5 Reasons Counting Calories Helps You Lose Weight – And It’s Not What You Think.

Since the first of the year I have been committed to tracking my calories. While it can be tedious and at times slightly time consuming the benefits have far outweighed the inconveniences.

Counting calories reveals more than you think

Counting calories reveals more than you think

Here’s what I’ve learned.

One: I more accurately know what I am eating and when

While I know in my mind that a breakfast that includes protein is extremely important, I often struggle to eat in the morning. I’m about as far from a morning person as you can imagine, yet I teach and train four to five days a week starting between 530 and 6am.

Needless to say, I get every last minute of sleep I can before walking out the door. So breakfast prior to teaching and training simply does not happen. Some mornings, if there’s time I even grab some more sleep before dropping off at school.

Depending on my class/training schedule I have to be careful about what I eat so I don’t get sick when jumping around. This not only goes for mornings but evenings as well.

I discovered I was eating far too few calories early in the day and was left with a great number to consume at the end of the day – the worst time to consume a lot. Think about it, how many hours do you have to actually ‘burn off’ your dinner and evening snacking calories before going to bed. Sleeping on a full stomach just doesn’t make sense.

Two: I more accurately understand my caloric burn

I invested in a heartrate monitor that gives me an idea of the number of calories I am burning during my workouts. Is it foolproof? I’m sure it’s not, but it does give me a measure to know what my burn rate is.

Weight loss, weight gain and weight maintenance is all based on calories in and out. Want to lose? Consume less and burn more. Want to gain? Eat more and burn less. Want to maintain? Find a balance.

The point I want to emphasize here is that while weight loss is accomplished through consuming less and burning more, if you eat too few calories, you slow your metabolism down and impede your efforts to lose and tone.

This is a problem I was experiencing. I wasn’t necessarily ‘gaining’ weight, but I wasn’t seeing the results that I should from the amount of effort I was putting in each week. Since tracking my calories and maintaining a good balance, I am noticeably more toned. Don’t believe me…I got into a pair of skinny jeans I was ready to donate (A Pair of Jeans that Fit Just Right).

Don’t starve yourself to lose – because in the end it won’t be pounds that you lose, rather you’ll lose a functioning metabolic rate, strength, and ultimately willpower.

Three: I recognize the entire weekend isn’t a free for all

So whether I recognized it or not, by unintentionally ‘starving’ myself during the week, when the weekend hit I was up for anything. Pizza? Sure! Cocktails? Sure! You name it, I pretty much let go on the weekend and indulged.

Part of this is because I was consuming too little of food during the week that my body was crying out for nutrition. Without eating what I should have I was giving myself a pass to ‘enjoy’ everything.

My willpower was shot because I was hungry. Seriously, it takes some strong mind power to choose chicken breast with zucchini noodles in an avocado sauce, over piping hot pepperoni pizza. (Note: I used chicken instead of shrimp for this dish and served the sauce on the side.)

But by feeding my body better throughout the week, I find the weekends are much easier to stay on track. I’m not only making better choices, but even splitting meals with my husband when we eat out. And eating out has actually diminished quite a bit, I’d rather eat at home and have control over my choices.

Four: I’ve learned to plan better

Now please hear me, I wasn’t under-consuming intentionally. I’d get busy, and more often than not after looking at the clock I’d realize that if I ate something I’d no doubt get sick teaching my classes.

So I now plan my breakfast for mid-morning. I don’t get up early enough to eat before my classes – should I? Yes. But the reality is I want every last minute of sleep I can get. I make sure that my breakfast includes protein and a good amount of calories.

My lunch happens early afternoon, usually before school pick-ups. Again, I try and get protein in and the necessary calories that are going to give me a good balance after my evening classes.

Dinner time is sometimes late for me so I do my best to keep the caloric intake to a minimum and as clean as possible. Clean meaning fresh veggies and lean protein.

I could be better about consuming snacks during the day, and that’s something that I need to work on. But for now, getting my meals balanced is something worth celebrating.

Five: I more accurately understand the breakdown of my nutrients

Can you eat ‘clean’ and still consume too much fat? Yes! Avocados and raw nuts are both excellent healthy fats for you but consuming too much of them can get you off track. Do fruits provide quality natural nutrients? Of course! But consuming too many fruits can lead you down a road of entirely too much sugar in your diet. Are carbs good for you? Yes, because they are your body’s preferred energy source, but your carbs need to come from nature not from a factory. What about protein? It’s essential to build lean muscle tissue.

