I can’t think of one person on a health and fitness journey that didn’t try to count calories or at least never bothered to calculate how much they needed. Before I elaborate into how I bid farewell to the calorie calculator, let me summarize the story of how I said hello. I lost ten pounds eating clean and hitting the gym’s elliptical every week and was ecstatic. However, there was one day when I went to the mall and thought I would fit into the tiniest pieces of clothing that were trending at the time, and little did I know would encounter a bitter disappointment. You’re still too large.
I immediately browsed the Internet to find the slimming secrets of what people with perfectly trimmed figures kept to maintain their physiques. Eventually, I came across what scientific studies had shown was the key to losing weight, which was to expend more calories than to consume. So I calculated how many calories I needed according to my stats and found that my body needed 1,240 calories a day. Made sense, because I carried so much fat on an average-sized body. I thought might as well be the thinnest my body type can possibly be.
The first day after that moment I calculated practically everything I ate after a meal, many times including condiments and little nibbles here and there to keep myself aware. Every day after school I’d hop on the computer and track everything I ate to make sure I maintained the lowest number possible to “save up” for dinner and plan my meals ahead so that everything could add up accordingly. I also made sure my calories burned exceeded what I ate to create a deficit.
I’d freak out if I didn’t know what was in my food, feel extremely guilty after going overboard even if it was healthy food, and started hating my workouts because I’d do them for so long and only do what I thought would burn the most energy. I restricted my plate with foods that were super low calorie, low carb, low sugar, low fat, and super unflavorful, which accounted for my never-ending cravings. I worried about putting an entire scoop of protein powder into my pancakes, letting my family cook for me, doing yoga, taking rest days, and eating fruits, grains, whole eggs, nuts, coconut and avocados.
At first, the results were spectacular. I shrank size after size until I couldn’t even wear half of what my closet carried because I was so small. I started to hinder my progress and even gain weight at certain times and assumed that I had to eat cleaner and smaller portions and workout more. I upped my exercise time and intensity immediately all while consuming the cleanest, lowest calorie food because I thought I needed so much effort to maintain my size.
A typical meal plan of my lifestyle at this moment would’ve consisted of breakfast being an omelet with three egg whites (with the olive oil wiped off, of course), four kale leaves, a tablespoon of bell peppers, pepper and a side of berries (because they are low in sugar), eight almonds as a midmorning snack, lunch a Romaine salad with a half a cup of lettuce, 2 ounces of chicken, two paper-thin slices of avocado and lemon juice, an afternoon snack of five almonds or “healthy” hot chocolate being fat free coconut milk, a teaspoon of cacao powder and a sh*tload of Stevia because it tasted terrible by itself, and dinner being half a cup of vegetables and 3 ounces of chicken, tofu or seafood. All while working out three hours a day. AHEM.
The moment I had to take a break was on my first trip to Spain when I had to live under conditions where I was not in control of my food. Obviously, I had a heart attack and exploded. I was constantly terrified when it came to meal time, since a lot of traditional Spanish tapas are deep-fried, oily, sugary or come with rice and bread crumbs. When I came back I thought I gained a million bajillion pounds but was shocked to see that I gained nothing at all. In fact, I lost weight!
At first I was so confused. I ate chocolate pretzels, cake, creamy lobster sauce and peanut soba! How did I waste so much time and energy into putting so much precision into what came into my mouth and what I sweat off while struggling to keep the weight on when I lost weight effortlessly while walking as my main exercise and eating the fattiest foods I could think of??? It wasn’t until I discovered the mindset of listening to your body–intuitive eating and exercise at its finest.
You probably remember the time I quit workout logging, right? I started exercising for pleasure and trying new workouts my body wasn’t used to and was even more tired than my three-hour cardio sessions! I took a break from my measly egg white omelets and indulged in my mother’s homemade whole-grain coconut pancakes and Greek yogurt for brunch, enjoying the texture, smell, flavor and sweetness of carbs and sugars my body was deprived of for so long. I was fearful of these new foods, obviously, but my body restored itself after a few days. And I gained no weight.
Looking back, I realize that calorie counting is pointless for several reasons. First of all, size and ripeness vary the amount of calories. If you’re eating whole foods–which you should be eating in the first place–every fruit and vegetable varies in size and ripeness while every piece of meat varies in fat content and cooking tolerance. For instance, did the person who measured that a large apple was 95 calories use a radiantly red, juicy and round apple or a gross, unripe and sad pinkish one? Which one would you rather eat?
After a few interesting results from a little test I did a few days ago, I discovered that every database is mildly to drastically different. I went on a few calorie databases, punched in the same measurements and activity levels for all of them and compared what each site recommended for me to maintain my weight–and trust me, I double checked each of them for accuracy. You can see for yourself as to how you think I’d react to what I discovered!
More than 2000 calories? Awesome!….
…….why is the number dropping?…
If that doesn’t explain a lot about how crazy our diet industry is, I don’t know what does! One database will give you a number that gives you so much freedom while another basically enforces you to starve yourself. You punch in everything correctly, but sometimes your intuition doesn’t match what’s on the calculator. You can exceed your caloric goal and be starving, or you can complete less than half of the recommendation and not be hungry at all. YOUR body is the best calculator–sure, it won’t give you an exact number but it will help you reach your goals if you just listen to it.
I’m not saying calories are the devil. Calories are energy. It’s up to us to use them wisely. Too much “good for the soul” calories give us no nutrition, no energy and just contaminate our bodies with chemicals and toxins. Too much “good for the body” calories are just no fun and are socially isolating. Even the healthiest gurus I know still enjoy junk food once in a while, such as vegan pizzas, donuts, froyo with chocolate syrup and sprinkles, fried rice, candy, burgers and Chipotle burritos. But it’s because their bodies crave for those foods. The idea of nutritional deficiencies is a bit of a gimmick for some. Coming from the experience of some people, fifty homemade “high protein low carb low fat low sugar” chocolate cookies will not cure the same craving as one Oreo. I personally have such a strong ethic against those types of foods I avoid them literally as much as I can, but if I order tofu that turns out to be slightly battered or indulge in some dairy-free ice cream and sorbet once in a while, I’m happy.
The next time you’re craving a cookie but questioning whether or not you want that or a bowl of oatmeal with chocolate chips? Just have a piece of that cookie and see if you’re satisfied. If yes, you’re doing the right thing, and if not, stop and have the oatmeal because you need more fiber. No matter if our ancestors ate a Paleo animal-based diet or a raw vegan plant-based diet, they 100% sure ate intuitively. It is so simple and science likes to complicate everything. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re satisfied, and be happy.
***Besides, those chocolate chip buckwheat pancakes have to get into my face NOW. And FYI, I bet they were WAY more than 1200 calories. #sorrynotsorry