to think that if I ate a salad every single day it would help me lose weight (but still keep eating everything else) ummm NO!

Calorie counting isn’t right for me anymore (for various reasons) but I wouldn’t be where I am today without it and I always highly encourage people who are trying to lose weight for the first time to track their food. I have calorie counted on and off for the last two years (and did it steadily for about a year) and I learned SO MUCH!

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MA*     at 6:59 pm

Good gosh, I feel like I could write an entire separate blog post in a comment. A yo-yo dieter pretty much my entire life, I am also aware of calories and nurtitional info, but what Amelia said is spot-on: if you ONLY count calories, you’re screwed. A Snickers or a bowl of soup? Same calories, and I’d choose candy every time. But you have to know the balance of other info.

I have been a member of Weight Watchers for years and most recently saw success on their plan last year, shedding 20+ pounds and never once feeling deprived. When they changed their points calculations recently, I was thrown a curveball — but it makes sense. No calorie counting, just fat, fiber, carbs, and protein. BUT, as someone who has counted it ALL (I once used fitday.com; for a period of about 6 months I was tracking cals, fat, protein, carbs, AND points… whew!) I can tell you that it’s pretty much ALL THE SAME. I eat the SAME number of calories weekly (give or take 100-150) on points or the new points plus as I would when I counted calories, or when I counted just fat, or just carbs, etc.

When it comes to weight loss, it’s a simple formula: energy in < energy out = pounds lost. You can measure your energy in whatever's easiest, but for some people, the calorie makes the most sense. It's about figuring out what works for you, and not omitting something entirely (i.e. carbs) or overloading on something exclusively (i.e. only eating fruits and veggies). Having an AWARENESS of what you're putting into your body to gain, lose, or maintain weight is NOT obsessive — it's wise.

I am more and more appalled as the millenium trudges forward that, in 2011, there are still people who do NOT understand nutritional info. I have a friend who I am trying to guide through weight loss, and she comes in for lunch with a salad ("Look, I got a salad! I'm so good!" she says). The salad is then doused in high fat dressing, croutons, cheese crumbles, and also had a side of buttered toast — by my tally, easily 900+ calories. Then she asks me if I'm having a "cheat" day when I'm eating a turkey sub, a side salad, and a few M&M's (roughly 500 calories). It boggles my mind that, with all of the resources available, people still don't get it.

You are one of the best resources for people looking to understand nutrition — your recipes are balanced and your understanding of portion size is REALISTIC. Keep it up! :)

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Emily Malone Reply:

And that is why you are smoking hot, lady! :)

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Jamie @ A Healthy J.D.     at 6:59 pm

I used to count calories every day with Sparkpeople and I lost 30 pounds from a combo of calorie counting and exercising. Nowadays I don’t necessarily log every calorie I eat but (like you) I keep a mental calculation in my head for each meal. If I see myself starting to gain weight I go back to calorie counting for a week or two until I feel comfortable backing away from it.
When I became a vegetarian I started logging all my food again but for protein counting purposes. I think logging food to see what calories/fats/protein/nutrition is a wonderful idea and something I’m grateful for.

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Christin@purplebirdblog     at 7:00 pm

I monitor extremely loosely the calorie counts in my diet, but I more go by my clothes. Usually if they’re getting tight, I’ve been eating too many baked goods. I cut back, and all is right with the world again. LOL :) Fortunately I have a lot of experience in knowing what works and what doesn’t for myself just by trial and error, and I rely more on that information than knowing the actual calorie counts.

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Katy (The Singing Runner)     at 7:00 pm

Interesting post. I will say that I used to count calories and it got to the point where it got to be a problem. Eventually I stopped counting calories and ate wholesome, healthy foods. I gained a little weight back, but I was eating such a low calorie count, it was to be expected.

Like you, I now know a lot of the calorie contents in the foods I eat and can take a mental inventory of a estimate of how many calories I’m taking in.

Recently I’ve been thinking about possibly counting calories again. I didn’t count during my current half-marathon training (the race is on Saturday!), but I am hoping to do another half 7 weeks later. During that training I’m interested to see how much I am taking in and how much I am burning. This is me being curious AND I am thinking about pursuing nutrition as my master’s. But at the same time, I am scared that it could trigger my past habits again. So I’m torn.

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Emily Malone Reply:

Good luck in your half-marathon!!

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Averie (LoveVeggiesandYoga)     at 7:02 pm

There’s a fine line between obsessing and being in the dark. America is obese as a whole. Is this b/c they dont count calories and are therefore in the dark? Or b/c they do have a clear handle on what a calorie is and what it means…and simply.dont.care. ? Who knows.

Somewhere in all of it is a happy medium. Each person must find what works for her. Counting or not. Or more just a semi-awareness without fixation. Which is what i do :)

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Emilie     at 7:02 pm

I think the key thing here is that knowledge really is power, like you say. I’ve struggled and continue to struggle with eating but working with a dietitian to understand more about what I put into my body has really helped, and I consider myself to be someone who has always had a good idea about what foods are healthy, what aren’t, etc. I’ve learned more, though, since being in recovery from an ED, and am coming to the point where I understand that it’s really important to know what foods are going to benefit your body and how, and that getting a proper balance of nutrients and vitamins is key. Counting calories can be a great way to familiarize yourself with where your calories are coming from, and which foods are really good for you vs. those that may not really benefit you all that much.

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MA*     at 7:03 pm

All of this said, would you ever consider posting (approximate) nutritional stats on your recipes so I don’t have to do all the leg work myself? ;) xoxo

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Ginna Reply:

Ditto! :)

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Emily Malone Reply:

Hmmm I could consider that. Just know that they are ALL healthy in the meantime. :)

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Melissa     at 7:03 pm

In a perfect world, where we weren’t simultaneously inundated with diet culture and McDonald’s commercials, I imagine counting calories would be totally unnecessary. If we hadn’t placed such a ridiculous value on thinness (but we have), and if all the barriers to healthy eating (like food deserts and lack of inexpensive whole foods and poverty) didn’t exist (but they do), then everyone could strive toward intuitive eating, and most people could probably achieve it.
But…we don’t live in that world. And no matter which end of the economic spectrum you’re coming from, it’s hard NOT to count calories. On the one hand, if you’re privileged, you have the luxury to eat whatever you want whenever you want, and you might choose to lose weight or something (and like your whole post said–losing weight without counting calories at least initially is pretty much impossible). On the other hand, if you’re poor, you’re going to need to find the most calorie-dense foods for your money. (Other aspects of healthy eating like protein, vitamins/minerals, lack of HFCS, etc. aside, if you only have a few dollars to spend on food, it’ll be your healthiest choice to get as many calories for your money as possible.)
So, while in a perfect world it would probably be ok to make “calorie counting” a dirty word–we don’t live in that world yet. And although everyone concerned with health/nutrition should be helping to create that world where diet culture isn’t so damn pervasive and healthy food is accessible to everyone, that doesn’t really make it acceptable to demonize the practice of calorie counting in the interim.

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Emily Malone Reply:

YES YES YES! I wouldn’t need to analyze my food and every label if I could actually have any faith in our food system. Cookies or individual drink bottles that actually contain 4 servings? Please.

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Haley     at 7:03 pm

Great topic!

I’ve been a member on Sparkpeople for years now and go back and forth from counting calories (mainly because when I don’t I have a harder time losing weight). I’ve found it to be super helpful and although I’m also very passionate about nutrition and wellness, I don’t have as great of a memory as you do, haha.

Counting calories gives me accountability and I actually like to go back into my archives and see which combinations of fats : proteins : carbs worked best for me.

Maybe once I reach my goal weight there won’t be such a great need, though…

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Megan Reply:

I also use SparkPeople and found it has woken me up to what a certain food is really worth for me. It has helped me lose about 20lbs, but more importantly it taught me how to navigate through food and true nutrition.

Haley, I agree about your accountability and like going back to see where I have been and what I am now.

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Blog is the New Black     at 7:04 pm

Emily, as always, a well-written, interesting, and informative post. I take the same approach as you. I like to know what I’m eating as far as the combos of food and knowing I’m getting enough but also know when I’m overdoing it. When losing weight, calorie-counting is an important tool, so long as you keep it in check and don’t analyze every last morsel and stress over the extra sugar from your banana…

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Ariel     at 7:05 pm

What a great topic! I think that calorie counting has negative connotations because of how our society views food. Depending on where you look, you can either be bombarded with weight loss campaigns, or of ads for restaurants- both sides of the extreme are represented, but it appears that there isn’t much emphasis on balance or creating a healthy lifestyle. I am currently interning at an Eating Disorder Outpatient program and I’ve heard a lot of the patients say that because of the way that our society glorifies a specific physique, what started out as an innocent way to track their eating, turned into a destructive behavior. I am in no way saying that counting calories will always lead to disordered eating, there are many other factors involved, but the media definitely has an influence on an individual’s self-image.

In other parts of the world, instead of listing “calories” on food packages, the amount of “energy” is listed. I think that if we could adopt the same idea, that calories can be good for you because they provide you with necessary energy to carry out your daily activities, we could be one step closer to having a healthy relationship with food.

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Emily Malone Reply:

LOVE the idea of thinking about calories as energy. Ultimately, that’s what they are!

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Jenn @ LiveWellFitNow     at 7:06 pm

Similar to many wonderful individuals out there, I come from a long history of chronic dieting and disordered eating so my opinion is biased in one direction but I am also very passionate about nutrition + wellness…so over time my ideas continue to evolve.

I have counted calories numerous times in my past with no success. For me, it wasn’t about the calories or the amount- it was about restricting too much or too little. I gave food power and lots of it over time. So my healing had to begin with no numbers. No macronutrients, no add this, no focus on fresh or whole foods. For me- I had to learn to allow all foods into my life before I could truly move forward. With that process came a new understanding for how food made me FEEL. 200 cals of cookies and I feel great. 800 cals of cookies and I feel miserable.

But you see I have always been programmed to eat less, smaller portions and always with control. My version of calorie counting in the last year was in an effort to finally learn how to properly “feed” my body. So that it felt satiated, nourished and energized to go, go, go. I’ve learned that I need roughly 500-600 calories in a meal in order to feel balanced. Anything less- I’m looking for food and end up craving what my body doesn’t need. Much more- I feel sluggish.

So yes, I agree with you entirely that knowledge is power. I think that learning about calories can be very educational and helpful. But I also feel that we have the tendency to judge quickly in the world of nutrition when we so badly want a solution. Calorie counting can be controlling and rather destructive. It all depends on your individual self, body and mind.

Great post! :)

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Sarah @ goingongoals     at 7:09 pm

I do not count calories, but I have the same routine down that you do. I usually have a few snacks at work and a salad (or veggie) based lunch. I through in different protein sources here or there and am pretty confident in what I eat.

Knowledge is power. After taking a nutrition class in college and watching my parents do weight watchers in high school, I feel I have an excellent handle on a balanced diet.

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Emilie     at 7:10 pm

I counted calories religiously for a year using Daily Plate. Being a very type A person, I really enjoyed inputting all the info and it definitely taught me about portion size and about how many calories are in the things I regularily eat. I did not have a problem with processed junk food, simply a volume eating issue.
BUT, and this is a big BUT- for me, it became too much. I am a very tall person and have an above average metabolism. This, combined with training for a marathon and being absolutely starving all the time, led me to abandon calorie counting online. Yes, 3500 calories does roughly equal 1 pound, but I do feel that everyone’s body varies on this slightly.
I’ve been marathon training and eyeballing my portions (educated eyeballing) and snacking more when I am hungry, and I have lost a couple pounds. On top of this, my muscle definition is better than it ever has been.
So anyways, rambly comment, but I think calorie counting is a great tool for people to start from when losing weight, but probably not a reasonable lifelong activity for most.

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shann     at 7:12 pm

I currently use Sparkpeople to track my food. I guess I would distinguish between “tracking my food” and “counting my calories”, at least for me personally. I try my best to eat intuitively while making good decisions (I’d like to say around 80% of the time). I’m starting to shift from a “calories” mentality to a “macros” mentality, trying to hit a 30-20-50 protein-fats-carb ratio on most days. This will probably go up in protein and down in carbs after the completion of my marathon.

Logging my food intake has taught me so much about what food is good for me and why, and empowers me to make good nutritional decisions. I doubt I would have held on to a lot of this information had I just read it in a book and not observed it in my own diet.

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Ally     at 7:14 pm

I really enjoyed reading this post. Knowledge is power…and if you don’t know what you are putting into your body there is no way you can be successful in a weight loss program. First you need to know how many calories your body needs, then you need to figure out how many calories you can consume per day and loose weight in a safe manner. By tracking your calorie intake for at least a short period of time you will see how much food you can eat. Once you have it figured out and it becomes common knowledge, you don’t have to count anymore

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Amy*     at 7:17 pm

The biggest thing about this is “knowledge is power.” With the weight epidemic in our country, I’ve heard about the need for kids to take PE or gym, but I haven’t heard people rallying for kids to take health.

When I was in school (not that long ago), we had to take health in middle school and high school. Now, in the district that I teach in, students are not required to take a health class at all.

This little bit of knowledge could go a long way!
*steps off soapbox*

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Emily Malone Reply:

I’ll get on your soapbox. It kills me that I didn’t really even figure out what calories were until I was in my TWENTIES! We had health class and all we talked about was sex and abstinence. For someone who had never even had a boyfriend, it was pretty irrelevant (and awkward!). I could have used a nutrition class!

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Stephanie Reply:

Between that and a life/money skills class, we might be able to curb some of the issues my husband and I have struggled with!

(I don’t count calories, but I’ve started writing down what I eat…basically to keep my mindless eating at bay. I’m so bad about paying attention to my food, and the suddenly all the chips are gone! Writing down what I have and remembering how long the meals have kept me full is already helping 3 days in.)

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amanda     at 7:17 pm

I think that counting calories just for the sake of coming up with a number isn’t all that helpful. However, I think that looking at the calories and nutritional information of your food to actually help you understand what you’re eating and learn about nutrition is not a bad thing at all.

Calories don’t tell the whole story. You can have a 100 calorie twinkie which has next to no nutritional value, or you could have a banana or something … there’s more to the picture than just the number of calories.

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Lee     at 7:18 pm

I think that calorie counting gets the same negative rep as the scale does. Sure, both of these tools can be dangerous for someone who is recovering from an eating disorder or can possibly lead to an unhealthy obsession, but for most people, they are both good tools to keep your weight in check (or gain or lose or whatever).