I’m not going to get into a science lesson here on the necessary breakdown of nutrients because it will vary depending on body size and type, but what I will say is that in general you need a healthy balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

I was guilty of days that were entirely too high in fat, even though they were healthy fats. I was guilty of eating far too few carbs at times and too little protein other times. Not every day will turn out to have the perfect balance, they key is to take it day by day and do your best to find the right balance for you.

So can counting calories be a pain, no doubt. But since committing to it, I am seeing and feeling the difference. I’m only doing it 4 days a week, but I am finding that now I am used to what I should be eating and when, even when I’m not tracking, I’m staying on track. If you’re not currently keeping a food log to better understand your nutritional health, I encourage you to start. Start slow, commit to two days a week, then add a day at a time until you are comfortable with the schedule. You’re going to see differences. I have.

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Exercise and the Holidays

It’s no mystery that it’s easy to gain a few pounds over the holidays. Between the family gatherings, the parties with friends the extra calories can add up quickly, not to mention the harder it can be to workout.

This holiday season, I’d like to not only challenge you to make good choices at the gatherings, but to stick with your regular workout schedule. Here’s why…

Stress Relief

I think most of us can agree that while the holidays are certainly a whole lot of fun, they put additional stress on our lives. Between preparing for parties, decorating the house, shopping in crowded stores and dealing with the challenges the weather often brings, it’s no wonder we feel more stressed. Exercise is a great way to relieve that stress. Not only will it feel good to be active, exercise releases ‘happy’ endorphins that contribute to stress relief.

It’s the ME Time you Need

Holiday schedules are crazy. Invitations from family, friends on top of school and office parties can make your social calendar seem like it’s on steroids! With all that socialization it’s so important to take time for ‘YOU.’ Don’t miss out on a workout because you don’t have time. You owe it to yourself to spend the time necessary to make yourself a better you. Even if you can’t make it to the gym, put in 30 minutes at home with some body weight exercises and simple cardio bursts.

Counter the Calories

It’s no mystery that workouts don’t burn nearly the amount of calories that many think that they do, however, regular exercise helps you to have more lean muscle mass and a healthy metabolism. Both of these things contribute to more efficiently burning calories even when you aren’t exercising. Dropping your workouts at the same time as you increase your intake of calories is the perfect equation for watching the number on the scale rise.

If you’re off on Friday stop in and see me at CustomFit at 218 E. St Charles in Lombard. I’ll be teaching PiYo at 7:00am and a Power Lunch class focused on core and stretching at 12:15pm. It will be a great time and a good break from your Black Friday shopping!

Resist the Temptation

Is it just me or have the stores had huge bags of Halloween candy for a month now? I feel like October is the beginning of the food frenzy that takes us through to the end of the year.

October is filled not only with candy but other Halloween ‘goodies’ like carmel apples, carmel corn, heavily frosted cookies, and the list goes on!

Along comes November and Thanksgiving. And just like October, even though the actual holiday is at the end of the month, treats and heavy meals are everywhere we turn. Between the caloric laden pumpkin coffee drinks to the pre-holiday parties it’s a wonder any of us are still hungry by the time Thanksgiving rolls around.

By that time we’ve all gained so much momentum we head straight into December surrounded by baked good, holiday parties and let’s not forget the egg nog.

Before we know it, New Years has arrived and as we rise out of the food coma that has taken us over for the past three months we re-commit to healthy living and smart eating habits.

I’d like to challenge you to resist the temptation of mindlessly following down the path of OVERindulgence.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that we need to allow ourselves the occasional treat. It’s next to impossible to have the willpower to resist every time, however, there are some things we can do to minimize the temptations that surround us.

Look for Healthy Alternatives

I’m not one for creativity or baking so I admire the time and effort that goes into making clever holiday treats. There are plenty of ways to celebrate the holidays with healthy snacks. For instance, check out these 64 Non-Candy Halloween Snack Ideas! They look just as festive as those made with candy but much better for you and those you love.

