Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Calorie Counting Continuum

The weigh-in this week was exactly the same as last week. No gain. No loss. I had a good week for the most part, but it was a jam packed week and I had moments of not counting and one jam packed 13 hour workday that led to pretty much ignoring calories that evening. So I didn't crush it this week like Patrick did, but I held onto the 3.3 pounds I lost last week.

I usually learn more from failure than from success, and this sideways week was no exception. After reflection, I have observed that five things tend to happen while I am attempting to implement a calorie counting plan. These five behaviors can be ordered from most to least helpful for losing weight.

Counting. Counting is the gold standard. You are counting when you know exactly how many calories you are consuming. This could because you weighed and measured all of the ingredients, or because you are eating a food with a known calorie count.
     Outlook: Sustained weight loss

Estimating. Sometimes you can't know a food's exact calorie content, but you can make an informed estimate. Perhaps you know the calorie count in the food item(s), but not the exact serving size. Or you know the calorie count of similar foods. Some additional calories may creep in, but estimating will keep you on track.
     Outlook: Slow weight loss

Guessing. Unlike estimating, where you have partial knowledge of the calorie count, guessing is more of a shot in the dark. It's not a sustainable strategy in the long-term, but once in a while it may be the best you can do. A conservative guess will limit the risk. The main virtue of guessing is that it allows you to continue your counting through the rest of the day.
     Outlook: Live to see another day

Lying. You're in trouble when you start lying to yourself about calorie counting. A typical calorie counting lie is  counting one serving's worth of calories, but eating more. Or not counting the mayonnaise on a sandwich. Or accepting a colleague's fib that "these cookies have zero calories." As the saying goes, you're only lying to yourself. The only upside of lying is if a little white lie keeps you from quitting altogether.
     Outlook: Slow weight gain from the extra calories

Quitting. This is when you just give up and stop counting. Quitting for a day is dangerous because in the best case scenario, it will take at least a day or two just to make up for the day you quit. Quitting for a special occasion isn't the end of the world, but not tracking calories for more than a day a month is dangerous territory.
     Outlook: Get out the fat pants

For most of us who live busy lives and deal with real world foods, we'll never spend every meal in the "counting" category. But in our moments of weakness, we can bump up one or two categories. Bad days can become average days, average days can become good days, and good days can become great days. And those days will yield results. Calorie counting works, if you keep counting.


Jo said...

Agree. Those in WW can also count points just as effectively. I can go a couple of days without counting, which will be estimating days, but counting calories, for me, is the only way to stay focused on eating right.

Bruce said...

You nailed that right on! The greatest insights we can have are those into our own behaviors.

The hard part for me is when I gain a valuable perspective like that is to actually do something about it.

Thanks Alan! Great post!

Ewa said...

Good thinking, Alan. Guess where you want to be on that graph. :)
"For most of us who live busy lives and deal with real world foods, we'll never spend every meal in the "counting" category." --- This is a very sad statement because what you call real world foods, most of the time are not real foods. BUT, I can guarantee you that if you prepare for the busy days and pack loads of raw veggies with some (home made) low cal dip, you will not need to count any calories and still be a winner. That strategy saved my butt from getting bigger many, many times.
Just a thought.

Bzybee said...

I agree that we can learn a lot from failure. Whenever I have had a slow weight loss week and I examine why, I always come up with something I can improve on.

Sarah said...

Counting caloreis is the only way to do it! I cound everything. I hope that you also keep counting the calories and find what works best for you!


Michele said...

Great post, Alan. Yes, calorie counting works when we do it. I learned how important it is when I was only guessing/estimating. When I finally started to REALLY count I found out I under estimated by hundreds of cals. Makes a difference.

Christina said...

Confession: I've gained 30 pounds in the past four months. I started counting calories again, and I'm losing wait. Counting calories is so simple, and it really does work!

Dr. Fat To Fit said...

This post is a great one. You are right on the money with this one. Great job!