I tend to count my calories during the day because I have a tendency to snack too much at my desk. I’ll tally them up to see if I really “need” that extra handful of nuts. But after I go home from work, I mostly just try to throw together a nutritious meal.

I love reading the comments on this post. Such an interesting discussion!

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Emily Malone Reply:

Perhaps not surprising, I am also a big fan of the scale. How you can set measurable goals, and then not measure them?

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Whitney Reply:

Thank you for saying this Emily. All I read on the blogs these days are anti-scales and “I go by how my jeans fit” instead of stepping on a scale. I personally weigh myself every morning because I find it interesting to know what and how much I can eat and exercise to see how it affects my body. I don’t see anything wrong with counting calories and weighing yourself if it comes from a healthy place and NOT obsessive!

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Emily     at 7:21 pm

This is SUCH a great post. I definitely approach my daily meals like you do. I’m aware of a rough estimate of the calories and nutritional value of everything I eat, and as an endurance athlete, it’s important to make sure I’m getting enough of everything-including calories! And during the off-season, I like to be aware of how much less I’m training (/burning calories) and mindful of the fact that my body needs less fuel.

I must confess that I have no idea how many calories are in splurge foods and homebaked treats, and I’d like to keep it that way.

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Stephanie     at 7:21 pm

I still count calories. For one…I want to make sure that I’m getting ENOUGH calories to fuel workouts but I’m also still trying to lose weight so I don’t want to overeat. Like you, I used a website tracker and did for a few years so I got used to certain foods being certain calories so I feel like I have a better understanding of what I’m eating. I don’t religiously count anymore or stress over it…but I definitely take it into consideration.

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Sarah     at 7:21 pm

This is such a great post and discussion! Since I committed to regaining my health and losing weight after studying abroad in 2006, I’ve counted Weight Watchers points on and off. It helped me keep my habitual grazing in check and learn about the foods (nutrients, fats, etc.) I was eating to nourish myself.

After college if I gained weight, I would go back to keeping a food journal to help me get back on track. In fact, I was tracking points (and once and a while, calories) right up until Thanksgiving when I started feeling stifled by points and wasn’t convinced I was eating enough calories. I realized that tracking had taught me what an appropriate meal size and make up was and was really the first step in becoming the nutrition-conscious eater I am today who picks whole foods over most packaged ones.

I actually decided to count calories as well as some other nutrition information this week because I still am not sure of what my intake is in a day. I am not limiting myself or choosing only easy-to-calculate foods. I like being aware of what I eat and making nourishing, healthy meals and want to make sure that I’m fueling my body appropriately for my life style.

I feel like I could talk about this issue all night – I find the conversation fascinating!

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Emily Malone Reply:

I love that you used the word grazing. :)

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Kate     at 7:22 pm

Very interesting post and discussion. I count calories most of the time using Calorie King. I find that tracking my food intake makes me more conscious of the choices I make and provides really valuable data. I really like to be able to see the macronutrient breakdown of my meals and analyze what works for me and what doesn’t.

I like to know what I’m eating and calories are one part of that. When I put milk in my coffee in the morning, I know where it is from, how the cows were raised, and how many calories, grams of protein and milligrams of calcium I am putting in my body and find that all to be relevant information. And I like taking some days to just not worry about it – I count calories in my everyday life so I have the flexibility not to count calories sometimes.

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Lisa     at 7:24 pm

Honestly… counting calories can be such a slippery slope in ANY way and I just think the fact that you’re advocating for it on here is ridiculous.I just lost all respect for you. I’ve been an avid reader for up to a year now….

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Emily Malone Reply:

Lisa, would you have had more respect for me if I lied and told you that I just simply have amazing willpower and can mindlessly eat anything I want? I’m not a hero. I am real, and I’m relatable. Thank you for reading for so long!

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Cassie @ Back to Her Roots Reply:

I think it is really nice to hear. I love all the differences that are out there in the healthy living blogosphere, but there is a lot of “I don’t use a scale. I don’t use calories. I just wing it.” and that just isn’t realistic for a lot of us. Especially those of us that have a massive amount of weight to lose. It’s refreshing to hear this from my favorite blogger.

I’d love to eventually get to a place where I judge by how my pants fit and how hungry I am. But for now, scales and counting calories (on Sparkpeople!) is how I get my weight down to a healthy place.

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Emily E.     at 7:25 pm

I totally agree with your post! I think the best way to lose weight is by counting calories. This forces you to focus on portion size and quality of your food. You quickly realize that you will get a larger quantity of food if you make healthy choices and make fruits and veggies the core of your diet.

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Annie@stronghealthyfit     at 7:29 pm

I’ve never strictly counted calories, but having experienced and ED I definitely obsessed about higher-calorie foods and learned the caloric values for many foods. Thanks for putting in the clause saying that calorie counting can be dangerous for those with ED’s, or even those who have recovered/are recovering from them. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have agreed with you- very well-written post!

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Emily Malone Reply:

I know that calorie counting is a big problem for those who have ED’s and other issues. But the majority of people do not have ED’s, and I hate that there is this huge stigma places on calorie counting because of it. It really can be a useful tool. That said, I wish food in general was simply made to be healthier, and we all wouldn’t have to worry or think about it so much. Thanks Annie!

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KaraHadley     at 7:31 pm

I don’t know why more people don’t talk about calories. They really are important.
I count occasionally, usually when I want to lose a couple of pounds. And that’s because counting works! Having that actual concrete number in front of you is a very powerful thing.
But I do have one qualm with counting–it’s restrictive. Going out to eat, potlucks, and even some cooking is difficult. I hate having to divide recipe ingredients per portion or guess everything that someone else put into a dish.
That being said, if you have the time and patience to do all that, I’m all for counting and being concerned with your calorie intake.

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Alayna @ Thyme Bombe     at 7:35 pm

The information itself (the calorie count) isn’t inherently dangerous, it’s how people use it that can be dangerous. There is nothing wrong with counting your calories if it helps you stay on track when you couldn’t otherwise, and as long as you don’t use that knowledge to hurt yourself there is nothing wrong with knowing the numbers. I think it’s safe to count calories as long as you remain aware of how you’re using that information and discontinue if you find yourself adjusting your behavior in a way that could be dangerous.

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Emily Malone Reply:

100% agree.

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gas     at 7:36 pm

I’m a weight lifter. My diet is goal oriented and I treat it as one of the raw inputs of my life. My goal is one gram of protein per lb body weight, and a macronutrient ratio of 1:1:1 of protein to carbs to fat in terms of calories. protien sets my caloric intake

If I don’t worry about this I won’t acheive the goal of my sport I use fitday because I can easily customize my entries exactly to the recipes I eat.

Food is yummy. Food is naturally anabolic. Food is good for social discourse and famipy intimacy. Why would you not engage in a clear understanding of what it is you are doing with such an important aspect of your life? Emily I love the way you engage your readers in fundamental questions. I also love the way you are fearless in standing against the heard instinct. Food is not political, its experiential. Zen is about gaining experiential wisdom in the face of the political. Bravo on your zen I love that when you couldn’t run you dove into weights with positivity

The most important sentance to me was about essential aminos

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Emily Malone Reply:

Thanks Gas! Great comment. :)

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katiebiss     at 7:36 pm

Way to get the conversation going! LOVE it!

I agree with both sides of the argument here.

I’ve lost 135 pounds. I did this by counting calories’/weight watchers points. Once I became comfortable with the foods I didn’t feel the need to count anymore. Though I will still keep a mental tally just out of curiosity.

I think if counting calories works for you then AWESOME as long as it does not become an unhealthy obsession. It’s a great way to keep focused and know where you are at. But I think that other things (such as fiber, protein, calcium, etc) should be thought of as well.

Now that being said, I absolutely was one of those people that completely steered clear of avocado, nuts, etc purely because of the high calories they have. I was eating really well but I had tunnel vision. I didn’t see out side of the proverbial box. In my books, that is a negative about calorie counting. I lost out on so much nutritional goodness because I wasn’t willing to compromise and go over my points/calories for the day. I look back on it now and I am glad I got over that.

At the end of the day, I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer here. If it works for you and you are living a healthy, balanced lifestyle, then nobody has the right to tell you what you are doing is anything but that.

It’s excellent food for thought Emily.

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Emily Malone Reply:

Wow – what a weight loss! Congrats to you! Glad to see that you figured out all the joys of eating healthy fats and a well balanced diet. :)

PS – I wanted “food for thought” to be my original blog name, but it was taken!

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katiebiss Reply:

Thanks…It’s an accomplishment for sure…

Ha it’s funny you mentioned the blog name…I am in the works (and have been for what seems like ever!) of starting a blog…That was my first choice for a blog name too. I’ve been through many disappointments with picking a name that’s for sure!

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Rachelle     at 7:37 pm

I totally agree. Several years ago (after the dreaded college years) I had several pounds to lose. I started tracking on my PDA, but it gave nutritional analysis. My knowledge of nutrition leaves much to be desired, but this started me out and it helped teach me what a correct portion size was! I had a good idea (and still do) about the calorie/fat content of many foods, most notably foods that are higher in calories & fat (like my love, cheese!).
I am finding I forget though and I’ve decided I need to re-vist my food journal-ing days.

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Lisa     at 7:47 pm

I think you have articulated your views on this issue wonderfully :)

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Salah (My Healthiest Lifestyle)     at 7:50 pm

That salad looks wonderful!! I’m the same way with calorie counting! After so much measuring and stuff, its easy to tell now what 1/4 c looks like etc. :-)

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Clare @ Fitting It All In     at 7:52 pm

Thank you for addressing this! I have a eating disorder history, but am thankfully to the point where I don’t need to have an exact count of my calories. I do, however, like to keep a rough estimate. Like you, I am able to do this through extensive research and education in the field of nutrition.

Many people see my passion for nutrition or knowledge of my food as a sign that I’m still “sick” or somehow abnormal. I think that is part of the calorie counting stigma –that it somehow means you have an eating disorder.

But like so many said, the way that we can STAY fit and healthy is through making sure we know what we are putting into our bodies. There are many different levels of calorie counting, but it’s NOT just for those that are trying to lose or gain weight!

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Emilie @livetoeatrunforfun Reply:

“Many people see my passion for nutrition or knowledge of my food as a sign that I’m still “sick” or somehow abnormal. I think that is part of the calorie counting stigma –that it somehow means you have an eating disorder.”

I totally agree with you Clare! I just wrote about this on my blog. Family or friends who view dedication to healthy living as fanatical. It’s frustrating to be put down for being good to your body and having a passion for health.

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Erin @ the office appetite     at 7:54 pm

I love this post!! It’s completely true about the bad rap in calorie counting. I actually used to count, to the point where it was pretty much every morsel that went into my mouth (I HATED that part in my life!). The ONLY reason I started is because I was trying to see how many calories I was eating in a day, because my husband can survive on next to NO food. I am always eating a ton more than him and even finishing off his plates (not to mention I snack every 2 hours). I started because this made me feel like I was eating too much. Over time I’ve just realized that I have an incredibly fast metabolism, I exercise (he doesn’t), and I’m by no means over or underweight. I don’t count anymore and use the same philosophy as you – I just make sure I have a balance of carbs/protein/fat and just listen to what my body wants :)

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C.     at 7:57 pm

Well, over the past year, I’ve lost 100lbs with WW.

In the beginning, calorie counting (points for weight watchers) was to gain the nutritional education. But, it really did become so much more. Now, for me, it’s MUCH more about accounatbility. Every bite, lick, and taste adds up for a person like me. It’s easy to forget that I ate my husband’s pizza crust at 10 am by the time dinner rolls by and I’m eyeing something high calorie. Food tracking helps me keep track of where I’m at food-wise in my day.

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Martha Lilian     at 8:00 pm

After reading this, I’ve confirmed that I am one of those people who SHOULDN’T count calories. I always start out with the best of intentions but then that nasty little voice starts convincing me that if I just don’t eat this or don’t eat that and bring my daily calories lower and lower, maybe then I’ll be happier. I know how to eat healthy and what and how much I should be eating, it is just a matter of staying away from old bad habits on both ends of the spectrum.

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Emily Malone Reply:

Hi Martha! Interesting how the conversation can swing both ways. I’m glad you’ve found the system that works best for you!

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Kaci     at 8:02 pm

When I began eating healthier in high school, I counted calories because I didn’t know what else to look at. However, I no longer count calories because my goal is to eat foods that I know are all-natural, healthy, and delicious. I do maintain portion control via a kitchen scale. I have found that this really helps me to not overeat, as well as get the recommended daily allotments of all essential food groups. :)

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Doc (The Healthy PhD)     at 8:04 pm

Thanks for this post. Your attitude mirrors mine. I lost weight by counting calories, and now I don’t really have to count because I’ve got a running tally in my head. Sometimes I’ll pull out a measuring spoon just to check myself.

I hope you get mostly positive replies to this. It’s hard to be brave in the blog world, and I’m proud of you for putting this out there!

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Emily Malone Reply:

Thanks Doc! My goal for 2011 is to stop worrying about judgement or backlash – and to always put my best, most honest self out there. :)

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Therese     at 8:05 pm

I think it depends on the person and that’s persons personality. Like you, I had no idea about calories and other nutritional aspects when I first started losing weight. When I tracked I was amazed at what I saw. My fat was near 0 a day but my calories were spot on! Once I started introducing more fats in my diet, I started losing more weight!

But others can be predisposed to being quite controlling with calories. Currently I can maintain without tracking calories but I still have some weight I’d like to lose and as much as I find it tedious, it really works for me!

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Sarah @ The Strength of Faith     at 8:07 pm

When I first read this, my immediate reaction was, NO I don’t count calories, because when I did that I started to obsess! However – I’m pretty sure that most of us “sort of” count – in the sense that we try to prepare meals with balance.

However – when I was training for my half marathon, I definitely counted calories to REfuel. I remember running 10 miles, looking at my garmin and it said I had burned approximately 1,000 calories – I wanted to make sure I got that all back!

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Tina Whitmire     at 8:08 pm

I completely, 100%, agree with you! Knowledge is power and people need to understand what they are putting in their bodies. Especially people who do not know what a portion size is.

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Erin (Travel, Eat, Repeat)     at 8:10 pm

I sometimes do feel guilty for doing the calorie math in my head but it’s just as much so I don’t *under*eat as overeat. It helps me stay on track throughout the day, especially when deciding whether to have a second cookie for dessert.

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Nicole     at 8:12 pm

For me, counting calories doesnt work because I find myself too concentrated on how many I eat and sometimes wouldnt enjoy my meal if it was higher than normal. I eat about 1,800-2,000 cals. a day and get roughly 30 mins of exercise 5 times a week and am at my perfect weight. At each meal I make sure I have at least a protein, starch, veggie/fruit, and dairy plus and I eat 2-3 snacks a day. At each snack I also try to have 2 food groups to balance out.

