Here’s a topic that I have wanted to address for a while but haven’t. I have gotten a lot of questions as to how many calories I eat and if I count or keep track of macro’s. Or even asking what amount of protein I have per day/meal. The short answer is: I don’t keep track of any numbers.
Now here’s the long answer and why I don’t:
First of all, when I started to eat using a paleo template (and if you read my story, I started eating this way before I even knew there was a word for this way of eating) it was all about a lifestyle for health purposes. It wasn’t to lose or gain weight or for better performance in the gym. It was all about fueling my body properly to feed this aging body what it needs to thrive, go through menopause and steer clear of illness/diseases. Choosing this route made sense because when you feed your body nutrient dense/real foods, the numbers shouldn’t really matter. Now, this post is about why ‘I don’t count…..’ so please take from it what you will and realize that I am talking about my experience.
I pretty much live by the “eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full” philosophy. This is a loose statement as sometimes I just have to eat because it’s time (work lunch might fall into this category)! The reality is, I eat breakfast, lunch and dinner and a snack ….or 2, depending on the day. My meals will vary day to day though. Sometimes I am starving at breakfast and other days, it’s dinner that I can’t get enough of. And then there are days where no snack is needed, while other days I am pretty much grabbing nuts and/or fruit all day long. So the the philosophy of eating when I’m hungry and stopping when I’m full is what works for me. If I counted calories, fat, protein or macro’s, I would be so screwed up day to day because I don’t feel the same on the daily. I eat intuitively and counting would be totally contradictory to eating as to how I feel.
Several months ago, I tried to do intermittent fasting. It was just an experiment – if you will – because I had read a little up on it and figured I go from from about 7pm to 7am without food anyway, so what’s another few hours especially if I am having a Bullet Proof Coffee to somewhat “hold me over”. Well, I found that it just didn’t work for me and it wasn’t because I became famished or felt hangry, it was more about the fact that I kept looking at the clock ….checking to see if I could eat something yet. I was so preoccupied with not having breakfast, that it made me long for lunch. I also felt that when I finally ate my lunch, I didn’t eat that much. So it was quite the opposite in terms of being hungry — it was like I shrunk my stomach and couldn’t even finish the food that I had in front of me. You might think, “Well, if you’re eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full, then you’re full and listening to your body ……” and while that’s all well and good, I didn’t have anywhere near the energy I used to have. I do crossfit after work and found that I was a little sluggish through workouts. I wasn’t lethargic or felt like I was going to pass out but I just didn’t feel that intermittent fasting was working for me. And as I said, I didn’t feel that my energy spent wondering ‘when I could eat’ was healthy. It just made me feel anxious and preoccupied and that’s just not a healthy state to be in, especially if you know why you’re feeling that way and you can avoid it.
I had started seeing this big wave of macro counting with a lot of instagram peeps so again, out of curiosity I started checking my meals through My Fitness Pal just to see where my meals fit into categories. It was “just a test” …..because quite honestly, I have had my days of counting (details below) and I didn’t want to get into that head game again. That said, when I started inputting my meals into MFP, I had sooo many differences in calories/fat and carbs on a daily basis. If I truly had to find a way to keep my numbers within a goal per food group, I would have gone crazy. I tracked it for close to 2 weeks…..(my goal was to track for 21 days) but just before the 2 week mark was up, I ditched the app. It was too distracting …..and since I knew I was just trying to see what my daily %’s were out of curiosity and that I wasn’t going to change anything, it really did seem senseless to keep logging my meals. Quite honestly, between the carbs/fats/protiens, my “plate” was varied so much day to day. I am sure it works for some but for me, my body seems to require different food groups on different days. Trying to keep it within the same range on a daily basis (for me) just doesn’t seem like it’s really listening to what your body needs at that moment.
Another reason I don’t count is because I had a very unhealthy relationship with food…. and eating disorder. Many years ago, I made sure that I didn’t go over certain numbers so that I could feel good about my day. I tracked everything. I felt so much success if I stayed under my “budgeted” fat gram count but then a failure if I went over a gram or two. Back then there was no ‘My Fitness Pal’ to rely on so I always had a pen & paper sitting in my kitchen with scribbles of numbers. Counting now would only bring me back to the days of counting. What I try and do now, is to make sure I’ve got my meals surrounded with all the goodness our bodies thrive on – proteins, carbs and fat. I try to make sure my meals include all of those healthy components but I don’t worry about how much is in each of those foods. As I said before, it will vary day to day or even meal to meal. Perhaps I have broccoli and my plan was to roast it with avocado oil when I did food prepping for the week but now it’s Thursday and I just feel like having it steamed with a big spoonful of ghee on it …..then that’s what I do! Or what if I don’t even want the ghee? Do I make myself do it because I need to make sure I have the fat on my plate?? No. Maybe my body had just enough fat that it needed for that day and all it craved was steamed broccoli at the moment. I strive to keep protein, fats and carbs in my daily diet/each meal. But as I said, sometimes it will vary depending on how I feel. It’s honestly so freeing to just listen to our bodies and make healthy choices accordingly.
The one thing I do check is ingredients. There are inevitably some items we purchase that have labels. It is amazing that something so simple can have so many additives. If I buy a can of roasted tomatoes, I don’t expect to see a long list of hard to pronounce ingredients. I expect tomatoes, a few spices/seasonings and perhaps olive oil. And just because something is listed as ‘gluten free’, ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t check the label. Just always be aware of what is actually in the product you are purchasing.
All that said, I sum it up by saying this — after many years of different diets & calorie counting ….as well as counting fat, I have never felt as good as I do now by just eating real food. Learning to listen and paying attention to cues that my body naturally sends me has been the best thing I could have ever done for both my relationship with food and my physical well being. It is interesting to me that after many years of trying to achieve a certain physique by paying sooo much attention to diets/numbers ….it wasn’t until I paid attention to health and stopped the insanity, that my body physically responded to all that I had been trying for in years past. Listen to it, respect it and feed it properly – it will honestly respond accordingly.