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” 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 calorie counting 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. 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.
When I started using it, I lost 7lbs in less than two months. I was chuffed with this, but then I stopped tracking, and being healthy altogether. Then I’d start again, and quit. And again. You get the idea. In three years I barely changed in weight because of constant fluctuations, yet my mental approach to this whole process was utterly exhausting.
Calorie counting works wonders for some people and they absolutely swear by it, but although it works, I find the toll it takes on my mental state is not worth the stress. On that note, let’s get into the pros and cons.
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. 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 be full of trolls, 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 simultaneously. If you ever hear a gym-goer say they’re “on a cut” or “a bulk”, you know they mean business.
You can become obsessed
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? Mind and soul over physique, every single time.
Everything fun can quickly take a back seat
Do not 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, trust me. Just make a healthy choice, enjoy the food, and estimate your calories once you’re home. If you’ve gone over, so what? Don’t lose out on 95% of your life just to weight 5% less.
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.
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.
One thing I will say is that despite the cons, I’m glad I’ve spent some time calorie counting, because I’ve certainly learned an awful lot about how to feed my body. Don’t fear it, just be wary of the negative energy it might bring to your fitness journey.