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Angela     at 8:14 pm

I love this post. I only discovered healthy living blogs a few months ago and noticed that there was a lot of ‘I don’t count calories’ statements and it kind of bugged me. I think a lot of the negativity towards counting calories in the blogging world (readers & writers) is self perpetuating. Like you a lot of bloggers had lost some weight in the past and counted calories but I’m betting that a lot of them probably make their lunches now in the same way you did today – counting but not actively counting if you get what I mean. From a new readers point of view it can come across as a bad thing to count calories when all these bloggers can apparently stay slim easily without even thinking about it. This post has probably been the most honest I’ve read about calories.

I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with counting calories if you don’t have an ED history. It’s the first step that most people take in knowing what is in their food. Had I never started tracking my calories on Daily Plate I wouldn’t have happened to see how much fat, protein and carbs etc were in the food I was eating. People need to know what they are eating whether they want to lose weight or stay as they are as after all if you eat enough of it the so called ‘real food’ can make you gain weight as well.

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Emily Malone Reply:

Thanks Angela! :)

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Callie     at 8:15 pm

This is a great post! Like many people, I started my weight loss journey counting calories using the website livestrong.com. Sometimes you just need a reality check on what you are actually consuming. I know I did! Funny story about calories. My husband has put on about 10 pounds since I got pregnant. :) He has always been able to eat whatever he wants, and has never had to count calories except when he needed to GAIN weight in high school for football. I asked him how many calories he thought he needed in a day (he is about 5’8″ and weighs about 155). He answered “About 4500?” WHOOAAA! Made me giggle. It must be nice to be so naive. :)

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Laura     at 8:30 pm

THANK YOU for posting this. I started calorie counting (again) a couple of days ago. I’m good at going over and eating empty calories and writing everything I eat down keeps me in check. I don’t want to write that I ate an entire pizza so I don’t. It just seems that everything that I read (on blogs) talks about the negatives of calorie counting. Slightly discouraging.

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Emily Malone Reply:

Exactly. If it makes me cringe to write it down, I probably shouldn’t put it in my mouth. It’s just another form of accountability – similar to taking pictures of what you eat.

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Sandra     at 8:30 pm

Another great post Emily! I guess it always comes down to what works best for the individual. I am in recovery from an eating disorder and just started seeing a nutritionist. I declined the option to use a food journal/count calories as I feel very strongly that it may trigger some old behaviours. But that’s how I feel right now. It may change in the future and I am very glad that you felt the need to share something that can be so useful for a lot of people, including yourself.

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rebecca     at 8:32 pm

I know where you’re coming from, sometimes counting calories may be for many different reasons. But in the beginning of last year I was obsessively tracking all my calories and killing myself at the gym with a 5 mile run at 6.0 & 2-3 mile walk at a fast pace of 3.6. Then I started being scared of food and not eating a lot, and if I did, I would want to burn it off. I know that caused an eating disorder and I haven’t been counting calories anymore, but if I do, it is only if I feel I haven’t eaten enough that day or to make sure I nourish my body of what I still need depending on the amount of physical activity I did that one day. Counting calories is harmless in a lot of situations, but when I started, I thought I was doing no harm at first (which I wasn’t); but then after a while, it became obsessive and made me too thin.

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chelsey @ clean eating chelsey     at 8:49 pm

Great post – I was one of the people who chimed in and said “I used to but don’t anymore”. However, the only reason why i don’t anymore is because I know what every single piece of food’s nutritional stats are without even looking! I did it so long that it’s just basically engraved in me. Knowledge is power – I wouldn’t be as nutritionally healthy as I am if I didn’t do it before!

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Rochel     at 8:49 pm

I think you have the right attitude about it. I also don’t count calories per se; but, I take into account how things like portion size, protein, how many servings of fruits & veggies, etc. I agree that knowledge is power. Although I don’t think I have the patience to ever calculate an exact calorie count for the day, I know exactly what my body needs and make sure to fuel it accordingly.

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Kristel     at 9:01 pm

I loved your post today (as I do most days but today I felt completed to comment). I do count calories. I had started and stopped doing this many times to try and lose the extra lbs but always felt so restricted so after 3-4 days I would quit. I have been doing this now since October and lost 15 lbs. What I tell my friends is that I can have chocolate if I want or I can have a big desert but that means I get less “real” or nutritional food that day and I might be sort of hungry so its not a great idea.
Thanks for sharing your story on this topic!

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emily (a nutritionist eats)     at 9:07 pm

Very interesting discussion! I don’t count calories, but like you, I always have a rough estimate of each meal – can’t help it! I also like to make sure I’m getting enough calories, etc. in my meals. I have found though, when I keep track of calories (like on LoseIt app) I obsess over it and stop listening to my body so I no longer use tracking tools, it’s just something I loosely keep track of in my head. (And also always consider that some days I’ll need more calories then others which is why I prefer to listen to my body then a “number”)

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Liane     at 9:07 pm

I counted calories when I was on Weight Watchers, and although I lost weight, I didn’t learn healthy eating habits because I could figure out what fast and easy options I could eat that were low points and not the healthiest options.
I hear the program has changed now, which is awesome and has more of an emphasis on choosing whole foods.

I ended up leaving WW behind and choosing to eat whole, unprocessed foods and to make sure I took in to account portion size. Which is totally my downfall!

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Tina @ Faith Fitness Fun     at 9:08 pm

I actually JUST posted about this today. When I work towards losing the baby weight and getting back in shape I will loosely track calories. I will have a ballpark for each meal/snack to be sure I’m within reason to reach my goals. I think as long as it doesn’t become obsessive, cal counting can be a useful tool when working towards goals.

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Hillary     at 9:09 pm

creative, SMART post!

i see your point clearly :)

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Jenn @ Peas & Crayons     at 9:17 pm

Holy comments batman!!!! =) No way I can read through all those… but I did read you post and LOVED IT! Very refreshing to read something from someone that has an uber similar approach to me! =)

While studying dietetics, we had to log into programs like calorie king as practice for one of my classes and also had to learn a lot of the common calorie facts off the diabetes “exchange list”… so all that calorie counting goodness got sucked up into my head. Now I just guesstimate as I cook/eat =)

thanks for posting this! <3

xoXOxo
Jenn @ Peas & Crayons

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Avery     at 9:20 pm

Thank you for posting this! For awhile there so many blogs had me thinking I was one of the only ones who didn’t consider counting calories a crime! I count calories and have been very successful with it. I don’t plan to count calories forever but I would like to keep it up until I feel content that I could manage my portion sizes on my own.

To me counting calories is just like a “training bra” for a healthy lifestyle. It’s nice to hear someone talk about the benefits counting calories has. It doesn’t have to be an obsession!

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Emily Malone Reply:

Love the training bra analogy – so true!

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Zoe     at 9:20 pm

I think calorie counting and EDs are so closely related that for many people calorie counting= extreme restricting. One thing that makes this even a topic of discussion is there is no definition of what “calorie counting” is. Is it when Emily estimates her meal has 500 calories, or when someone tacks every crumb online? When Kath (Kath Eats Real Food) blogs “My English muffin did not hold me over very well today even though nutrition-wise it was comparable to my regular spoon-based breakfast” (1/4/11 post) we have to assume that she is talking fat, protein, carbohydrates and fiber _and_ calories. She is a RD and I can guess that she know what the nutritional profiles (including calories) of most the food in her pantry are. So, is it calorie counting if you estimate how many calories are in your meal? I’d argue yes, but it might be more accurate to call it calories estimation. Either way, there should be a definition.

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Julie     at 9:27 pm

Thank you for raising this point, Emily. I too was once in a spot where I had no idea where to start in order to develop healthier life practices. I started using Sparkpeople.com, which utilizes calorie-counting as part of its program, a year-and-a-half ago and have lost 60 pounds, but gained so much more! Like you detailed with the creation of your lunch (delicious, by the way!), calorie counting with Spark has helped me develop a better understanding of portion sizes and in turn put me more in tune with my own hunger levels. By breaking down my nutrients, I feel confident in my ability to maintain balance in what I eat throughout the day.
While I currently hover around my goal weight, I still count calories in my head, or sometimes on Spark, everyday. However, I don’t think that it is holding me back from anything; just reinforcing in my mind that the healthy life style changes that I have chosen CAN continue to stick. : D

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lindsay     at 9:34 pm

I have never counted calories, but I do keep track loosely of my sodium, sugar and veggie intake. If I have too much or too little (veggies), I try to make up for it throughout the day or week, even. In my opinion, it seems to me that counting calories is key to weight loss and even maintaining weight loss (for some), but for overall health, its more about the nutrients, added sugar, trans fats and sodium in your food. I have a feeling that if I ever needed to lose weight, I would definitely count calories.

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Anna S @ History Running Girl     at 9:37 pm

I count points! So it is kind of like counting calories.

I count because when I didn’t count I gained 20 poinds. I might be in my healthy BMI now, but plus 20 and I am not!

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Joanna @ drizzle of sunshine     at 9:49 pm

I completely agree. I think calorie counting should be a must for sometime in everyone’s life. I didn’t want to lose weight, but rather see what I was putting into my body. It was an experiment of sorts. I kept track for only two or so months and it was shocking how many empty and yucky calories I was putting into my belly. I don’t do it anymore, but it taught me to read labels to be AWARE of what was going into my body.

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Jen     at 9:50 pm

i calorie count. i use sparkpeople.com (free) to track my calories in and out. i do have an ed background and counting calories actually keeps me on track. i am now at a “healthy” weight. heck, now i am in the position i could lose 5-10lbs again. however, counting calories keeps me on track and helps me make sure i am getting all the nutrients i need. it also gives me a baseline. i never eat less than 1200 calories a day and i found if i am not counting i tend to overestimate what i eat.

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Maddie     at 9:50 pm

Great post. I agree that it’s good to have an understanding of roughly how many calories are in the foods you are eating to create appropriate meals.

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AJ     at 9:53 pm

I think you should focus more on food and movement rather than calories. Michael Pollan’s mantra is the one I like to remember when planning meals: Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants. I love your recipes though!

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rofomom     at 10:01 pm

Ummmm, you hit the nail on the head! Thank you for posting this. I have been tracking on sparkpeople for 3 years and I still find that when I don’t measure I don’t get it right. I am not obsessive about everything being perfect but I do measure/weigh and tally it up when I can. It’s the best way for me to stay on track.

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Kristen     at 10:22 pm

Hi Emily! I responded to your poll on Twitter because I feel like I am the only healthy living blogger who actually still counts their calories. I am in no way looking to lose weight, but it’s comfortable to me. I am a numbers person, so it’s also a little bit fun. I started counting in college, and then started again after gaining about 10# after getting married. It helped me get back to what I feel is my “health weight”. I also have an extensive background in nutrition (I have a degree in exercise science with a health minor, and hold 2 strength + conditioning certifications), so I pretty much know what I am eating without counting, but it is also a trust issue. I guess I feel that if I DON’T count, why can’t I just eat whatever I want? Crazy, but true. I guess that’s what happens after you have counted for so long.

Thank you for being willing to post about calorie counting. I think it is a GREAT tool for weight loss, but not so much when it becomes an obsession. I feel like I have a fairly healthy relationship with counting and back off if I feel it is becoming obsessive.

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Emily Malone Reply:

Hopefully you can see here that you are definitely NOT the only one! :) I am also a numbers person – I love seeing measurable progress, whether thats in miles I ran or weight I lifted, or food related.

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Kristen Reply:

I should also say that although I used to be restrictive with it, I don’t do that anymore. I never give myself a budget of how many calories I can eat. I try to aim between 1800-2000 each day, but I never restrict when it comes to special occasions or eating out. One bad day of eating will definitely not throw me off or make me gain weight. If eat 4000 calories one day, so be it. I just get back on track the next day. (Usually, I will just not even count because I honestly can’t keep track… but my stomach knows I overate! LOVE rockin’ the “food baby”!)

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Krista @ Can't Survive on Yarn Alone     at 10:42 pm

I’ve used a food diary site before but not really as much now. I counted more so in the beginning when I decided to seriously focus on becoming as healthy as possible. It was more so counting everything to see what I was eating and what nutrients/etc I was getting too much of or not enough of in my daily choices. I looked at the calorie count too of course but some days I needed slightly more or slightly less than they said to feel my best. (I always stayed pretty close though to what they recced.) It helped not only me but my husband turn away from things with higher sodium counts. Now I am better at just general food choices giving me enough energy that I need. I’m not always perfect at it but if I look back at the day prior to a day that I feel cruddy it is easier to see what went off track.

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Allison @ Can't Wait for Breakfast     at 10:51 pm

I loved your post – i agree that there is nothing wrong with counting calories – i actually use the weight watchers plan – the old one about 5 years ago – and now the new one at the present to lose about 10 lbs. they have definitely helped me with portion control since i know the nutritional content of the foods i eat.

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Dynamics     at 10:55 pm

I have always eaten on the healthier side. A nutritionist gave me some numbers and for two months I weighed, measured and tracked P,C and F. What a huge learning experience. I never realized I was not eating enough protein. I now can visualize most of my food without measuring and I get the portions right. I think counting Calories or Protein is an individual thing. I will say, and I am still confused about this. Some days I would hit my P,C,F and have eaten only 900 calories, which is too low. I have yet to get anyone to explain this to me. Do you disregard the calorie count and stick to the P,C,F? Or balance it out to get all the numbers right? To do this you would have to track your Cal,P,G,F until, like you, I would be able visualize and count when putting a meal together. Yes, counting is a good thing.

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Emily Malone Reply:

Well you can still hit the ratio balance without a high enough total. Say your ratio is 30/50/20. You could reach this by just eating 30/50/20 calories – in three items. But the key is to reach that balance and also reach the calorie target. I assume that is what your nutritionist meant?

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Dynamics Reply:

I think this is why I am confused. She told me NOT to worry about calories and just worry about hitting the Protein first. My gut instinct told me this was wrong. I try to make it all work. Blogs like this help. The more I learn the easier it is to put a balanced meal together. Thanks Emily.

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kath     at 11:01 pm

I really like how you wrote this. I think a lot of us who come from weight loss backgrounds would say this is very similar to how we operate.

