- Earlier this year, I loosely tracked my calories for a few months.
- Not only did this help me lose 35 pounds in a sustainable way, but it also helped me develop a much healthier relationship with food.
- Educating myself about the calories in what I was consuming taught me about energy balance and helped me stop seeing foods as "good" or "bad," which in turn has led to less bingeing.
- Of course, the nutritional value of food is important, too — no one's saying 200 calories of chocolate is as healthy as the same in broccoli — but calorie-counting even for a short period of time can teach you a lot.
- In fact, elite powerlifter and strength and nutrition coach Jordan Syatt recommends everyone count calories for at least 30-90 days.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
In the eyes of many, it's a dirty word.
In an age of body positivity, God forbid anyone mention the dreaded word: calories.
But, I'm going to say it — calorie-counting has actually helped me improve my health and my relationship with food.
Now, before you start sliding into my DMs with abusive messages, allow me to explain.
Over the first few months of this year, I lost some excess fat.
Like most people (and women in particular), I've gained and lost weight in the past. But this time felt different. My whole approach has changed — this time I worked on what was in my head as much as anything else.
And this time, I've maintained my weight.
There were no fads, hacks, or secrets involved: I simply made sure I was in an overall energy deficit, and I did this by loosely tracking my calories.
I wasn't obsessive about it, I didn't document everything to the nth degree, and I certainly didn't do it every day. But I did roughly make note of how many calories I was consuming using food diary app MyFitnessPal, which helped me re-educate myself about different foods and my body's needs.
You shouldn't feel guilty for eating certain foods
Perhaps the best thing that this exercise really drilled into me was that there's no such thing as "good" or "bad" foods.
There are more and less nutritious foods, sure, and I'm a huge advocate of eating a healthy, balanced diet, but weight management comes down to energy balance.
We live in a culture where certain foods, not to mention food groups, are demonized.
Whether it's carbs, sugar, fat, dairy, meat, or gluten, we've all been told at some point in our lives that certain things are bad for us.
And that can sure as hell lead to a messed up relationship with food.
But the truth is, nothing can ever really be that bad for you in moderation. A balanced and healthy diet has room for every food you might enjoy.
Being overweight carries with it a lot of health risks, we know this. And certain foods are high in calories, easy to overconsume, and can thus lead to weight gain. That doesn't mean these foods are bad or that you should feel guilty for eating them. It just means you need to watch your portion size.
Loosely counting calories helped me learn this.
Overeating "healthy" foods will still make you gain weight
Cutting out bread isn't going to make you lose weight. Nor is "clean eating." Heck, you can try and subsist on avocados, nuts, and celery alone in a bid to lose fat if you like, but if you're overconsuming those foods, you will gain weight.
If you're consuming your maintenance calories, you'll stay the same weight.
And you'll only lose weight by being in a calorie deficit.
It simply comes down to energy balance, and energy is measured in calories.
In fact, elite powerlifter and strength and nutrition coach Jordan Syatt recommends everyone count calories for at least a brief period of time.
He told Insider he is "absolutely 100%" a fan of calorie-counting as a concept.
"I don't think it's something you have to do forever — usually the argument against it is that people don't want to have to track everything forever — but yes, I think it's very important for everyone to do for at least 30-90 days just so that they know how much they're eating," he said.
Syatt points out that many people don't really know what a portion size looks like, and it's very easy to forget little snacks you might eat throughout the day.
"You don't realize the things you're picking up and snacking on until you actually track," he adds.
Think of it in the same way as tracking your finances
While some people say they don't want to track their calories because they "don't want to get obsessive," Syatt likens your food intake to your finances.
"Do you not want to track your finances because you're worried about getting obsessive about those?" Syatt asks. "You don't necessarily have to track every single dollar you spend and make, but it's a good idea to know how much you're bringing in and how much you're putting out."
You have to make sure you're not spending more money than you have, and the same goes for your energy balance.
"I'm not saying you have to calorie count in order to lose weight, but I am saying that, regardless or whether you're calorie counting, the calories always count," Syatt says.
"You might as well spend some time counting them just to know how it works, know what foods have what, so you know what you're putting in your body, you know what makes you feel good, you know what fills you up for fewer calories.
"And then if you decide you never want to count again, that's fine, that's amazing. But at least you'll have a base level of knowledge."
You can eat fast food every day and still lose weight (even though it's not healthy)
Syatt is currently conducting a personal experiment to try and hammer home the point that weight management is simply a matter of controlling your energy balance, not which foods you eat.
To do this, he's eating a McDonald's Big Mac every day for 30 days, is 23 days in, and has lost five pounds simply by factoring it into his overall calorie intake.
Syatt has been clear in that he knows this isn't good for his health, and he's not recommending people do it, he's just trying to make a point.
No one's saying calories are all that matter — we know food quality is important to good health, too — but when it comes to fat loss, calories are king.
Having a "treat" doesn't suddenly undo all your progress, it's just food.
There are no "good" foods and "bad" foods. You should never feel guilty for eating a certain food. And tracking calories helped me learn that.
I now binge-eat a lot less
With this new mindset, I've developed a revolutionary new skill of being able to have just one cookie, just a few squares of chocolate, and being able to put the ice cream tub back in the freezer after eating a few scoops.
OK, I don't always manage this. But I binge a lot less because I no longer feel so out of control around the foods that I once considered to be "bad."
When you demonize certain foods, you often develop something of a "fuck it" mindset, whereby once you've "given in" and opened the family-sized box of chocolates, you feel like you might as well eat the whole thing and you can't stop yourself.
But when you don't think of those chocolates as something you're not allowed to have, it's easier to eat in moderation.
This mindset switch is a huge positive development for me.
I don't always get it right. Something I still overeat. But I try not to beat myself up when I do or feel guilty.
Calorie-counting may not be for everyone, but it certainly helped me get there.