Evaluate Your Options

When presented with a number of options, I take the time to look over all of my choices. I decide which ones are must-haves and which ones aren’t. For instance, when it comes to Thanksgiving, I choose stuffing over potatoes. Granted, stuffing isn’t a great choice but it’s one of the only times a year that I have it – so it’s a treat for me. And I know that I really don’t need both stuffing and potatoes.

Remember That Liquid Calories Count Too

Between the rich coffee drinks covered in whip cream and the cocktail options at the get-togethers, our consumption of liquid calories tends to increase over the holidays. There are a number of flavored coffees available for both brewing and Keurig machines that are tasty and reduce the sugar and caloric value of your warm beverage. When it comes to get togethers, many people end up gathering in the kitchen area. When you are near the wine or beer it’s very easy to just grab another, whereas if you move away from the options it takes effort to leave a conversation to get a refill. Be mindful of drinking a glass of water for every beverage you consume.

These are just a few ways to be successful in resisting the temptations that surround us during the holidays. Find what works best for you by thinking through your choices and you too can avoid the food coma of the holidays.

Disappointing Weigh-Ins

I despise the thought of being defined by the number on the scale. That said, regular weigh-ins can be a good reality check. Let’s face it, we all know when our clothes feel a little tighter or when our muffin top becomes more noticeable with certain outfits. But for me, tighter jeans or a ill-fitting top just makes me dig a little deeper in my closet and find something more flattering. Tight clothes aren’t the wake up call I need; seeing a climbing number on the scale is the splash of cold water I need to wake up and examine how my choices are affecting my health.

So in an effort to be accountable and try and shed a few pounds for summer I joined a weight loss challenge at Patriot Boxing. I find that if I am accountable to a team or a challenge I feel empowered to make better choices. 

Last night was the weigh in for week two and I bombed it. I would have been okay with holding steady, but instead I actually gained. Right back to where I started at week one. In that moment I felt like I had let myself down, I let my team down, and oddly I felt the weight of disappointment from my previous clients who looked back and me and asked, ‘How is that possible? I’ve been working so hard.’

The reality is, I too have been working hard. Unfortunately, when it comes to the number on the scale all that hard work can’t overcome some of the other things I haven’t been so great at: 

  • Poor sleeping patterns
  • Skipping weekend workouts
  • Eating too few calories
  • Eating enough calories but not getting the right balance of carbs, proteins and fats
  • Eating dinner late
  • Eating too little for breakfast
  • Eating meals out

See a pattern here? Eating. So what did I do after my terrible weigh in? I ordered a pizza with double pepperoni, ate 3 pieces and attacked the candy drawer for dessert. Clearly not the best of choices but I have to say that pizza tasted good.

So where do I go from here? I can continue to negative self-talk about all the ways I failed, especially with the pizza and candy, or I can take stock of the past week as a whole and be empowered as I work towards my week three weigh in. 

  • Poor sleeping patterns – Yes, I stayed up too late, but I would have missed out on quality time with friends and my husband. For those moments, I’ll gladly give up a little sleep.
  • Skipping weekend workouts – I could have been more intentional about working out over the weekend and that is something I should work on. However, throughout the week I put in some good hard workouts.
  • Eating too few calories – The days I ate too few calories, I simply wasn’t hungry. I try to tune into my body and eat when hungry and stop when I’m full. I know consuming too few calories can slow metabolism, but I’m not going to force feed myself when I’m not hungry.
  • Eating enough calories but not getting the right balance of carbs, proteins and fats – This is a work in progress and some days I am right on the money.
  • Eating dinner late – We live busy lives. I’d rather eat a late dinner and enjoy it with my whole family rather than eating in shifts.
  • Eating too little for breakfast – I’m generally not hungry in the morning and something is better than nothing. It’s time to get back to my green smoothies.
  • Eating meals out – Sometimes this is beyond our control and I at least made healthy choices. I wanted a bacon cheeseburger, instead I ordered a salad with no dressing.

Yes, by the number on the scale I failed. But in looking at the whole picture, I gained in a good way. I embraced time with family and friends and I made healthy choices as often as possible. Sure I have things to work on for the coming week, but I’m not going to let the disappointment of a bad weigh in weigh me down.

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Why I Stopped Counting Calories

Even before I was a trainer I believed in the value of logging calories – and I still do. Before the days of smart phones I would keep track of everything in a notebook. Then along came great apps like LoseIt and MyFitness Pal which made it much easier to log my caloric intake. 