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Emily Malone Reply:

Thank you friend! xoxo

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Namaste Gurl     at 11:16 pm

You definitely make a very good point indeed. Despite the intense hardships of my past disordered eating, I gained much knowledge, understanding and passion for nutrition and well- being. Sometimes hardships can bring us closer to our passion and sometimes career! I hope to be a dietician someday and help people who went through similar circumstances as me… because of my grueling past!

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Aylin @ GlowKitchen     at 11:45 pm

I was reading a book that talked about how pointless calorie restriction is, because everyone’s body will process calories differently and arbitrarily based on what your body’s needs. I personally like your approach–having the awareness but not adhering to a strict protocol.

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Candice @ ChiaSeedMe     at 12:01 am

Hey Emily! What a great post! I count calories off and on…whenever I feel like my jeans are getting a little tight. The rest of the time I sort of keep a rough tally in my head. I eat 5-6 meals a day and I try to keep each one around 300-350 calories. I agree that counting calories gets a really bad rep…I just did a post about counting calories not too long ago, and I feared criticism as soon as I hit publish. It’s a sensitive issue in the blog world, but I think this is a great post that brings light to the fact that it isn’t always bad…only if taken to extremes.

BTW – I love the new name and new look!

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Amber K     at 12:04 am

Without SparkPeople and counting my calories I truly know I wouldn’t have lost (and kept off) over 90 pounds.

I have learned that I put the weight back on if I don’t measure and check myself. Otherwise “a few” becomes “a few more” and a “smidgen” turns into a “bit.”

I’m not anal about it, it doesn’t have to be perfect, but I like to keep a track on the range of stuff I’m putting into my body. I also track things other than calories. I don’t want to just eat a certain amount of calories of junk. I track my sodium/potassium levels and protein especially since I am a vegetarian and sometimes with poor planning I just don’t get enough of the good stuff.

It may not work for everyone, but it has made me feel so much better!

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Amber K Reply:

Best part for those of you who haven’t heard of SparkPeople.com? It’s free! I just thought I should talk it up some more because it is truly an amazing site. Click on my name and you’ll be directed to my blog there. :)

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Megan     at 12:15 am

I LOVED your post! Thank you a million times. I find counting calories a very helpful tool which actually helps me stay on track and keep my mild eating disorder at bay. However, I very frequently fall into the trap of thinking I should abandon my calorie counting all together as it is considered “bad.” But really, for me, it is a helpful, useful tool that helps me stay healthy–not obsessive or restrictive. Thank you for putting what I’ve been thinking in words- your post helped me tremendously!

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Emily Malone Reply:

Yay – glad to hear it! It’s all about how YOU use the tools given to you. Use them how they are intended, and they can be very helpful!

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Jennifer     at 12:20 am

I used to count calories, but now I take pictures of my food and post them…I find not only does this keep my portions in check but I also try take a minute and make my plate look pretty :)

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Salina     at 12:54 am

What a great post! I’ve just started using Calorie King, and although I thought I was eating heathily, was horrified at the nutirional content (or rather, lack thereof) of most of the foods I was eating. It has made me pause at every meal and think about a) what is going to keep me full and give me energy? and b) is it going to nuture my body so I can achieve my daily goals? I am looking forward to learning more about the foods I am eating, and powering up my body with the good stuff!

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Jess@atasteofconfidence     at 12:55 am

I definitely think it is a slippery slope, but it is also a very helpful tool for those trying to keep tabs on their weight or lose some pounds. As you said, it’s a very blurry line- but I definitely don’t think there should be such of a negative connotation.

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Maryann     at 1:31 am

I never count calories..I trust my body to let me know when to eat and when ive had enough. However, i do think it can be a great tool for someone who is trying to lose weight and has a hard time listening to their body’s cues.

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laura (starloz)     at 2:53 am

i dont count calories, i never have, not even through my weight loss. i’m learning about myself instead. my body is in control.

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Thersea     at 5:06 am

Moderation in all things. I count calories because I don’t (yet) understasnd natural portion control. Plus, most calorie counters offer nutrition information, so I can keep an eye on vitamens and minerals too (sodium! yikes!).

This is one of those things where those who don’t have to shouldn’t, but for those of us who need it, enough with the stigma already!

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Orla     at 6:57 am

while I don’t count or track my calories on paper or online, I have found that I still stick closely to the WW programme that has “free” foods in it.
I tend to use these foods as bases in my meals even though I don’t follow WW anymore. I have been vegetarian for 8 months and I find that now more than ever, I am aware of what I am eating and I am conscious of the need to power my body.
I sometimes look at labels in stores but that is more to check content such as protein, fibre and saturated fat. But each to their own.

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Emily Malone Reply:

I love labels!!

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whitney     at 7:07 am

wow what an extremely powerful statement. Well written. Your words are true in every aspect. We all do it to some extent and it is a good thing otherwise we would never know. Knowledge is power and I am so thankful that it is available and I have it!

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Madison     at 7:26 am

I’m sort of like you… I don’t write down everything I eat and place the number of calories in the margain, but I know what I’m putting into my body at every meal, give or take 100 calories. In used to count calories, and doing that gave me the knowledge and information to not do it anymore. But then again, I still know that I take in about 1800-2000 calories a day, 2500-3000 while marathon training… so maybe I am a calorie counter? Hmmmmmmmm.

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Lindsey @ Enjoying Healthy Foods     at 8:22 am

I have tried to count calories but I forget to talley them up!!!

It will be fun to see how many blogs still have nutritious trends in March, after the New Year has settled.

We started Paleo in December. I am a fan because I am allowed fruit, vegetables, meat and seeds. I am having some intolerances to grains and dairy so I am giving this a try. So far I can tell a difference!

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Canadian     at 8:51 am

I counted calories in order to lose 70 pounds, and it had an extremely damaging effect on me. I became very obsessed, counting and recounting during the day, what if I only eat half, what if I have an orange instead of an apple, what if I have this English muffin instead of bread… I became super strict and only ate low fat, low cal foods. I never ate nuts or avocado because of the calories. Then My eating started to get out of control. I would snap out of my restricted ways and binge, usually in response to negative emotion or to a perceived indulgence (I’ve already screwed up, may as well go for broke). I tried to restrict and exercise ,ore to make up for my binges. I struggled for over a year and became depressed. Finally I sought help and was treated at an eating disorders clinic.

So at least in my case the calorie counting preceded the eating disorder. You might say it contributed to it.

I will never count calories ever again.

In any case , counting calories does seem an unnatural way to eat. It would be better to just listen to one’s body. Easier said than done, I know.

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Beth @ DiningAndDishing     at 8:57 am

Great post Emily. I have done a lot of reading on nutrition so calorie counting or logging all of my meals based on any other stat isn’t something I feel I need to do. However I do keep a written record of what I eat each day. I find it’s helpful to hold myself accountable…without being too obsessive about the whole thing.

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Whitney     at 8:57 am

Thank you for this post. It’s good to know that healthy living bloggers are somewhat concerned with calories and weight. I think it is healthy to talk about weight and calories but not obsess over it. I have never counted calories and do not have a weight loss story because I have played sports all my life and consider myself to be an athlete. I feel that I know what is good and bad to put into your body. For those who have not been active during their life and are wanting to get healthy and lose weight, I do not see anything wrong with focusing on calories and learning what foods are healthy and nutritional.

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Mandy     at 9:16 am

Thanks for pointing out that basic mathematics shouldn’t (under normal circumstances) be a freakish taboo. I always do a rough tally in my head because I don’t want to buy new pants. I’m a volume eater and intuitive eating never has, and never will, work for me.

More importantly, I am curious as to which prepared salad dressings you buy. The lower calorie ones are really hit and miss and I’d love some recommendations on some good ones!

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Emily Malone Reply:

I love math!! :)

I usually get my salad dressing at Trader Joe’s – there’s a really good ginger soy vinaigrette that I love. I also make a lot of my own at home.

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Sami     at 9:26 am

i couldn’t agree more! calorie counting DOES get a bad rap. it’s only a bad thing when you go to an extreme. i think it’s just as important to calorie count and make sure your body is getting the kind of numbers it NEEDS

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Colleen     at 9:34 am

I started tracking my food intake (using “Lose It” from ITunes) this year. I tracked my food (through a notebook) in college but it got out of hand. Can you say border line disorder. So hopefully this time I can do it correctly. I really need to get a handle on what I am taking in in order to shred these 35-40 pounds of baby weight I’ve been carrying around the past 2-3 years. Momma needs to get healthy for everyone’s well being. So far I’m liking the system. I can see the nutriental information for all the foods I enter and how my entered exercise impacts my daily calorie budget. Never understood or cared to understand the connection before.

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Brittany (A Healthy Slice of Life)     at 9:50 am

It’s scary that I’m working on a post about the SAME thing right now… seriously… eerie. :)

I agree with you totally- I have noticed the trend of people criticizing calorie counting and I think it’s ridiculous. Of course, it isn’t healthy to obsess, but calorie counting is insightful and helpful most of the time! Great post!

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Fran     at 9:51 am

Hi Emily!

I have been a Weight Watchers Lifetime Member for 22 years and worked for them as a leader for 15 years. I totally agree with the concept of tracking your foods. I know from my own experience that it helps, it still keeps me on track. When I was leading meetings, I know that members who were struggling were usually the members who were not using their journals to track their foods. Many people after reaching their goals, no longer track their foods. That works for some people. I know for myself and for many of my friends at WW, tracking is the key. You actually used a phrase I used to use in my meetings. Knowledge is power. If that knowledge is kept in your head or on the written page, it is still important. Thanks for discussing this. You’re a champ if you can do that all in your head. I admire you for that. Thanks again!

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Jillian @ Reshape Your Life     at 9:52 am

I love this post Emily!

I don’t really calorie count, but when I first started making healthier choices I started with some of the frozen weight watchers and lean cuisine meals to get an idea of portion sizes in relation to calorie count… It gave me a good baseline to understand proper portions and helped me adjust to eating less while knowing I was getting enough food (I’ve had problems with that in the past).

Now I can cook my own meals and know that I can estimate calorie count within 100 calories so I keep on track. Over the course of 5 months with proper diet and exercise I have lost 25lbs, and I’m still losing!

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Chase     at 9:52 am

I think for me, it’s not about each calorie, per se, but using that information (plus other information, like fiber, vitamins, minerals, etc.) to be informed about different foods and the nutritive value of each. I find that when I “count calories” or points or whatever (basically whenever I keep a food log) I am much more mindful about what goes in my body. When I don’t, I disconnect from what I’ve eaten througout the day that I find myself making less healthy choices on the whole.

A lot of times for me, if it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind and what that means is that if I ate a big breakfast, and didn’t write it down, I would be likely to forget what I’d already eaten that day and may or may not make a balanced choice in the latter part of the day.

Plus for me, going back and reading old food logs (which I do from time to time) helps me to see patterns in my eating in black and white, which provides me even more knowledge about myself, my eating habits and my overall health.

I also know that I’ve never struggled with an eating disorder. It works for me, and that’s what matters to me.

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Chelsie     at 9:55 am

Knowledge is power, you have that right. It is hard for me to count calories, even though I’ve never had any eating disorders, etc, simply because I get caught up in details. The best thing that you mentioned in my opinion is a food journal. People simply do not realize how much food they are eating everyday. Often times as well if you have to log what you are eating you will think twice about that afternoon snack that you are just eating because you are bored. If calorie counting works for you that is what matters! You just need to find a starting place for your collection of nutritional knowledge in however you learn best!

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Chelsie     at 9:58 am

OH I forgot to mention about listening to your body. Once you have a basic knowledge try to tune into what your body is craving. For example- women around the time of their period often crave chocolate. What they are really craving is fat, since we live in a fat-phobic world, especially women. You have cravings for a reason. Learn to deconstruct those cravings.

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Theresa @ActiveEggplant     at 10:00 am

I think you hit the nail on the head Emily! Knowing your food is what matters. Whether you’re tracking grams of protein, calories, or iron content, you need to know what you’re putting in your mouth. Now, I will admit, I have basically NO understanding of the various ratios of protein/fat/carbs/iron/etc that I put into my mouth. I just try to eat so-called “healthy” foods – fresh fruits & veggies, lean meats, complex carbs. I don’t log anything, but I do measure portions – this way I know I’m not overeating, which is what I tend to do. So having a rough count of the overall caloric total of what I’m serving helps me. I don’t log anything, but just paying attention helps me stay on track.

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Rachel     at 10:04 am

Counting calories has always seemed like such a daunting task that is better left to the experts. I pay more attention to the protein, carbs, and nutrients that I am consuming. As long as I eat smaller portions, and keep exercising, I don’t feel the need to count calories. I’m not knocking it, just don’t feel the need to personally.

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Allison @ Happy Tales     at 10:05 am

This is a really great post, Emily! I don’t count, but a nutrition class I took back in college made us track our daily food and put it into some program that spewed out all sorts of neat facts, so that taught me a lot about the nutrients and calories in the foods I eat. Also, I think it’s a good thing for people to count if they do not have a nutrition background– ESPECIALLY if they are training for an event… you need to make sure you are getting the proper fuel to conquer the training!!

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Mandy     at 10:07 am

I totally agree with you! I do Weight Watchers so not really calorie counting but I am totally aware of what is going into my body. My serving sizes is what kills me so I’m conscious of what is on my plate. I think it can be a helpful tool to count calories, as long as you don’t stress about it all the time! You gotta live life also!

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Carolyn @ Lovin' Losing     at 10:08 am

Great post! I read so many blogs where the authors lost their weight by calorie counting, but then diss it as “restrictive” now. Without the info they got from the calorie counting they wouldn’t be able to maintain that loss.

I personally do Weight Watchers because I just find it helpful to go to meetings and keep me accoutable while being able to maintain a flexible, balanced lifestyle.

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Chrissy (The New Me)     at 10:09 am

I’ve never been overweight or had an ED, but I have kept a food journal on and off (especially in high school) and I use livestrong.com to count calories (and iron, and protein, and fiber, etc) for a week or two every few months, just to see how I’m doing. It’s most helpful when I change up my fitness routine – marathon training had me counting calories, not to lose weight but to make sure I was consuming ENOUGH of everything!

Like a lot of you commenters, I find calorie counting interesting and even fun, but I can see the danger that exists in getting so obsessed with numbers that you forget to pay attention to how you feel. Used responsibly, I think calorie counting is an incredible tool for weight loss AND health.

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Laura Jayne Parson     at 10:11 am

I used to calorie count too – in fact, that is the main reason that I was able to lose the final 15 pounds to reach my current weight! However, once I realized that the counting was becoming obsessive and counter-productive (I actually lose TOO much weight), I stopped, and while I have a general idea daily of how much I am consuming, I do not log the calories or search for the counts on every good. Calorie counting is a good (and maybe necessary?) part of weight loss, but it can be taken too far! Like all things, moderation is best. Great Post!

