Don’t Count Your Calories, Control Them



Often it’s your approach to fitness that determines how you feel about it. As I’ve written before, I love running, but once I started tracking it, recording my distance and speed with an Android app, it stopped being fun. It became about how far I could run, how fast I could go, and it stopped being about the joy of staying fit.

I’ll quote Leo Babauta, author of Zen Habits, who had a similar experience. “Why do you need such fast results in the first place?” Leo writes. “And who says you need to track something to change it? I’ve found more meaningful, lasting results when I don’t track, but focus on enjoyment of the activity… If you are so focused on the results, the activity becomes only a means to an end. That makes the activity less enjoyable, and therefore less sustainable over the long run. I’ve become fitter than ever by not tracking, but instead enjoying being active.”
It’s the same with calories. Tracking them makes your daily meals into homework.
True, you should be aware of your caloric intake, as calorie control is a major aspect of any fitness plan. Unless you’re skiing every day, or have the regimen of a professional athlete, you probably don’t have carte blanche when it comes to your meals. Taking in too many calories every day is a recipe for the grave.
But I’m not a fan of tracking or counting calories. So much of our lives are tracked, filed, organized, and counted already, and I don’t think our meals should be a part of that. It takes the fun out of it. Eating should be a pleasant experience.
Control Your Calories, Don’t Count Them
• Figure out how many calories you’re supposed to be taking in for your weight. There are plenty of websites out there that can give you a general rule of thumb of how much you should be eating every day.
• Pay attention to how many calories you’re taking in. Don’t write them down, but keep a general idea in your head. Knowing where you are in your daily recommended intake will help keep you on track, but doesn’t involve the chore of getting out your black book and pen, or opening up your smartphone to take down the precise amount.
• Control your portions. That doesn’t mean dieting. You should be eating enough each day, but not too much of the wrong stuff. Eat as many fruits and vegetables as you want, make gigantic salads, but eat realistic portions of simple carbs, meat and dairy. You should be full at the end of a meal, not gorged.
• Eat slower. I’ll quote Leo Baubata again here : “A growing number of studies confirm that just by eating slower, you’ll consume fewer calories — in fact, enough to lose 20 pounds a year without doing anything different or eating anything different. The reason is that it takes about 20 minutes for our brains to register that we’re full. If we eat fast, we can continue eating past the point where we’re full. If we eat slowly, we have time to realize we’re full, and stop on time.”

• Keep exercising. Eating well and exercising shouldn’t be a chore. These are things you should be looking forward to throughout your day. Think about how you’re eating and exercising, but don’t overthink it.

Don’t Diet

Your car can’t run without gas, and you can’t stay fit without food. Eating less calories helps you lose weight, yes, but you should be eating the right kind of calories instead of too few. Eat lots of vegetables, enough complex carbs, and control, not limit, your portions of dairy, meat and simple carbs.

Your Mileage May Vary

Obviously, there are going to be people who enjoy the process of taking down each meal’s number, which helps them track their progress and set goals. If that’s your thing, then absolutely go for it. This article is just to help those for whom tracking and measuring your progress takes away from the fun of progressing.

Less Stress

We sometimes feel we need to track and measure in order to make sure our time is spent wisely. But some good habits, like eating well and exercising, are fun to do, and counting calories take that fun away.


Jen R at 07 May 2012

Thanks for such a positive article! So much focus is on tracking, counting, stepping, timing...its all just too much. Yes I need to lose weight, but I also need to live life!

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