Because I still believe in the value of food journals I want to take a few moments to share with you the benefits of keeping one of your own.

Food Journals Create Awareness

Many times we aren’t aware of how much we are actually consuming. By keeping a record you can take an honest look at your caloric intake for the day. This can be extremely eye opening and can raise your awareness to areas you may be able to cut back. For instance, many people don’t recognize the calories associated with beverages because it’s not a meal. Eliminating juices, coffee drinks with heavy syrups, and reducing alcohol intake are an easy way to cut back on unnecessary calories.

Food Journals Establish Accountability

When I logged my food I paused to think about every food choice. Did I really want Hershey kisses bad enough to account for 200 calories of my daily allowance? Probably not. By tracking your food intake you are much more likely to think twice about a food choice rather than just mindlessly consuming it.

Food Journals Reveal Patterns

There are a number of things you can learn about your eating patterns through food journals. Do you snack more at night if you skip breakfast? Are you always looking for something to snack on at 3pm when the kiddos are getting home from school? Do you crave junk food after consuming alcohol? These are just a few examples of what you might discover through food journaling. We all have our own patterns and food journaling is a great way to learn more about your own.

Food Journals Reflect Nutritional Deficiencies

Many times we are not getting the proper balance of carbs, proteins and fats and through food journaling you can discover which areas you may be under or over-consuming. Thankfully most of the apps available now will give you a breakdown of your nutritional intake. In general this is what you should be consuming:

  • Protein: approximately 50 to 70 grams (depending on body size) or 12 – 20% of your caloric intake
  • Carbs: a minimum of 125 grams, optimal 350 to 400 grams or 55 – 65% of caloric intake **NOTE: these are healthy carbs from fruits and veggies, NOT processed carbs found in pre-packed and processed foods
  • Fat: approximately 30 to 65 grams depending on caloric consumption, or 25 – 30% caloric intake

If you want to read more on the benefits of Food Journaling take a look at couple of my previous blog posts, ‘Keeping a Log‘ and ‘Keeping a Record.’

So with all of these benefits why in the world would I stop counting my calories? I’ve been working towards clean eating for many years. In fact, my daughter Ella once told me that I must have different taste buds from the rest of the family since I chose carrots over chips for a snack. 

I’ve recently discovered that for me, food journaling makes me overly obsessed with calories. As a result I make some very poor and damaging choices.

For instance, I am so fearful of going over my calories that I am likely to skip a meal (maybe even two) to compensate for the pizza I am going to eat for dinner. I’m so obsessed with staying within my limits that I limit my protein intake to avoid the extra calories. So in my effort to be healthy, I’m achieving the exact opposite: a screwed up metabolism and a body vulnerable to sickness and injury. 

So I stopped journaling and started focusing on three things:

  1. Recognizing Hunger
  2. Portion Sizes
  3. Smart Choices

Recognizing Hunger

I’m no longer bound to meal time because the clock says so. I am listening to my body and eating when I’m hungry and stopping when I’m full. Sometimes that means breakfast is only a green smoothie. Other mornings it may be a smoothie and egg whites. Which brings me to…

Portion Sizes

I am concentrating on staying true to portion sizes. Anything, even pizza, eaten in the proper portion size and moderation can be a part of a healthy lifestyle. So now instead of starving myself all day for pizza, I make sure that I also have a salad with my pizza.

Smart Choices

Having a salad with my pizza is just one example of making smart choices. I’m far less likely to eat 4 slices if I start with a salad. Not only will the salad help to fill me up but it is a great reminder of what good food tastes like as compared to fatty processed food.

So I’ve stopped counting calories because for me it was becoming a destructive behavior. Rather than feeling oppressed by food, I feel empowered to make the right choices.

My goal in sharing this with you today is to empower you to discover what works best for YOU. Life is not a one size fits all. For some, food journaling is the exact tool that empowers them, if that’s you – I encourage you to keep it up! I whole-heartedly believe journaling can be an integral part of a healthy lifestyle, however, it is just not a tool that works for me.

When it comes to living a healthy life take time to consider what helps you to feel the best about yourself – if something makes you feel worse about yourself, find a new way. 