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Marisa @ Mind Over Booty     at 10:18 am

I completely agree that for those who are not inclined to have disordered eating that calorie counting can empower you with the knowledge to control your diet without some crazy fad (i.e. no carbs or only grapefruit). However, I do believe the nature of counting something can become obsessive in any realm. From my own experience, I think calorie counting can be problematic for the serial dieters, or the people who may have a challenging metabolism. If you restrict your calories too much, too long, it does affect how your body burns fuel. So, it’s a balance along with almost anything else that is healthy – moderate attention to calories is key in counting in a healthy way – IMHO.

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Cyclist Kate     at 10:22 am

I’m actually really grateful for this post because it helped me remember, after years of being super anti-counting, that I still use some of my initial calorie counting skills from over ten years ago. Unfortunately, I went down the path of non-purging bulimia and, since healing from that, have been very anti-counting, simply because it turns into an obsession. But even if I don’t count my daily calories, I still find it useful to know that my home-made bread is probably more calorie dense than store bought, so I’ll probably be satisfied with a little less of it, or that even though I use 1/2 c. of rolled oats for morning oatmeal, I’ll probably be good with 1/4 c. if I use steel cut. This basic nutrition knowledge has become second hand to me and I’m grateful for that, even if I don’t really count.

It occurred to me that, for those who are against counting, the counting really isn’t the problem. It’s the social values we attach to “good” and “bad,” “fat” and “thin.” I think going after calorie counting is a misguided approach. Calorie counting doesn’t create disordered eating; social values do.

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Emily Malone Reply:

I totally agree with you, it’s not the counting that is bad, it’s how some people choose to use it. If done correctly, it can actually be very useful! I am so grateful for all I learned as well. :)

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Amanda     at 10:23 am

I’ve loosely counted calories before, and it definitely helps out. You don’t always realize how many are in some of the things that you’re eating!

I think it’s GREAT to point out that it’s not necessarily just about calories. Yes, avocados are higher calorically speaking BUT they have other great benefits as well.

These days, I’m all about trying to eat as many whole, fresh foods as possible. I also realize that I should spend a little more time making sure that I’m getting good levels of other things like proteins and the like :-).

However, if we go out to eat, I always make sure to check the nutritional stats of what I am going to order. We’re not super classy, and will often go to Applebee’s, Cheesecake Factory, etc. on the weekends so I always try to plan ahead and make sure that I’m making smart choices. Just because it sounds healthy on the menu doesn’t mean that it is, so if at all possible I’ll look at their website and check out the nutrition stats. I also use the Eat This, Not That website that literally tells me what the best options at a specific restaurant are.

This post definitely puts some things into perspective! :-)

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Jessica     at 10:33 am

I love calorie counting, and I’ve been doing it off and on for years (but mostly on). I use livestrong.com, and I find that tracking takes maybe 5 minutes of my day. It’s the best, and I too have developed that rainman-like ability to estimate calorie counts! It definitely helps when making day to day choices.

I don’t find myself ever becoming obsessive about the numbers or the scale. I feel that as long as you keep it in perspective, and love yourself for who you are CURRENTLY (and not 20 lbs from now), its easy to make calorie counting just what it is, a tool to help you!

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Heather     at 10:35 am

I do not count calories, but if something has a nutrition label I will read it. Most of the time it is more for personal knowledge, but I try to stay away from projects that have labels at all. Yay fresh produce! I go about making my meals like you do because if I didn’t I would forget something basic like a protein. I am really excited for the FDA to start putting nutrition labels on meat in 2012, people don’t realize what they are putting into their bodies.

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Samantha     at 10:36 am

Oh man, I’ve stopped reading a few healthy living blogs because I was sick of the stigma they were attaching to calorie counting. It’s funny to me how some of them specifically stated that when they were justing begining, they tracked their calories!! ugh.

That said, I think starting off on a weight loss journey with tracking your calories and nutrition is WAAAAY better than jumping on a fad diet. Most of us have no idea what we’re putting into our bodies until we start paying attention. Plus, I’m sure the majority of people start off counting, learn and then move to a more relaxed method of maintanence once they are empowered with the knowledge that tracking gave them.

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Theresa @ This is my Hungry Face     at 10:41 am

I loved reading this post. I’m a Weight Watchers member, so while I don’t necessarily count calories, I do keep track of what and how much food I’m putting into my body.

In addition, tracking my food helps me learn how foods effect my body in other ways besides just weight loss. For me, I’m able to look back and see how certain foods effect my digestion and how they influence my workouts.

Thanks for writing this post :)

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Emily Malone Reply:

You’re welcome!

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KellyC     at 10:59 am

I use Spark People on and off. I found the information on not only the calories but the other nutrients very enlightening. I had no idea I was not getting enough Iron and Calcium and protein in my diet. A program that tracks all these things made me more aware of portion control also. I was eating healthy foods, but too much!

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ange     at 11:02 am

what a great post!!!

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Beth     at 11:12 am

I track calories occasionally for a week to a month at a time just to make sure that I’m eating what I should and/or get back on track. I use the MyPyramid tracker and I like how it shows food groups, nutrients, and factors in exercise for your daily totals. After a week or two of tracking I understand what I’m eating, and what I should be eating, to have balanced nutrition. When I stop, I can usually stay balanced for a month or two but I then begin sliding into carb-heavy, nutrient light eating. I think its important for everyone to know what calories are, how many they should consume on average, and the approximate value of different foods. Knowledge is power :)

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stepf @dailyspark     at 11:14 am

Love reading all of these SparkPeople success stories. I’ve lost 15 pounds since I started working at SparkPeople.
I’m also a regular reader (and friend) of Emily and her blog. :)

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Mimi     at 11:14 am

Knowing myself, I know that calorie counting is a quick trip to obsessing about food. Instead, I choose to focus on nutrients and what feels right for my body.

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Che' @ Knight at the Restaurant     at 11:15 am

Totally agree! Nothing wrong with calorie counting (as long as it’s not disordered).

For people who have eyes bigger than their stomachs, calorie counting is really the best way to train your brain to recognize what a proper portion size should look like.

Once you learn an appropriate amount to eat, and you understand what you’re actually putting into your body, it becomes much easier to adjust your eating habits. The calorie counting is no longer necessary after awhile because you’ve retrained your brain. And anyway, isn’t proper “dieting” about making lifestyle changes that stick?

Calorie counting also allows you to eat what you want in moderation. I’d take that over a “diet” any day.

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Leanne (For Health's Sake)     at 11:23 am

About a year ago, I was heavily into counting calories. For me personally, I became so obsessessed with the numbers and it wasn’t healthy. I wanted to get in the best shape of my life to be a bridesmaid in my best friends wedding, and I did look great; but it was a mixture of counting calories (staying around 1500 most days) and doing 2x/day workouts about 4-5 days a week… 2x/day workouts are definitly not the worst thing, I felt strong & craved them but this lifestyle wasn’t realistic long term.

Now I am faced with my own wedding this year and I’m thinking of starting to keep a food journal again. I might not count calories but I think I need to re-introduce portion sizes that are right for me, and cutting back on sweets. It’s hard because I want to look my best, but I don’t like when weight loss/exercise consumes my thoughts.

I have read many articles though that say calorie counting (calories in vs. calories out) is the only real way to successfully lose weight long term.

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catherine     at 11:33 am

i count calories, and over in the uk ( were i live) they dont really have a bad rep. ive counted calories for about 11 months, and ive lost 7 and a half stone after being so so overweight i couldnt go see a flim cause i didnt fit in the seats. im 18 and i have a bit to go yet but without counting calories i won’t make my 25th birthday. so i love calorie counting. i owe it my life.

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Gabriela @ Une Vie Saine     at 11:40 am

I counted calories for three years, and because of it I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat a meal without thinking at least a bit about them. I think counting for me was obsessive, but I’m a lot like you now- I know roughly how many I’m eating, mostly out of habit, but I don’t worry or obsess over them. Calories in relation to nutrients are such a good way of keeping track of whether you’re eating healthy. I can eat three rice cakes for zero nutrition, or an apple for the same amount of cals. Both have the same calories, but which is the better choice? It seems as though you have a really good view on counting!!

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Gwen     at 11:45 am

Wow – 210 comments!

I don’t count calories, but I do follow Weight Watchers – which obviously is similar. However with the recent plan change, instead of factoring in calories it takes into account carbs and protein, which seems so much smarter. I thought I ate whole foods, but am doing it even more now.

I do write down everything I eat, 6 days a week and I probably will for the rest of my life. It’s not for everyone, but for someone who needs to be accountable, tracking is the way to go!

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Tracey     at 12:02 pm

I need to start counting calories. I’ve introduced so many new “healthy” foods into my diet. I always told myself I could eat as much of these healthy foods as I wanted. But I soon realized just because these foods are considered healthy doesn’t mean they are low in calorie.

Last month I decided I was going to start tracking the food I eat and I’ve been really suprised by the calorie content of some of the foods. I’m not going to count calories forever but right now I think it’s a good plan for me.

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EL     at 12:12 pm

Emily- Great post. I have a question about alcohol though. I know that you and Casey both stopped drinking for good, and you said you did lose some friendships because of it. I look around me and realize almost very social activity in my life is centered around drinking. Girls night’s out, dates with my boyfriend, watching the game over at someones house, wine tastings, weddings, showers, EVERYTHING. I’m NOT a heavy drinker and never have been but I am positive I will receive negative backlash if I say anything about stopping. One night sticks out in my mind specifically. We were out at a very expensive bar (drinks were $12-14 each)and I decided enough was enough and ordered a tonic water. One of my best friends made a comment “Well you’re not even drinking, why don’t you just go home if you’re not having fun?” How on earth do you respond to that?

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Julie (A Case of the Runs) Reply:

Isn’t their company supposed to be “fun enough”?

I don’t drink often, and when I do, I only have a little bit of the drink.

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missy Reply:

Oh, EL, I am so sorry that a best friend would say that to you! I’ve never been much of a drinker so I’ve never been in that kind of situation therefore I don’t realy know what to say. I am just sorry that you had to go through that.

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EL Reply:

Thanks! I realize that this isn’t a matter of getting them to change, it’s me that is changing, but I still fear the friend awkwardness/backlash that may ensue. It’s probably a matter of slowly scaling back on drinking-related activities instead of cutting everyone off all together. I think it’s just hard in the years following college for people to realize that our lives don’t have to be “where are we drinking tonight?” and “who’s playing beer pong?” I for one am ready to take the plunge, afterall there are many yummy beers/wines out there to be savored and enjoyed (not slammed.)

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Emily Malone Reply:

Man – sorry I’m late to the comments on this one! Normally I would say that the person who made the remark might just not be a very food friend, but since it sounds like she really IS a good friend…I would probably take a minute to consider her drinking habits. We both noticed that the people we got the most backlash from when we quit drinking, were the people who had issues with drinking themselves. Our not drinking made them uncomfortable, as it brought out things they didn’t want to face in their own lives.

Making the transition from drinking to non IS difficult. People have no idea how much of life and activity is based around drinking – dinners, happy hours, nights out, football, camping, concerts – you name it. And even for the people who “just drink one” you really can’t possible understand it until you stop completely. There is a BIG difference.

I guess the only real advice I can give you is to stay strong. The longer you do it, the more comfortable and empowered (and healthy) you feel. You can’t worry about the backlash, you have to just do what feels good to you, and maybe at least for a short while, that might mean not hanging out with people who can’t support you. While our decision brought out the worst in some friends, it also brought out the BEST in others. People who love you will understand.

Good luck!

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EL Reply:

Thank you so much! This helps a lot. I’ve already (as of this week) decided no more heavy drinking with friends during the week. I feel better already. Hopefully this lasts. There was a girl’s night, where at least 5 bottles of wine were consumed. It’s scary to think about much of that would have been from me, but this time it wasn’t. Thanks again for your suggestions. Love coming here everyday!

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Paula     at 12:27 pm

What a great post! And you’re brave for being honest and just putting it out there. Thank you for this and your blog in general!

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Maggie     at 12:46 pm

I think calorie counting is great and I think it’s sad it’s gotten a bad reputation. Obviously obsessing about it isn’t good, but if used correctly calorie counting can be so, so useful. I agree with you about Calorie King, I think it’s about calories, but then it’s also about learning about protein, fat, fiber, etc, and getting a better understanding about what your body needs.

Personally, I feel this way about people constantly saying to put the scale away and stop weighing yourself. I definitely think a lot of people have an unhealthy relationship with their scales, but for others (like me) it’s the best way to track weight loss/gain. Weighing myself once per week (and having the proper perspective ie. keeping in-mind what I ate the day before, what time of month it is, etc.) and looking at my weight over the long-term has helped me so much with losing, and maintaining, weight.

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Julie (A Case of the Runs)     at 12:48 pm

I used to keep a close tally of my intake… for maybe about a year. It was obsessive, and I was always bashing myself when I exceeded what was “allowable.” And even worse, what was “allowable” varied from day-to-day depending on how I felt about myself, and I’m sure that number wasn’t high enough.

Thankfully, I don’t do that anymore. Like you, from my experience, I have a rough idea of how many calories msot things contain and aim to get about 400-500 calories per meal. If I have a too-large snack, I have lighter meals or put an extra 10 minutes into my workout. I think this guesstimation has worked for me, as I have maintained my weight for a couple of years and reversed the upward-inching scale.

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Monique     at 12:48 pm

I am SOOOOOO HAPPY that you wrote this post. Your honesty is why I keep coming back to your blog! Thank you so much. I was over here for MONTHS feeling horrible because I had no idea what I was going to do without a plan to help me lose weight. Finally I settled back on counting calories, because IT WORKS FOR ME. I have been reading blogs for almost a year and have literally felt BAD for counting calories. Thank you so very much for this. It made my day.

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Emily Malone Reply:

Don’t feel bad! You are clearly not alone. :)

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Sara     at 1:19 pm

Emily, thank you for composing such a well-written and well-thought post.

I’m only 19 but have struggled with calorie-counting for about 2 and a half years. I have to say it’s a lot harder as a young person (not to mention a girl) to maintain a healthy body image in a society that is very obsessed with thinness and glamor. I began to count calories somewhat casually, and I didn’t realize how restrictive I was becoming. My diet was essentially devoid of fats and protein. Coupled with excessive exercise, I lost about 30 pounds in 5 or so months.

