January 5, 2012

So, really, why do I count calories?

Back in the day, when I was in junior high they had a guest speaker come into our physical education class to explain to us the importance of nutrition and health. As part of the presentation, the guest speakers brought with them a replica model of 20lbs. of fat and 20lbs. of muscle. The model for the 20lbs. of fat was brought out on a radio flyer wagon because it was too big for either of the speakers to carry. The 20lbs. of muscle was held in the hand of one of the speakers. It’s been 20 years since that presentation and to this day, I still haven’t forgotten the difference between the two. When I think about how much I have to lose, I think about that wagon filled with fat.

For the most part, my approach to weight loss has always been an approach centered on basic math. My belief is that diets are like a bandaid. They only work for a short time and normally you do not see lasting results with a diet. Think back to how many diets you've been on and how great you felt when you succeeded at losing X amount of pounds. Now think back to the time right after you accomplished the weight loss and went back to your normal eating habits. Did you gain the weight back? Did you gain more? Most often than not, diets do not work for long term loss. Since most people want to lose weight for good and have lasting results, I believe that diets are pointless.

So why do people fall victim to every new fad diet? Well, it's quite simple. We humans have become accustomed to getting results quickly. Diets usually give quick results and you almost always see a drop in water weight when you begin a diet. Also, diets no matter if low carb or low fat ALWAYS have a reduction in calories because of an elimination of certain food groups or types. Thus, we fall into the redundant cycle over and over again of trying diet A, B, C etc.

So what about those diets that have you eating a certain food at a certain time of day? Hmmm, only in dreams would it be awesome if we could lose weight by eliminating our carb consumption after 5, 6, 7 pm. However, again it goes back to an elimination of a type of food and a  reduction of calories. Since your are not eating carbs, you are not eating calories. Thus you are reducing your calories overall.

What I want to point out is that it all comes down to the basic calorie. Do I believe that all calories are created equally? No, and I will dive into that in a little bit.

Do I believe that a calorie is a calorie, is a calorie. YES! To explain this, I will use myself as the example. Right now, I eat 1400 calories a day. If say tomorrow I got a craving for cookies and decided to stuff my face with cookies up to 1400 calories...in theory, I could do that without gaining weight. On the same token, if I got another craving the following day for broccoli, I could eat about 1400 calories worth of broccoli and still again not gain weight. Both are equal in calories for this example, and guess what both are carbs. HOWEVER, take a guess about how many cookies versus how many pounds of broccoli I would need to eat to equal 1400 calories. Can you guess what food would give me more bang for my buck, so to speak? Well of course the broccoli. And this is what brings me to my next point...

A calorie is a calorie, is a calorie...HOWEVER when it comes to satiation, a nutrient dense calorie will always beat out it's ugly twin sister, the empty calorie. Both are a calorie, yet one will provide a feeling of satiation over the other.

Going back to our examples, the cookie has refined sugars and refined bleached flour. These two ingredients are processed sugars. They are manipulated by man to contain no nutrients at all. Thus they spike your blood sugar levels up really high (i.e. the sugar rush) and as we all know, what goes up must come down. Thus after you've eaten your 1400 calories worth of cookies you will feel great for awhile and on a high, but what happens when you crash? You will most likely be hungry again and most likely eat something else, thus causing you to go over your 1400 calories for the day. As for the broccoli, I can guarantee that as you approach your 1400 calorie limit you will probably be stuffed twice over! You will also not experience the sugar rush and thus you will not experience the uneven roller coaster in your blood sugar levels. Thus you will not crave more. I do not mean eat broccoli as your only source of your calories. This was just an extreme example to prove a point.

So why do I calorie count and how do I do it? Personally, I count calories because it allows me to eat EVERYTHING. Nothing is off the table. I can have cookies, cake and ice cream. EXCEPT, I have to have them in moderation and also really budget and think if I want to really have that cookie, cake or ice cream and later go to bed feeling hungry, or worse yet, risk going over my calorie limit. Calorie counting allows me to make choices all the time. It gives me the illusion of freedom, but with boundaries. Also, with the progression of technology, calorie counting has become extremely convenient.

I'm a hardcore calorie counter. I've been doing it since I was 12! I got serious about it at 16 and then again at 26 and both times, I saw amazing results that lasted A VERY LONG TIME. Both times, I did it with a pad of paper and little booklet that had all the caloric values listed out for certain foods. It was very time consuming and very inconvenient. Yet, I did it because I'm hardcore like that.

However, now in our technology friendly society, I feel there is no excuse of "it's too hard" allowed. Especially with computers and smart phones. I personally use My Fitness Pal, as you can see on the right-hand side bar of this blog. It has a great mobile app that even allows you to scan the UPC code of foods and set in your serving size. It counts your water intake and also counts your calories burned through exercise. The app is the best thing I've ever seen. Personally, I begged my husband to get me a smart phone just so I could count calories on the mobile apps. On the actual website, they have all the tools you need to determine what your daily caloric needs are for weight loss. On the converse side, when it comes to calculating my calories burned I use a heart rate monitor which I wear while I exercise. In the next few posts, I will go into the benefits of purchasing a heart rate monitor and using it to calculate your caloric burn during a workout.

So yeah, I count calories to eat whatever I want and to feel like I have choices when it comes to food. Basically, my entire day is a puzzle. I have the set framework of my puzzle, and while sometimes, fun unhealthy snacks fit into my day other times I'm just fine choosing nutrient dense foods as my puzzle pieces .

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