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Tough Days Are Good Reminders

The holidays are a great time to enjoy rich foods, tasty cocktails and late nights with family and friends. I did all of those things and enjoyed every moment of it…until the alarm went off this morning.

Could it be time already to get back to reality? Was I really ready to start my day with a green smoothie?

Now don’t get me wrong, I actually stayed on track with my workouts – I ran in a Turkey Trot and still attended my Boot Camp classes. And I didn’t overindulge ALL day long; I at least tried to keep myself in check for the majority of the day to hold on to the most calories possible for the festivities. 

But today was a great reality check for me.

Lack of Preparation

Even though I knew today was the day to start clean eating I hadn’t taken the time to go to the store to buy the things I needed. So after Boot Camp I was hungry and ready for a green smoothie but only had about half of what I needed so off to the store I went. By the time I got home I had no patience do deal with the washing and the measuring so I opted for turkey on a slice of Ezekiel bread. Was it still a good choice, sure, but not how I wanted to start the day.

Lack of Sleep

During the week I do my best to stick to a pretty normal sleep schedule. I’m definitely not a morning person so anything I can do to get going in the morning is a huge help. Over the past week I had stayed up late, gotten up early some days, slept in late on others and completely ruined my established schedule. The result: this morning was complete struggle. Between trying to encourage 3 kiddos to get their things together for school and trying to motivate myself for the shock of the cold weather and Boot Camp, the 8 hours of sleep I got the night before didn’t seem like nearly enough.

Lack of ‘Good Food’

As I said, I didn’t completely blow my diet but I did indulge in things I don’t normally eat. I can tell while I didn’t lack in the quantity of calories, I definitely lacked in the quality of calories. It’s a little difficult to accurately describe but in short, my mind doesn’t seem as sharp, and my energy level (and motivation) is clearly lacking. 

So was today rough? Yes. Could it have been avoided? Yes. Would I have changed my past week? Yes, well some things.

I think we all need a break from a strict routine but we need to be mindful of how all of those decisions will work against us when we are ready to get back on track.

I’m thankful for the lessons of my tough day and in the future I’ll:

  • Take a little bit of extra time to get my shopping done the day before
  • Enjoy a night or two of staying up a little late but stick to my sleep schedule as much as possible
  • Carefully consider what is worth indulging in rather than having a little bit of everything 

So I would encourage you to not be discouraged by choices of the past holiday but learn from them. I know I have.

As a side note: check out the veggie turkey I made.

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Keeping a Log

If your goal is to lose weight it’s extremely important you keep some sort of log for your intake and caloric burn.

ACCOUNTABILITY

This is especially important for those people who like to “graze.” If you are one that eats pretty consistently throughout the day you may be unconsciously consuming calories. Getting into the habit of recording everything you eat will help you get an accurate idea of the number of calories you are consuming each day.

The other aspect of accountability with a log is that if you have to write it down you may make the decision not to eat it. It might sound silly but looking at your log and seeing that you ate a jelly donut for 289 calories and 15 grams of fat might make you think twice.

TRACKING

Looking back you can see why you lost weight or begin to identify reasons that you stayed the same or gained. Being able to identify patterns of behavior allows you a better opportunity to make the appropriate adjustments in your diet.

Tracking also involves looking at your physical activities. What is the history of your workouts, have they increased in intensity or duration? What days are more challenging for you to get in a workout? Keeping tabs on what you do and when can make your workouts more efficient and contribute to greater weight loss.

Here are some free calorie and activity trackers that you can check out on your own:

MY CALORIE COUNTER

http://www.my-calorie-counter.com/

My Calorie Counter, powered by Everyday Health, is a free online diet journal that can help you track how many calories you’ve burned and the number of calories in the food you eat.

FITDAY.COM

http://www.fitday.com/

Fitday.com is a completely free website that tracks your foods, exercises, weights and goals. You can also view your calories, nutrition, weight loss and more. In addition to the free services there are paid options and an iPhone app available.

DAILYBURN

http://dailyburn.com/

Daily Burn provides fitness plans, nutritional tracking and social motivation to help you reach your health and fitness goals. In addition to the free services there are paid options and an iPhone app available.

There are many more of these services available to you for FREE either through websites or phone apps. Get out there and try one, if you don’t like it, try another one until you do. I guarantee once you start tracking your intake and exercise you will see results.