Certainly people noticed how much weight I had lost (and I was in a healthy weight range before, so you can imagine how gaunt I loooked; looking back on photos now I see how scarily skinny I looked). That was two years ago and I am back in a healthy weight range now, but I still struggle with calorie-counting. I tend to eat the same things for breakfast and lunch, so I usually know how many calories are in a certain meal. Dinner is the wild card, though, but in general I try to balance the meal. Recovering from counting calories is very difficult because it’s so easy to fall back into a restrictive and controlling mindset, especially if you feel you “need” to lose weight. Often calorie counting does help people to lose weight, but it’s a dangerous situation if taken too far, as in counting the calories in apples or salad (both of which I have done).

I would like to say that I am in the place that you are, but it’s a daily struggle dealing with all those numbers (calories, the number on the scale, the dress size, etc.).

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Corey @ the runners cookie     at 1:31 pm

I think the reason people react so negatively to the term is because we (in general as a society) have taken it to a very negative extreme – beyond awareness, to the point of obsession.
I do this it can be extremely useful for people who need to become aware – I think it’s a necessary and shocking first step to weight loss for some. I don’t think the counting itself is inherently bad, but what it can lead to is dangerous.
I think the way you go about your meals (roughly estimating) is a great compromise, and it seems to work well for you!

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Katie @ Shared Bites     at 1:40 pm

These comments are enlightening to read. I have never thought of calorie counting, or maybe more appropriately, “calorie consideration” as a bad thing. And because I think about calories every time I eat or drink something, I had always assumed that other people did the same thing.

Interestingly, my husband recently announced that he wanted to lose some weight in his middle (so unnessary, but not the point). I had to laugh at his surprise when when I pointed out that he was taking in 1000+ calories for breakfast each morning. This was my first clue that not everyone considers calories to the same extent. ;)

The theme of this post (and the blog in general) is great in that promotes understanding and consideration of what we consume. Considering calories on some level is always going to be a part of that.

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Paula Reply:

Calorie consideration…that’s a great way of putting it.

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Maureen     at 1:42 pm

Thank you for such a thoughtful and intelligent post on this touchy subject. Last year I lost 38 pounds by counting calories and working out. I am the first person to tell everyone that I did it by counting calories. I think that knowledge is power as others have said and for me, a person who has been overweight for a significant portion of my life I needed something concrete. When first making the decision to lose weight I literally had no idea what to do, I had been on Weight Watchers before, I’d run on and off, but I just needed something that I could tangibly focus on to get started. Now one year later I still have about 30 more pounds I’d like to lose but I feel much more in control than I did last January when I had absolutely no idea what sort of calories/fat/sodium/etc I was putting in to my body. I no longer strictly count but I do have an idea of what each thing I eat contains and for me that is so helpful.

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Lissa     at 1:51 pm

I am one of your ‘oldster’ readers and through out my life I have always been aware of calories. How else can you have a foundation for your diet? Then you put the nutritious values to the food you are eating and you have a pretty good idea of what in going into your body. In order to be accountable for your food consumption, a foundation is necessary so therefore you have to understand a calorie.

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Pat     at 2:11 pm

I wasn’t aware that counting calories was so controversial. It’s the thing I always fall back on and it works. Even if I’m not meticulously counting calories, I estimate how much I’ve eaten each day. I have counted in the past and I know how many calories are in just about everything. I like the way you approach eating. It is how I tend to eat. That salad, however, would never fill me up.

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Ashley S     at 2:38 pm

Unfortunately, I’m in the ‘way too obsessed with calories’ category. I struggle to eat anything that doesn’t have a label. I’m working on it slowly but surely though. I hope to one day be an intuitive eater, but I honestly don’t know how I could ever NOT know the calories of what I’m eating or not be able to pay attention to it.

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Jen     at 3:04 pm

I have about 80lbs I need to lose. At first I thought, I don’t need to count calories, I just need to eat whole foods, lots of fruits and vegetables and I’ll be fine. Not so. The scale kept creeping up. I joined weight watchers and my eyes have been opened. I was eating entirely too much food, good food, yes, but way too much. I don’t intend on staying on weight watchers forever, but for now, it’s working.

Jen

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Pixie     at 3:43 pm

I think it depends on the person. I currently have 60 pounds to lose and I’m counting calories. Like you said a person has to start somewhere. In a society where it has become the norm to consume 1,000 calories in one sitting I don’t know how else a person would begin the process. It’s easy to say it should be common sense, but if it was so many of us wouldn’t be over weight.

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Ang     at 4:05 pm

I’m glad you brought this topic up! I have been a calorie counter for years. It has helped me lose weight in the past and honestly when I stop for too long the weight creeps up on me. I decide an extra scoop of rice doesn’t matter or another slice of cheese is negligible and that stuff adds up! So basically I will track for a month or so and then take a break so I don’t get too obsessive. However I have no history of ED and if I somehow managed to eat 3000 calories and was honestly hungry at the end of the day I’d still eat a snack. I understand that it’s not that easy for other people to get past those numbers though.

Honestly I’ve counted for so long that like you even on the months I don’t physically track I have a pretty good idea of the numbers. In fact friends call me all the time to ask how many calories are in this or that because I’ve got the stats memorized.

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Sara     at 4:49 pm

I really enjoyed your post! I feel like once you start a healthy natural eating plan, you can’t help but know the calories in your foods because you are so aware of what you are eating. A rough estimate is great to know–then if you are training you have something to base yourself on. You also learn what your body “runs” best on, because everyone’s needs are different. :)

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Elisha     at 4:50 pm

I agree. It’s something you should do if you are trying to lose weight, especially if you’ve never done so before. I think we mostly tend to think we are eating less than we actually are, so it can be eye opening in helping people not just change what they are eating, but also with portion sizes. I am trying to lose ten pounds and started a food journal online to track calories. I lost about 25 pounds a few years ago and kept a manual food journal. It definately helped keep me on track. I see nothing wrong with counting calories because that’s how you lose weight: calories in vs. calories out. The problem comes in if you never allow yourself a slice of birthday cake or pumpking pie on Thanksgiving or a candy bar once and awhile for the heck of it because you’re obsessed with keeping your calories low.

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MaryBe     at 5:08 pm

I was on WW for six months, and it taught me a lot about nutrition. I lost 20 lbs over the six months, and I was never hungry. When I went vegan, the weight just fell off (20 lbs in 6 weeks) even though that’s not why I did it. I have never eaten healthier in my life, I eat all the time and wonderful, delicious things ( many recipes from this site!). I have stayed the same weight for the last two months, despite going on vacations, one of which was to Vegas, and despite my habit of eating deep fried foods when we go out (french fries and deep fried veggies are things I should really stop eating!)
So although I don’t count calories per se, I do still count points in my head. I think it’s because I did WW for so long. But I don’t stop at any set number or keep track on paper. I just don’t need to. My weight stays the same no matter what. Definitely another plus of living as close to a cruelty-free life as I can.
Interestingly, many people view being vegan as an ED. I don’t know why that is and it’s really bewildering.
Excellent post and I love all the replies. I feel like I have learned a lot

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emily     at 5:09 pm

hi emily,
i read your blog every day but have only commented a few times. this is a great post–as most commenters have said. i think it’s a testament to your success as a blogger that you can post about “light” issues and then throw in some heavier stuff all while remaining true to your identity.

i’ve never been any weight other than normal/healthy, but when my tiny 5’2 frame gained ~7lbs my freshman year of college, i was always complaining about how fat i felt. i know it doesn’t sound like a lot of weight to most people, but it made a difference to me. my mom suggested i go to a couple of her weight watchers meetings (because she got annoyed with my complaining!). it was so inspiring to hear awesome weight loss stories (just like healthy living blogs inspire me to make healthy choices) and i really enjoyed “counting calories” because it put me in such an empowered mindset. anyway, now that i’m out of college and have an entry level job, i feel the same way about a budget–it’s best to count every penny when you have to, so when you make more money and things aren’t as tight, you are still mindful about what’s coming in and going out. as someone else said, it’s about building blocks and knowledge!

i always enjoy what you have to say, so thanks for keepin’ it real!

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Jen     at 5:20 pm

Yep, the only time I’ve ever lost weight (not counting when I’ve lived in France, where it melts off b/c of all the walking I do!) was when I counted calories. I’m in that mode right now, actually. The one thing I struggle with is how to keep track of it in an organized way- I end up with a lot of weird text documents on my computer! :)

The one thing that bugs me is how to track calories on foods that are not super simple (like… think “chicken and rice at a dinner party” vs. “an apple”). At some point it just feels like guesstimation, but maybe you all are avoiding dinner parties more than I am! ;)

Thanks for the great post- and I have a request! Would you mind posting about your stretching routine sometime? Pre and post workout (if you do them)? Thanks, Emily! :)

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Carolyn @ one lazy bride     at 5:32 pm

I definitely agree! It’s important to know your food and what’s in it – and part of that is calories. I used to track on Sparkpeople (I think – it may have been something else).

I think I might start it up again though because I think my estimated portions have slowly creeped up while my estimated calories have slowly creeped down. Plus, moving overseas means I’m unfamiliar with most products and need to re-acquaint myself with my food.

Glad someone else doesn’t believe calorie-counting is the devil! ;)

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Laura     at 5:33 pm

I love this post. This is something I’ve really been struggling with lately. I started with spark people and tracked my calories for years. I learned all about nutrition and ended up deciding to quit my full time corporate finance job to go back to school to be a RD!

Now I’m in school to be a RD, still working on losing weight and finding that calorie counting is making me crazy and obsessive. The deal breaker for me was when I refused myself a piece of fruit in fear for going over my daily calorie limit. I still watch my portions and can estimate the calories in any dish I eat, but I don’t actually write them down. I keep track of what I eat on a food blog (pictures from my cell phone). I have no idea of my actual calorie intake on a given day.

I’m really conflicted about counting calories, especially as I study to become a RD. Part of me is nervous that I won’t be able to lose weight unless I count – but another part of me thinks that I’m so much happier and healthier minded when I don’t count. I also eat a LOT cleaner when I’m not counting.

While I think it’s imperative for anyone without nutritional knowledge to learn the calorie contents of foods and all about portion control and macronutrient balance, I don’t know that it’s essential for weight loss. The jury is still out on this issue for me!

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Renee Reply:

I don’t think you need to stress out too much over a piece of fruit. Most people don’t eat enough fruits and veggies in a day. If it helps…in one of my Weight Watchers classes….this lady kept going on and on about the number of points in certain foods. She was worried about CARROTS! How much in a cup? What if she ate the whole bag? Etc. Finally the WW leader said, (she’s funny so it came out great.) “I don’t think you need to worry so much about carrots. None of us are here because we over ate on carrots.” The class cracked up. I guess what I’m saying is…I don’t worry too much about eating too many fruits and veggies (Except for the starchy ones.) If I’m still hungry at the end of the day, I’ll eat a piece of fruit, or if I’m really craving something sweet, cut up apples and carrots seem to help.

I love your idea of taking pics of your food. Sometimes I’m too busy to write it down and photograpic evidence of what ‘really’ went it my mouth that day would be helpful!

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Angela     at 6:56 pm

I just wrote a post on this very topic on Monday on my blog! I am a fan of calorie counting for two reasons 1)weight loss accountability and 2) understanding nutrient breakdown, especially for vegetarians.

For myself, I like to think of it more as logging nutrition, and I am pretty faithful to Lose It on my iPhone to track what I’m eating day-to-day. This is my way to know if I can afford that evening snack or not, and to make sure I’m getting the right ratio of nutrients since I rarely eat meat.

For folks that want or need to lose weight, calorie counting and measuring is essential to success. As humans, we are notoriously overly generous with portions, and measuring/counting keeps us honest, as well as brings a swift dose of reality to our worlds. 2 tablespoons of peanut butter is much less by measuring than it is by eyeballing, and those overlooked calories can be the downfall of even the most determined dieters.

Great post, thanks for starting the conversation!

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Courtney     at 7:21 pm

I counted calories when I was losing weight but I also researched a lot about nutrition. I don’t count in the meticulous way that I used to but I do approximate. I think it’s good to have an idea of how much you’re taking in vs. how much you’re burning.

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beetred     at 7:32 pm

have you ever heard of fitday.com? I love it, not only tracking calorie, fat, vitamins, minerals etc., but they have pie charts and bar graphs with your progress. i love math graphs and pictures depicting what i’m hitting/missing, it’s a great visual

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Michelle @ Turning Over a New Leaf     at 8:17 pm

Thank you for this! I can definitely see how calorie counting has turned into some sort of enemy, especially in light of “intuitive eating” (which I also believe is respectable, btw). I think it really depends on the individual person. Even when I’m not formally calorie counting, as I do every so often, I still do a quick food group balance check as well as a quick calorie tally. These are things I would have never done now if it wasn’t for months of studying nutrition and tracking calories.

On a completely different side note, I’m envious of how neat and organized your fridge looks.

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Julie     at 9:30 pm

What a great post. I definitely agree with you — you have to start somewhere! When I decided I wanted to lose weight I too started with calorie counting. It just seemed like the best place to being. After a while when I realized it wasn’t totally working for me and I was getting a bit obsessive, so I slowly started to pull myself away from calorie counting. I now have lost weight without it and am choosing more whole and natural foods than I was while counting, but I do think counting calories is a great way to start for people who want to lose weight or become more aware of what they’re actually eating. No shame in that!

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Cel     at 12:30 am

When did humans start counting calories anyways? When did we begin to try to lose weight?
Eat healthy, unprocessed foods and your body will sort its self out.

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Tiffany Reply:

I agree completely. Think of people in other countries who would give anything to have enough food every day, and here so many people restrict and starve themselves–on purpose.

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Gena     at 8:19 am

Em,

I spent the morning reading your post and these great comments. Thank you for being so honest and brave!

I am very sensitive to all of the reasons why counting may be a bad idea for someone with an ED history or an ED mindset. With that said, it’s important for us all to remember that not all E recovery stories are the same. I myself found that counting actually helped me stay within normal and healthy calorie ranges during my recovery and for a solid five years after; to this day, I often count loosely to ensure adequacy in what I eat. I don’t need to count religiously and wouldn’t at this point in my life — and I do very much enjoy the laid back attitude that has engendered that decision — but I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with counting if it helps a person to be accountable (either because he/she eats too much, or eats too little). Obsessiveness takes many forms, and refuses to take others: counting may breed it in some women and men, but in my own case, counting was never the main culprit, and in fact it helped me to be responsible in maintaining a healthy BMI.

Just my two cents as a former ED sufferer — great topic!

