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.
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.