This I Believe is a great series on NPR. It's based on a 1950s radio program (with the same name) and features people from various backgrounds and experiences sharing personal philosophies and core values that guide their daily lives. This week...I'm gonna my own health focused version of "This I Believe"....
I believe in calorie counting (or weight watching point or the plate method). I believe in recognizing how our bodies convert these unit of energy into fuel. I believe its an important tool in losing excess pounds and maintaining a healthy weight. It provides prospective about workouts and meals. I believe that it teaches portion control. I believe it helps with dedication to healthy living through journaling.
Through calorie counting, I learned how much calories I expended throughout the day through sleeping, work activities, and exercise. I was amazed to find I only expend a few hundred calories even after a rather intense exercise session. Through calorie counting, I learned the value and importance of structuring my meals to be as effective as possible (otherwise known as volumentrics...). I could have a class of orange juice or eat an orange for about 100 calories. I learned over time to choose the orange - it provided more fiber and nutrients - making me fuller and stronger. Through calorie counting, I learned how to be even more selective. I am picky eater...I have always been. If I truly didn't like something or it look unapetizing, I wouldn't eat it. But, calorie counting, also made me consider those things that I really was just so-so. I focus on eating the things that are really good - tasting and good for me. Through calorie counting, I learned how to indulge. When I first working with my dietitian, the plan we followed allowed for about 100 to 200 treat every day. Somedays I wouldn't need or want a treat...maybe I wanted a larger piece of chicken. But, other days, I would...I would get a jello pudding cup or chocolate mint rice cakes or a frozen yogurt or whatever. Through calorie counting, I truly became aware of all that I was eating and drinking through out the day.
I now define calorie counting broadly. Counting calories is staying within a set number of calories based on your age, sex, and activity level as well as vegetables, fruits, dairy, grains, and protein. Paying attention to all the nutrients that you put in your body is critical. I could eat 1500 calories a day of snickers, coca-cola, and cheetos and lose weight. But, I would look or feel as good if I eat 1500 calories of well balanced lean meets, veggies, fruits, and whole grains. What's more a diet of snickers and coke isn't maintanable.
The last few years there has been great debates about calorie counting and it's effectiveness. Many feel that its cumbersome or outdated or overly simplistic. A Kansas State University, only a few hours away from me, professor famously lost 27 pounds on the "twinkie diet". He ate twinkies, nutty bars, and powdered donuts every three hours. And then, we he needed variety he added doritos chips, sugary cereals and oreos, too. Not only did he manage to lose weight but he dropped body fat and cholestrol too. Calorie counting in its simplist mode is about limiting portions...but if used properly as a tool it can be so much more.
The first time I lost 25 pounds I counted calories. The fitness center consultant provided some basic tips and I researched more about it in magazines or the net. But, I didn't follow calorie and nutrient counting like I do now. I did eat more fruits and veggies and dairy and some whole grains but not with the variety and extent that I do now. And, I now see how that made it difficult to maintain.
I think like any tool, calorie counting, should be used as long as it is effective...I have used calorie coutning to help me learn portion control and eat w/i all the necessary food groups. When I lost 30 pounds a few years ago, I counted for about 6 months. For the next year, I didn't. When I wanted to drop a few pounds last year, I went back to calorie counting...And it was a wake up call...My eating was mostly of healthy items but my portion sizes had grown. I am back to calorie counting for the time being but I now more for the consistency of journaling and capturing of my meals and food combinations.