G xoxo

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Stephanie     at 8:39 am

I have an Excel spreadsheet that I log what I eat each day along with the nutritional information. It makes me sad that when I tell people this they think I’m crazy or that I have an eating disorder. I don’t. I have a very healthy relationship with food. However, I tend to mindlessly eat and my spreadsheet keeps me accountable. I want to get to the point where I can do it in my head but I’m not there yet. It also has helped me in my transition to vegetarianism. I’d read about energy slumps new vegetarians often had from the lack of protein. By tracking my protein, I know exactly how much protein I am getting and can make smarter choices about my snacks and meals according to what I need that day.

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Cassie @ Back to Her Roots     at 10:26 am

I’ve lost 50 pounds by counting calories. Do I want to do it the rest of my life? Absolutely not. But for now, it is an excellent tool that I temporarily use to get to where I want to be. One day I’ll abandon counting and just eat mindfully, but for now, the numbers matter in my weight loss journey.

When I made the switch to whole foods about three years ago, it was enough for me to drop about 15 pounds, but I was still eating TOO much of a good thing and still needed to lose 75 more pounds. Calorie counting helped me reign in my portions and fuel for running.

This all being said, I despise counting calories. It is tedious and take a lot of the fun out of food. I am very excited for the day that I can blissfully eat my dinner without measuring it out first. :)

Awesome topic!

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Meg     at 10:32 am

I think calorie counting and using the scale are extremly personal situations and we should understand that what works for one person doesn’t or wouldn’t work for someone else and leave it at that: it’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s different; to each their own, etc. I find those that are offended by such things are generally just projecting their insecurities onto you, so don’t sweat it :)

For me, using the scale everyday would not be a good idea. I know myself well enough to understand that if I ate a serving of fries the night before and then weighed myself and was up a pound the next morning, I would beat myself up and unfairly blame the fries. Rationally I would know I did not really gain a pound – it’s just salt/bloat, but then I might start to go down a dangerous path full of “good food” and “bad food”. Instead, I find it more helpful to weigh myself once every week or so, under the same conditions (early morning, pre-breakfast, pre-run, etc) to keep it in check.

I do agree with the comments saying how annoying it is when people judge what you are eating. There are always things to celebrate in my office: birthdays, babies, holidays…and there is ALWAYS cake to be had. If it’s a cake I know I love (like from my fav bakery), I’ll treat myself, if it’s not worth it (or perhaps I know that I am going to a nice restuarant that evening and will most likely want dessert there) I will skip it.

Before my wedding,there was an office party and someone made homemade truffles…they looked amazing and they were! But the comments people made about me having one b/c I was about to get married, were completely unnecessary and out of line (esp considering I was and am at a healthy weight!). I struggled to make sure I did not take their comments as a reflection on me (“I look fat” “I need to lose more weight” etc) and instead took it to understand that it was more of a relfection on THEM! (Most who commented were actually bigger than I was so perhaps there was jealousy? That at least, was a MUCH healthier way for me to look at it).

In the end, I count calories from time to time, for various reasons. Lately, it’s because I’ve had a ton of tummy troubles and my doc wants me to track my eating habits to help us diagnose what is going on. It’s also a great way to ensure my grazing doesn’t get out of control (I have a sweet tooth!)

By the way, still waiting on your weight room part 2 post! Thanks!

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Izzlecanoe     at 10:37 am

Hi Emily,
I loved this post and all the comments. As someone who is just starting to try to maintain a 50lb weight loss (I’m a Weight Watchers person),I find it comforting to know that so many people do still count calories or points, or simply have a very good sense (through educating themselves)of what they are putting in their mouths.

A recent survey up here in Canada showed that most people don’t have a clue how much or what they are eating (I certainly didn’t before I started to lose weight) and like the States levels of obesity are rising in Canada.

Thanks again for a great post

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Jen G.     at 11:52 am

Great post! I am late commenting here but I completely agree with your philosophy. I think people should know about the foods they eat. If you don’t know about the calories and nutrients in the foods you eat how do you know if you are getting too much or if you aren’t getting enough of something? I kind of see it like this…calorie counting (even informally) is a way to balance our nutritional budget yet being fiscally responsible by maintaining a finanical budget isn’t nearly as controversial.

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Priscilla     at 12:38 pm

What I find interesting about the comments is how many people equate EDs with calorie counting. Calorie counting in and of itself does not cause EDs. EDs are about CONTROL–not about food, not even really about weight. It’s also important to point out that just because a person has stopped counting calories does not mean she is still not dealing with disordered eating. Many people with EDs become vegetarians or vegans as a way to mask their EDs, but I don’t see anyone blasting you for being a vegetarian.

Too many women believe their weight reflects their self worth–the less the weigh, the better they are, the more successful and perfect their lives will be. What generally happens is that people have some expectation tied to weight loss: better body, better relationship(s), better grades, better job. As the weight starts to come off and those things don’t change, many women will start trying to lose weight faster, either by cutting calories, cutting out a food group, or exercising obsessively. If they can be “perfect” on their diets each day, then their lives will follow suit. We need to let go of perfectionism.

Caitlin at Healthy Tipping Point has a great post today about coping mechanisms. Many people use eating as a coping mechanism, and just as many people use weight loss and exercise to make themselves feel “okay.” The main point is that they look for ways to manage problems without dealing with the problems themselves.

Calorie counting is a powerful tool because it also tells you whether you are getting enough to eat. I think the terrific thing about programs like WW is that it focuses also on whether you are getting enough servings of veg and fruit each day, whether you are properly hydrated, and whether or not you get enough healthy fats.

One thing I love about your blog is how you talk very honestly about getting to know yourself and understand what is right for YOU–not for anyone else. I believe you promote self-knowledge, and that is most the powerful thing of all. Thanks very much for this. I look forward to what 2011 will bring!

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Kathryn     at 12:39 pm

Wow, this is really cool. I really am trying to loose weight. I’ve tried every “diet”. They don’t work. I’ve been partially successful w/ calorie counting, but then I find I get frustrated for two reasons. I read that it is really bad and obsessive and I become concerned about it. I also have a hard time finding the calories for some things I eat being a health minded vegan. I get into a perfectionist frame of mind and if I can’t find the calories for what I’m looking for I get a “screw it” attitude and resort to binge eating because I’ve messed up that day. Then the next, I become an unhealthy calorie counter, eating only foods I can find the calories on easily (packaged foods much?). It is a weird cycle that I’m trying to fix.
Finding that happy medium between food, how much, what kind and how much excercise is tough, but I’m getting there. Posts like this are really helpful!

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lindsay     at 12:56 pm

I usually look at the balance of macronutrients as well. Not calories. Although, sometimes when I ma feeling tired or training for an event, I like to plug my calories into FITDAY to make sure I am getting enough calories and nutrients. Great perspective though!
LC

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Melomeals: Vegan for $3.33 a Day     at 1:53 pm

Calorie counting is very important for me since I am learning to eat differently this year. I am doing 4 mini meals or around 400 calories a piece and it’s very helpful for me to count calories right now to make sure I am eating what I think I am. It’s interesting because I used fitday and find that without weighing a lot of food, the counts are way off. For instance, they say a 5 inch sweet potato is 109 calories, but weight the sweet potato it came in at 1 lb, which was around 400 calories.
Knowledge is power. I’m not getting crazy with it, but if I don’t KNOW what I’m putting into my mouth then how in the world can I expect to lose weight?

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Wendy (Healthy Girl's Kitchen)     at 2:40 pm

Just came over here from Choosing Raw. I’m very happy to be here and I look forward to exploring your past posts and enjoying your future ones.

I am loving this post and all of the comments. This is such a personal issue but the reality is that in order to maintain a healthy weight a person must figure out a way to keep their calorie intake within a pretty tight range. Just 50 extra calories per day will pack on 5 extra pounds a year. Over 10 years, you will be 50 pounds overweight–just by messing this equation up an average of 50 calories a day. I know this from personal experience. Less than 2 years ago I was 50 pounds over weight and I considered myself a generally healthy eater.

The problem I see with some, not all, calorie counters is that they lose sight of the nutritional value of the food they are eating. yes, they can be thin, but are they healthy? This is my main criticism of Weight Watchers, and I know they have now changed the program, but I am too frustrated with their weight over health approach that I need a break from them.

My current approach is a Plant Strong/Nutritarian approach. Instead of counting calories, I weigh myself every morning and use that information as feedback. I alter what I eat as I go and hopefully continue to learn as I go. My goal is to maintain a healthy weight without counting calories or Weight Watchers Points. Is this possible? I sure hope so.

For another method that is interesting about how to maintain weight without counting, see
http://healthygirlskitchen.blogspot.com/2010/12/your-waist-is-like-bank-account-only.html

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Emily Malone Reply:

Welcome, Wendy! :)

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wendy (healthy girl's kitchen) Reply:

Thank you Emily! What a warm welcome.

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Suzanne     at 3:14 pm

Thanks for such a fantastic post. I counted calories for many years. It helped me lose weight and keep it off. I don’t do it often now, but only because it became too much of a hastle. I still pay attention to the caloric content of the foods I eat (like you, I do a rough tally in my head with every meal). You do need to be aware that not all calories are created equal, for sure, and that getting all of your nutrients for the day is more important that staying under a calorie goal. I actually think counting calories helped me become less restrictve. I used to obsess every time I “cheated” and worried about how it would effect my weight loss. Once I started counting calories, I realized that in the scheme of things one dessert wouldn’t effect me that much. I was able to work in small treats for myself every day. For the first time, I felt like I wasn’t depriving myself and I was still losing weight! It was very liberating!

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Melissa     at 3:36 pm

How do we view the survey? I’m twitter-challenged but I”m curious to see the results

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Emily Malone Reply:

Oh shoot, sorry. It wasn’t a real survey – I just put the question out there and read through a bunch of responses.

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Melissa Reply:

Oh I get it now, I just went back and read that part of the post. Opps!

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Jessica M     at 4:24 pm

I don’t count calories, but I have been trying hard to eat healthier, especially the last couple of weeks. I think I could benefit from counting calories, but I just haven’t committed to doing it.

I think counting calories a healthy habit as long as you don’t obsess over it. Getting healthy is HARD WORK. It is neccessary to have some control over your eating habits, which is different than being obsessive or having an ED.

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Nicole @ Geek Turned Athlete     at 5:32 pm

I posted a (what I thought) very informative review on a vegetarian sports nutrition book, and highlighted how to figure out how many calories we should be consuming, how much protein, carbs, etc. I was kinda worried about the reaction that I was going to get b/c I stated that I might calorie count this next triathlon season a few times. I wanted to make sure I was taking in enough calories for Ironman training. It seems like whenever you mention calorie counting people automatically assume you are anorexic!

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Chelsea     at 5:38 pm

I’m a bit late to the game but I, like you, used CK for a very long time and I found it very helpful. I, like you, also do a mental count in my head. I lost 75 pounds 8 years ago and the way I’ve kept it off is by keeping a diary of what I eat. I write it down and it really helps. I recently had a doctor’s appointment and he said that he used to steer people away from calorie counting because of how crazy it can make you but now he doesn’t because the people the count and pay attention and know what is going into their bodies are the ones that keep the weigh off and are successful. That being said, I don’t keep a tally of my calories but I do aim to eat around 1800 calories a day in much the same way as you.

It’s not evil but it can make you crazy. It’s important to know what the healthy balance FOR YOU is. It’s different for every person.

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Samantha     at 6:20 pm

This is an excellent view of calorie counting! I’m a bit in between the two “groups” (those suffering or recovering from ed’s that can’t count cals and those who are a-ok to do so). I AM recovering from bulimia but I can track my eats a few days a week, eating roughly the same throughout the week on the days I don’t (creature of habit!) and be alright so long as I don’t track several days in a row.

However, my concern is having no clue HOW MANY calories I need in a day. If I use the online calculators I end up getting widely varied numbers from 900 cals/day to 1600 cals/day. How do you get a rough idea of where to start from? Obviously you there is a margin of error and you have to see how your body responds. I’ve gained 20 lbs in 2 years and am only 4’11″. I’m in my early 30′s so metabolism is no longer on my side. Like you , I had weight I needed to lose but wasn’t grossly overweight, I lost and got to a healthy size, but gained it all back despite continuing to be active and eat well. (My only real change was a-climate and b-shifted from distance running to a wide variety of activity…yoga, running, walking, hiking, kayaking, scuba)

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Samantha Reply:

Ack, I swear I’m invisible to food bloggers, they never answer any question I have. :(

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Emily Malone Reply:

Samantha,
Hopefully you can see from the 300+ comments on this post, that I really tried my best to answer all the questions I saw. I think I missed yours because it was in the middle of your comment. You are most definitely not invisible, and I really make a point to always respond to as many comments as I can.

Unfortunately, I’m probably not qualified to answer your question, as how many calories you need in a day is so individually specific. I have always used the baseline given to me by Calorie King (when I was trying to lose weight), and beyond that I just try to average around 1600-1700 a day for normal maintenance. But what works for my body will likely not work for you. Maybe you can see a nutritionist just to develop your baseline targets? Good luck, and sorry again for the late response. I assure you, it wasn’t personal.

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Laura     at 7:49 pm

Amen!

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Leslie     at 8:52 pm

Thanks for this post. Like the running post, it’s just so…sensible. You’ve taken two topics that have become distorted for the extreme good or bad and sort of helped us re-set our perspectives. Thanks again!

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Susan Fine     at 8:54 pm

so interesting to see how many people have so many thoughts on this topic. it is, indeed, a very complicated one, and the whole topic of weight/body image/food/health and more seems to have some presence in the life of pretty much every woman i know. i would love to see you do a post called something such as “a day in my food life,” where you basically just present your meals and snacks for one day (with or without calorie counts — or maybe it could even be interesting to have some kind of contest where you present a day of meals and people figure out for themselves what they think the calories might be — could be an interesting exercise). i really like to get the details, the specifics, all the in’s and out’s of what you might have on one day. what would also be fantastic is a week of your meals! and perhaps down the line you’ll do a book — how about 365 days of food ideas? truly. i would love a book like that (or maybe what would be more reasonable would be ideas for each month of the year — like a week of food plans, all meals and snacks, for each month of the year? — i am always happy when cookbooks will provide suggestions for complete meals, and i anticipate that someone might have done a book like the one i am imagining, but i haven’t seen it — and then, of course, there’s the index in the back of tools you need in the kitchen and key supplies for the pantry!

