The Pros & Cons of Calorie Counting

This is a post that I’ve been wanting to write for a while now because like many people, calorie counting is something that has been a huge part of my life for several years. “Tracking”, as many fitness influencers like to call it, is very much a Marmite subject in my opinion. You either love it, or you absolutely detest it. I’ve experienced both of these feelings towards tracking my calories and feel like it’s time I posted a summary of the good vs the bad.

My Tracking Journey

When I first discovered MyFitnessPal I thought it was the best thing in the world, because I could finally see exactly what I was putting into my body. I first started logging my food on 5th January 2014, and I almost felt relief because I knew I couldn’t possibly get fat when I was limiting what I was putting into my body. How awful does that sound? Although I didn’t have tons of weight to lose, maybe around a stone, I knew it wasn’t something I could conquer alone, because the knowledge of good nutrition simply wasn’t there.

So, my starting weight of 134lbs was entered, and off I went. I made it until 23rd February before I submitted my ‘new and improved’ weight. I’d lost 7lbs in less than two months, which is pretty good going, but this is where the measurements end, so I’ll take a wild guess and say that at this point – I quit. My next weight entry wasn’t until 30th January 2015 (clearly there was a trend of post-Christmas podge induced motivation going on here!). Amazingly I was only 1lb heavier than my last log, which was now almost a year ago. I continued to log every month, sometimes two of three times, until December 2015. On 16th December I was my lowest ever weight at 116lbs, but then Christmas happened and suddenly I’m back logging in February 2016 weighing a few pounds more. I only logged my weight four times in 2016, and I fluctuated between 117-120lbs the whole time, which is ultimately nothing.

What am I getting at here? In three years I barely changed in weight, yet my mental approach to this whole process was, and still is, utterly exhausting. I say ‘is’, because yes, I do still track on the odd occasion. I hadn’t for a couple of months, but last week I started again because my mind has gone into it’s usual pre-holiday panic mode. I’m trying to cut back a little as I know I’ve been overeating slightly, but as usual, the app has taken hold of me and the negative feelings are beginning to seep back in. Calorie counting works wonders for some people and they absolutely swear by it, but for me, although it does help me to lose weight, I find the toll it takes on my mental state is not worth shedding the odd pound of fat. On that note, let’s get into my pros and cons.

PROS OF CALORIE COUNTING

You can lose weight by calorie counting.

It’s all about “in vs out” at the end of the day, so if you eat a bit less than your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure), and hit the gym on the side, then you’ll lose weight/fat. I ate in a calorie deficit, which is basically less than what you need to eat in order to maintain your body weight, so I lost weight. It’s as simple as that. On the flip side, those who’re looking to gain weight can track to ensure they’re in a calorie surplus.

It helps you to learn so much about nutrition.

I can now practically guess the weight of a chicken breast just by looking at it, and this goes for lots of other foods too. I understand food now, because I know what to look for and I know what I should and shouldn’t be eating. It’s interesting to look at macronutrients (carbs/fats/protein) and micronutrients (vitamins/minerals) too.

It helps you to stay accountable.

Everyone needs a way of staying on track and motivated, and this is a good way to just that. Plus, it gives you something to refer back to in the future, as I’ve done in this blog post.

You feel part of a community.

Hundreds of thousands of people track their food, with a large majority using MFP. Whilst the forums can become a nasty place at times, because of keyboard warriors and all that, it’s actually a great platform for support alongside like minded people.

You can reach specific goals quicker.

General weight loss aside, if you’re looking to achieve an extreme goal such as competing in a bikini competition, then calorie counting and macro counting are two things you will need to do. Why? Because making sure you’re eating the right amount of protein, carbohydrates and fats, as well as calories, is said to be crucial for the ultimate ‘lean’ physique, and it’s something that professional athletes take extremely seriously. If you ever hear a gym-goer say they’re “on a cut”, you know they mean business.

CONS OF CALORIE COUNTING

You can become obsessive.

If like me you cling onto things easily when in desperate search of answers, then there’s every chance that calorie counting will become your worst enemy. I got to the point where I’d break down if I went ten calories over my daily limit, which is absolutely ludicrous. If you’re going to give it a whirl, just remember that going a bit over or being a little under one day really isn’t the end of the world.

You can lose sight of your goals.

Yes, calorie counting might help you reach your weight loss goals, but what about the other important things like enjoying life, making progress with your physical strength, and keeping on top of your mental health? Back in 2014 I would have been like “yeah right ok”, but now, I can’t stress how important those factors are. Mind and soul over physique, every single time.

Fun can take a back seat.

Do not ‘do a Katie’ and sit there in every restaurant you ever go to desperately trying to log your meal, neglecting your family and friends around you. It really is not worth it. Just make a healthy choice, enjoy the food, and estimate your calories once you’re home. If you’ve gone over, so what? You ate a damn good meal with even better company. Seriously, don’t lose out on 95% of your life just to weight 5% less. Been there, done that, it’s s***.

You can easily under-eat. 

MyFitnessPal is known for estimating your calories incorrectly. It once told me to eat no more than 1400kcals a day, so I did just that, whilst working out heavily five days per week, and soon enough I ended up in the nurse’s office at work complaining of lethargy and dizziness. Do your research, ask around and EAT to fuel your training. Trust me, those fitness influencers you love to follow on Instagram are not likely to be solely salad eaters. They eat the carbs, they drink the odd wine and they fill up on plenty of the good stuff. We’re all human at the end of the day and who really likes living off a pile of leaves?

You can doubt your own capabilities.

This one is so important. If you become so strongly dependent on something, you might find that you start to think that calorie counting is the be all and end all of your success. It really isn’t. Essentially, calorie counting should be used as a temporary guide, and not a life time solution. Do you really think you’re going to be stood there as a seventy-year-old Grandma tracking your tea and biscuits? I don’t think so.

So there you have it, my pros and cons. You might agree, or you might completely disagree, but I think that it’s fair to say that with almost three and a half years’ of tracking under my belt, I’m a bit of a pro at this – and I liked to think that this post offers a fairly balance view. One thing I will say, despite the cons, is that I’m glad I’ve spent some time calorie counting, because I’ve certainly learned an awful lot about how to feed my body. To summarise, don’t fear it, but be wary of the negatives it might bring to your fitness journey. Like everything in life, it’s not all unicorns and rainbows. In the meantime if you have any questions, please do ask!

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