Friday, October 21, 2016

Why I Stopped Counting Calories and Started Eating More

Everyone knows that the basic principle of losing weight is burning more calories than you take in. Seems simple enough, right? Except it's not.

I'm a product of Weight Watchers.  I did WW back in college with my mom and dropped a ton of weight, to the tune of about 50 pounds. I religiously logged all of my foods every day, stayed within my points and really didn't work out that much. My 21 year old body did just fine with that. I kept up most of the good eating habits and most of the weight stayed off for about five or six years. It came back after a year or so of eating at my desk and not working out. And when I started to lose some of that weight by calorie counting and not working out? Yeah, it didn't work for my 30 year old body.

My trusty My Fitness Pal app
I've been on this journey since January. That's when I started at Burn Athletic and started trying to get healthy, not just lose weight. But I had started trying to lose weight the summer before that.  When I changed jobs, I had a better work/life balance and had more time to meal plan and cook. I thought "Yes! This is going to work!"

Until it didn't.

I focused on eating the right amount of calories. I faithfully logged all my food into My Fitness Pal app. But I didn't focus on what I was eating. My diet consisted of a bunch of low-fat this and low-calorie that which was really lots of sodium and sugar. And when I started working out and became the gym rat I am now, I learned I wasn't eating enough calories for all the work I was doing. It was all very, very confusing. I was super frustrated because I was doing all the right things and the weight just stayed in its happy little place.

Then we did Clean 14. That was a game changer for me. I haven't counted a single calorie since September 2, when we started that diet.  The Whole 30, which is what Clean 14 is based off of, is all about eating good, healthy food and taking all the crap out of your diet.  You aren't allowed to count calories or weigh yourself during the diet, which went against everything Weight Watchers had taught me.

Instead of counting every calorie, you are reading every label. Losing weight is never easy and you will be recording something. Label reading is rather eye-opening. The food that you think is "good for you" is actually pretty bad and the stuff you think is "bad" is really fine, but in moderation.

The whole calorie counting thing can sometimes create what is called "goal displacement" (that's right - I just pulled out my MPA degree on you!). Goal displacement is when you're focused on meeting a goal, but you miss the big picture. The end goal is to get healthy, but by focusing on the calories, you're missing what's making up the calories.

Did you know that sugar is added to most "low-fat" foods to bulk them up and make them taste better? Kinda counter-intuitive, right? You make it more "low-fat" by adding more sugar. If you want to get really grossed out by just how much sugar is in everything, check out this sugar cheat-sheet from the Whole 30 website. It lists all the different ways sugar is listed as an ingredient.  Now go look at all your "low-fat" foods and see what's in it. Gross, right? The other thing about calories is that they are just an estimate; the number on the label isn't hard and fast. So you could be logging every calorie and not actually be logging the right amount. The whole thing is pretty confusing the more you read about it.

Instead of driving myself nuts, I stopped counting my calories and I started eating good food. And I eat a lot more of it. When I was counting calories, I was hungry all the time. I was eating fillers and not what I really needed. I snacked all the time and if you didn't feed me on my schedule, Sasha, the hangry version of Sarah, came out to play. But by eating until I'm full, eating enough good food, I'm rarely hangry anymore and I don't even really snack. Even better - I'm losing more weight than I ever did counting calories! When I was on Clean 14, I lost 7 pounds in two weeks. That was on the diet. It's been about a month since the diet. For about two weeks after the diet ended, I didn't gain anything back, just stayed steady. I added back some dairy, some gluten and some legumes, but all in slight moderation. I was really worried I was going to gain a lot of the weight back when I reintroduced food. I've since lost another pound over the past two weeks. Not one calorie has been logged.

Here's what I focus on instead:
  • I eat a good breakfast. I've substituted unsweetened almond milk for our regular milk. It works really well. I've even found a new bottled iced latte that uses almond milk. 
  • I don't drink sodas that much anymore. I think I've had maybe 4 in the past month? I was drinking one a day. Now I drink water, La Croix and have some juice around for when I need something not-water. 
  • I meal plan and make good meals. Not all are Paleo, but a lot are. I make sure we have a meat and vegetable. I make meals that I know we'll like so we aren't tempted to eat out instead of cooking or eating leftovers.
  • I buy good food. We recently did a meat share through Papa Spud's. It was a great way for us to get local, grass-fed and cage-free meat. I also read every label.  General rule of thumb - if the ingredient list looks like a paragraph, I just put it back. 
  • We have healthy snacks for when we do want to snack like Lara Bars, fruit, baby carrots, etc. Easy is key.
Because I do all of that, I get to eat Cookout, huge sweet teas, and dirty chinese when I want it. Which is about once a week. And I'm still losing weight. I'm paying more attention to the food that I eat, making sure it's good food, that there isn't a bunch of crap in it and less time worrying about the calories. They kind of take care of themselves. 

I'm not saying that counting calories is terrible. It works. Like I said, I'm a product of Weight Watchers. But different points in your life call for different measures. So if you've been counting the calories and it's not working, try focusing on the food you're eating, not the calories. You just might be surprised. 


  1. yes!!! i'm actually so tired of people saying it's all about calories. while calories in excess, OF COURSE, aren't good... it's really about eating WELL... choosing, real, healthy foods!

  2. Love this post. I agree, eating for health definitely isn't about calories! I love LaCroix too and have almost given up soda entirely!

  3. I totally agree with you. It is about what we put in our bodies not the amount of calories something has.