Should I Track Calories?
Tracking calories and macros used to be an obsession of the fitness industry, but with the rise of balanced healthy eating, people have begun to look past the numbers and concentrate more on the types of food they’re eating, learning portion control and consuming more whole and less processed foods. Is one approach better than the other? The answer depends on what your goal is. If you want to lose weight then you need to achieve an energy deficit, so whilst it’s important to eat a balanced diet that’s rich in nutrients you also need to note the calorie content of your meals.
The best way to get started on calorie tracking is by keeping a food diary. Recording everything you eat can reveal a lot about your habits and will shed some light on why you’re struggling to lose any extra pounds. Often people discover that they’re consuming the right foods but that they’re simply eating too much of them.
Problems with portion control are easily spotted when you keep a food diary because meals that are out of line with calorie goals jump off the page. This imbalance may be because you’re eating too much food on each meal or because you’re having large/frequent portions of high calorie food, or simply because you eat the right amount of calories during the week and have a weekend blowout ruining your averages. For example, a common pitfall is peanut butter. It’s surged in popularity lately because it’s a source of protein and good fats – but it’s also calorific with 1 tablespoon containing roughly 100 calories. So, whilst it’s a good thing to include in your diet, you don’t want to eat it multiple times per day and when you do eat it you need to practice portion control.
Compared to ten years ago, keeping a food diary is easier than ever before. There are loads of apps that not only log what you eat but will provide you with calorie content information, convert your data into easy to read formats, and give you tips on spotting trends like emotional eating or hormonal eating. The flip side of this is that you can get sucked into an obsessive world of tracking every morsel that passes your lips.
Developing a fixation on calories isn’t healthy or normal. You can’t walk around with a weighing scale in your pocket to meticulously portion out your food, sometimes you need to let loose and trust that you’re making the right decision – even if it’s not an exact one. If you don’t, mealtimes can become a stressful event that revolve around calculations instead of pleasure and satisfaction. That itself can lead to binge eating problems and unhappiness.
Listen to your body
Another reason why compulsively tracking calories and strict diet plans can be harmful is that it causes you to ignore what your body is telling you. None of us are machines, which means that some days we’ll be hungrier than others. And some days we fancy eating a soup or a sandwich and not a grilled chicken breast and broccoli. This is a totally normal part of the human experience and it’s something that our diets have to work around if we’re to achieve healthy and long lasting weight loss. Tracking calories can lead our bodies to ignore our natural hunger cues as we are focused on controlling the numbers and achieving a calorie deficit instead of establishing a connection with our bodies.
Compulsive calorie tracking and strict diet plans can trigger binge eating behaviours. These have a negative effect on our metabolic rate and on our mental health as they cause feelings of shame and failure. There’s even a danger of developing an eating disorder if you manically attempt to ‘undo’ a binge by engaging in a lot of exercise or severe calorie restriction.
Ultimately, a balanced approach is key when it comes to calorie tracking and weight loss. You need to strike a balance between keeping within your daily goal to ensure that you achieve a calorie deficit and living a normal life that isn’t dominated by thoughts of food. It’s also important to be able to hit pause when your body tells you to or when you want to enjoy a meal out with your other half or a night out with friends.
Life is about more than calories or weight and you mustn’t lose sight of why you’re working so hard. The end goal is to be healthier and to feel good about yourself, so it’s madness to make yourself unhealthy and miserable getting there.
Tracking calories and following strict diet plans can work very well for some without causing any harm but for others can be very stressful and lead to binge eating behaviours, stress and unhappiness. The main point to take away is to find what works for you, come up with your set of tools, learn how to use them and stick to that. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it will never be. But you learn as you practise and become the master of your own plan that’s unique to you!