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Emily Malone Reply:

A few people have asked for “a day in the life” type of eating post. I’m a little hesitant only because every day is quite different for me, but I might consider it. People would probably be surprised to see how MUCH I eat! :) A book is definitely on the long-term goals list. I think about it every day, trust me. :) Part of that list also includes things you mentioned – kitchen tools, stocking your pantry – so many ideas in my head. Now I just need to make them come to life!

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Susan Fine Reply:

so… maybe it’s a week of meals and snacks — then we’d see the wonderful variety! and you’d have january covered for your book! a friend of mine did a dinner project, where she photographed her family dinners for 365 days. the photos are stunning! and inspiring, too. perhaps it’s just a matter of photos and a description of the meals and snacks, no recipes initially to make it manageable (and, of course, the photos would inspire with their beauty).

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Laura C     at 1:11 am

Hi Emily,
Great post! I stepped over here from Gena’s blog. I am someone who has been on both ends of the spectrum. I grew up overweight, then lost weight and became obsessive about it an became anorexic, recovered relatively quickly, became overweight again, lost that weight again, etc etc. Basically, my feeding is governed by two dueling drives: an overwhelming love of food and eating, and a fear of gaining weight and hatred of excess weight. My head is a fun place ;)
About four years ago I embarked on a detox/hi-raw journey. My views and diet are now a bit more moderate, but the shift in mindset has been invaluable. I rarely think in calories anymore- I think in terms of nutritional density, volume (I love high volume soups and smoothies that have high nutrition and volume without excess fat/sugar/cals), and degree of processing. Though I temporarily became a bit brainwashed by detox ideas about “clean” foods and the like, it has completely shifted my relationship with food- I think more about the effect of a food on my physiology and my mood, as well as the environment, then other factors. I only shift to a calorie mindset when I am put in a high-risk environment (like a recent cruise) where food is less unhealthy and I’m at risk of making a long series of poor choices. Then I can mitigate the damage to my body by thinking about the portions or calories. When I’m at a lower weight calorie counting is counter-productive as it tends to just breed a constant state of anxiety. I agree 100% that some kind of tracking is necessary for weight maintenance- it’s a constant struggle for me as I fluctuate a lot. I have a pretty intuitive sense now of what amounts of what kinds of foods correspond to different weights (and moods) for me, so my real struggle is staying in correspondence with those without becoming overly anxious or angry about my choices.

[Reply]

Laura C Reply:

correction: “less healthy”

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Emily Malone Reply:

Hi Laura – welcome!

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thefruitpersuit.punt.nl (Sabine)     at 3:51 am

I AM recovering from an eating disorder, or actually have reached the point where I can say I have recovered, and I think I do about the same as you. I don’t count consciously at all, but I do know roughtly what I eat, and I definitely know with a very high accuracy what’s in what, kcalorie and nutrient wise! I too am a health nut (and study dietetics to boot) but yeah the fine line between counting and not, knowing and not knowing, is thin, which I realize. I do think that, even though I can resonate with your story, calorie counting is NEVER necessary. It’s almost always an option, yes, but even persons wanting to lose weight the healthy way have more options than starting counting :).

I LOVE this post though. And I’m sortof new to your blog (had seen the old one around sometimes) and I’ll definitely start reading. I love your short about me at the top of the page, already made me smile :).

love, sabine

[Reply]

Emily Malone Reply:

Thanks Sabine! Welcome back!

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megan     at 9:20 am

Emily, thanks for such an informative post. I think it’s great you are so in tune with your nutritional needs. I feel like I’m still trying to read my body’s cues. For example, my appetite varies so much for no apparent reason. Some days, I’ll be super hungry after exercising, and some days I’ll exercise just as much and have no appetite. I try to just follow my hunger cues, but if I were to do that I’d be afraid of under-fueling on those low appetite days. Do you have any insight on how to deal with that?

Also, how did you adjust your caloric intake when you were recovering from your accident? Did you keep it the same? Cut back overall?

[Reply]

Emily Malone Reply:

Hi Megan, I pretty much do the same thing you do. I try to think about my hunger relative to exercise and what activity I’ve done recently. When I was injured, I actually found that my appetite naturally decreased due partly to my decreased mobility, and also probably someone due to mild depression. Once I was up and moving around a bit more, I ate the same way I always did, but cut out the snacks I typically ate before and after workouts.

[Reply]

Kris     at 9:38 am

I always appreciate posts that generate so much discussion. For me, calorie counting is also a starting point. And the calorie counting goes hand in hand with consideration of the nutrional aspects of what I’m eating.

What frightens me are the impressionable, idealistic individuals who take what works for someone else as gospel. A commenter said she “trusted” your advice. There seems to be a certain amount of hero worship for bloggers, and sometimes the readers don’t stop to consider the best advice they can get is from someone who has personal knowledge of them and their body (doctor, RD, therapist, etc.). Although I was upset by the Marie Claire article because I thought it was biased and sensational, I understand that individuals w/ EDs or unrealstic expectations just grab onto something they read on the Internet, and don’t stop to consider their unique needs. Readers need to take heed of the disclaimers all of you offer — that you are not experts, and are offering a snapshot of what goes on in your life and what has worked for you. We don’t need to label things as “bad”. What we need to do is educate ourselves, learn about our own bodies, and integrate this with knowledge we glean from many different sources. And I do get upset that it seems more acceptable to have poor eating and exercise habits, and that those who monitor their eating and exercise are labeled extreme or triggering (and suffer from an overabudance of unhelpful or unkind comments).

Thanks for being a springboard for discussion!

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Emily Malone Reply:

I actually totally agree with you. It is important to me to share recipes, stories, and photos about food, but I will never feel that the format of showing what foods I specifically eat will work for me. I would rather show someone HOW to prepare delicious food, than focus on how much of it they should eat. That comes down to reader responsibility. I’m just here to hopefully help people feel more confident and creative in the kitchen.

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Charise     at 3:31 pm

I am working on losing weight but have never been able to “diet” in the sense of strictly counting calories. I did at one point, so that, like you Emily, I can judge pretty accurately how many calories are in the ingredients I use for meals to get into a target range. But, that is secondary to making sure I have veggies, protein, fiber/grains, healthy fats in each meal.

I think calorie counting’s bad rap comes in when people ONLY look at calories and eat, say 1600 empty calories of processed foods each day rather than eating a wide variety of foods to get in macro and micronutrients.

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Tiffany     at 8:03 pm

Hello! Not sure if you’re still checking these comments (and hopefully I’m not missing it answered in a prior comment), but how many calories a day were you eating when you did count calories? I joined Sparkpeople and all that, but it just gives me a range (1200-1500). I’m also a runner like you and I’m not sure how that plays into the number of calories I should eat now that I’m also trying to lose weight. (When I first started running, I ate very healthy and the weight just came right off from the shock of running, I think. Now, I still run, but I’ve put on weight due to unhealthy eating choices.) I was just curious–calculating my BMR and AMR has really overwhelmed me.

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Sara     at 4:30 pm

GREAT post! And I love the term ‘nutritionally aware’. So glad I stumbled on your blog! You rock. :)

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Kristin     at 9:50 pm

I love livestrong.com and lost most my wight using the calorie counter on there. It’s free and very user friendly!

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Rachel @ Grateful Girl Goes Gluten Free     at 10:56 pm

Just found your blog via KERF and love it!

I don’t count calories anymore. I was totally obsessive in high school. I read Naturally Thin by Bethenny Frankel this summer and haven’t counted a calorie since. I found my healthy tipping point and I weigh 30lbs less than I did at this time last year.

I agree that counting to start is helpful, but once you hit your healthy tipping point I think you just know how to make the right decision and have a good feel for what you need in a day.

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Jessica Lee     at 12:33 pm

wow, great post!! i think calorie counting gets a bad rep mostly because the accounts where it is publicized make it seem like it’s an obsessive habit. on the other hand, that’s how you lose weight! like you said, w/o counting, you wouldn’t know where to begin. me neither. i count calories to lose weight and i think it’s good knowledge to have. i used to look everything up but now i know it all and just give myself rough estimates.

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Sarah Louise     at 2:59 am

Hi Emily! I love this post. I recently started keeping track of the food I eat because I was sick of feeling completely exhausted after every meal I ate…and as a Cardiac RN I was interested to see how much sodium and fat I was consuming. Let’s just say I’m a little shocked at what I have been putting in my body the last 26 years! So I completely agree that knowledge is power. I’ve made a few changes (not so much calorie wise), and I feel 1000 times better!

I have to ask though…what kind of salad dressing do you buy that is only 24-45 calories per 2 tbsp??? The other night I ruined an awesomely well balanced meal just with the salad dressing I used. Any suggestions you have would be great. Thanks :)

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Carrie (Moves 'N Munchies)     at 1:47 pm

oh my gosh i am bookmarking this post..this is exactly where i want to be! i love how you can just go into the fridge and figure out a very well balanced meal without fretting about it all.. THANk you .. this is awesome!

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Lisa     at 10:46 pm

Well I lost 110 pounds through counting calories. I’ve also MAINTAINED my weight loss through continuing counting. When people ask me HOW I did it they zone out. Their eyes glaze over. Many people just don’t have the drive to be committed to healthy living and weight loss. That’s ok! If WW works better for then, count points instead. Whatever works. Counting calories made me a success story. :)

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Kasey Parker     at 9:33 pm

I have counted calories for a year and track mine online at Sparkpeople. Being said – I have lost 102lbs & 105in this way too. But there are days I do not have to write down my calories to understand about the amount I have eaten, due to the fact that I stay around the same foods each week and I have learned over the year – what is good and what is bad with what I eat. When I get to my goal weight – I probably will not count calories as I do now, but still keep in mind when I eat – how much I eat.

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Bobby (boymeetscake)     at 12:30 pm

This is going to seem incredibly ridiculous coming from a guy but does anyone have some advice on limiting calorie counting? (Someone may have posted it but on my lunch break, I couldn’t read through all the thought provokers). I realize that men have different nutritional needs than women, but I feel that the same mentality applies.

I too feel pressure from my “community” to look a certain way and it has led me to obsessively count calories. Recently, I have gotten slightly better (using the myfitnesspal as more of a meal planner than just the calorie info), but I spend far to much time thinking and recapping what I’ve eaten/am going to eat.

Any words of wisdom?

[Reply]

Aleisha Reply:

Bobby-
It’s not a ridiculous question just because you are a guy, counting calories works for humans not male or female. =)
I cut my calories by eating more fruit and vegetables with my meals and as snacks. A lot of the prepared snacks have more calories than a cup of berries or an apple, plus eating more fresh gets you natural fiber, vitamins and many ahve water in them=)

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Aleisha     at 2:59 pm

I count calories, and it works amazing for me! I make it a challenge to myself and it’s a small daily goal that I can succeed at. Also, my calorie intake isn’t set really low so it does not stress me, I can have a small splurge here and there and not completely stress out! =) counting calories work!
I also do read a lot of books-diet books, nutrition books, etc, just to get educated and know what other people did that works (a motivator for me)

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Heather     at 1:10 pm

How did calorie counting get such a bad rap? Well this is news to me since America is obsessed with dieting, thinness, and calorie counting. In fact, as far as I know, if you’re not already super thin then NOT counting calories is considered a crime against humanity. Maybe you’re just talking to the thin people… or people who, you know, love themselves and their bodies and know how stupid and pointless calorie counting is. Why? Because calories are counted for one reason and one reason only- becauseomgicantgetfaaaat!

Calorie counting is a symptom of a society that is completely obsessed and preoccupied with appearance. And why wouldn’t they be? You are discriminated against when you don’t fit the ideal mold and nobody wants that. And for most people- it leads to and contributes greatly to disordered eating. I know you said “omg i don’t mean you people with ED!” but let’s face it- that doesn’t leave a lot of people.. because most people who are psychologically healthy in regards to their appearance and weight.. well they’re not counting calories because they don’t care. Calories don’t effect your health (the TYPE of food you eat and how much you move does.. but not the calories themselves).. therefore there’s no reason to eat them. As long as you’re engaging in healthful eating habits- you’ll be fine. And I hope that calorie counting gets more a bad rap than you seem to think it has- for the mental health of everyone.

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Health & Peace: The Long Road « Food, Fitness, Life & Love     at 12:20 pm

[...] count calories or fat grams or any of that (and haven’t since 2007), I do read labels.  I am nutritionally aware.  I like to know what I’m eating!  I try to buy food in it’s most natural form as [...]

Lara     at 3:18 pm

I 100% completely agree with you–calorie counting has gotten a bad rep unnecessarily. Of course, extremes in either direction are not good, and calorie counting is no different. I have been a moderate calorie counter, a die-hard calorie counter, and so on. I think the best balance is what you have described above with your salad–having the knowledge, being aware, and making decisions based on your knowledge and a dose of good judgement.

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Jennifer @ Peanut Butter and Peppers     at 8:04 pm

Bravo! Well put! I am 3 weeks without counting calories and as the same as you I lost 30lbs counting calories and exercising. I didn’t mind counting calories but people started to tell me I was obsessed with it. Maybe I was. I decided I would try to not count anymore and listen to what my body tells me. If I’m hungry I’ll eat. I know what is healthy and what is not, and I know I can do this As you, I could probably tell you calories in just about everything, but now I use my knowledge to make my meals because I know what should go into them. Thanks for posting this. It’s good to know that people do understand and understand what I am going through!

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Blog Tip Thursdays: Sharing Links Via Twitter | Healthy Living Blogs     at 10:42 am

[...] [Check out the above linked post: Calorie Counting and the Blurry Grey Line.] [...]

Dominic     at 9:03 am

What a great article and a really impressive response from readers. I really enjoyed going through all that :)
I am definitely an advocate for calorie counting, it is a mathematical equation and can’t really be argued with. Your need so many calories to maintain your weight depending on your activity levels and other personal factors, you eat more and you gain weight, you eat less and you lose it. It’s just a case of having the right information at your disposal when it comes to planning what you eat and not just eating what you like, when you like, which obviously means the tally can go all over the place. I like to plan a day ahead and strictly keep to that, using sites like calorie king and http://www.calories-in-foods.com/ really help me to work out what I am likely to be consuming. I look forward to reading more from you.

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The Change Compendium — Angela Fox Petersen     at 10:33 am

[...] “If I had never tracked my calories at the beginning of my journey, I can pretty much guarantee that I wouldn’t have been successful, because I would have just been going through the motions, rather than understanding why I was eating what I was eating.  We are so quick to stress that we need to eat real food, whole grains, un-processed ingredients, but the minute someone says the word calories – everybody freezes.  It’s all about knowing your food, right?  So isn’t a basic understanding of calories and nutritional breakdowns a good thing?” Calorie Counting and The Blurry Grey Line [...]

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