It’s been for me over one hundred days since I started counting calories, and today I’m going to share my experience with it. How I felt, the progress I made, and my conclusions at the end.
Let me start by addressing the elephant in the room: You might be thinking, “Really?? Counting calories??”. I was with you! The idea of counting calories sounds initially ridiculous. It’s impossible to pay attention to everything we eat, and even if we did, getting an accurate number for everything that makes it through our throat is nearly impossible. Left alone that opening your phone to log food every time you eat seems time-consuming.
I was convinced I wouldn’t do it, and nothing in the world would make me change my mind, but the day came. As I mentioned in a previous post, I had a liver problem that forced me to re-think about my health, and I realized my eating habits were pretty bad. I worked out a lot because I enjoy being active and out, but as a single person in my mid-thirties, cooking didn’t seem practical and so I was having a lot of takeout foods.
I knew I needed to improve my habits and I joined a healthy habits improvement program, where I had access to a coach who told me “try logging your calories”. Initially, I said “no way José”, but after a moment of reflection, I asked myself: why not? This was more than four months ago. And so, I religiously logged everything I ate for 100 days.
In a future post, I will try and explain the science of why calorie counting works. It’s all in your head! But until then, I’ll just talk about my own experience.
The Logging Experience
In the beginning, I felt a little confused. Every dish seemed to me like an overwhelming amount of thinking. So, step one was: Simplify. For the first couple of weeks, I just ate items where I had easy access to nutritional information. I’m very grateful for all the restaurants and smoothie places that publish the calories of their food in the menus!
Everything was going fine until I got invited to dinner at my friend’s home. I went “Oh no! How am I supposed to log this?” And that’s where it hit me: I did not know for sure what the heck I was putting inside my mouth. Sure, at the global scale I knew I was eating pho, and knew how to distinguish it from a pie, but… What’s inside of it?
Here is where I realized one of the reasons why counting your calories is so valuable: It helps you get to know your food! I.E. everybody knows that oils are high in calories, but how it moves the needle in your meal? Put it in a pie chart! You won’t know until you realize that 40% of the calories you consume come from that extra teaspoon of olive oil!
Note for the newcomers: something that is very useful is that, most food logging apps, already come with a number of dishes “out of the box”, so you just log say “bolognese pasta” instead of all the ingredients, but it’s very useful if you start thinking on decomposing your meal.
During my calorie count journey, one thing that I felt really compelled to do, and I don’t know why, is lying on the calories I ate. This meal has two tablespoons of oil but just log one. Every now and then I still feel tempted to doing those things, and even skip little things like a square of chocolate I like to have once in a while. Another thing I caught myself doing is, if I ate a scone, log the lower-calorie version in the app instead of the full one. It was ridiculous! I caught me lying to myself!
Why did I do that? I guess I just didn’t want to feel bad for over-indulging. It was very hard to train myself to not lie, but I did it to achieve my goals. I found that the only way of achieving goals is by thoroughly measuring, not over-log, not under-log, just be as honest as possible.
As a software engineer, something that I’ve been academically trained is to test. Measuring your calories is just one aspect of it, the input. Also you need to measure your output! And you need to measure it as thoroughly as your calorie count: Whatever it might be: Your weight, your body composition, the size of your belly.
Measuring weight every day might be confusing: I had variations from one day to the next one of up to 1.5kg! But over time you tend to see the average trend, as you can see here in my weight chart. I recommend measuring other things aside from weight. One thing that is much more important is your percentage of body fat, which for men my age should be around 15%. The point is while measuring progress, try to keep your motivation up and see the bigger picture, if you go by the scale only on a day to day basis, you will end up very traumatized.
The last thing I want to talk about is how my hunger and overall well being evolved over time: during the first week, everything was fine. I was very motivated and fueled and willing to do it. During weeks two to six, man those were hard, every single night I’d hit my calorie budget in the evenings and I would feel like “I want to eat a hippopotamus right now! The reason for this is the hormonal imbalance that occurs when your body does not get the food that it typically is used to. From week six onwards is when things got interesting: I started feeling happy and at ease, my taste and cravings started to shift, and my friends started complaining about my breath (which is a sign of ketosis, this is, your body is feeding out of your own fat). I can say things got real at that point. One good tip I got to help with the overall process is to do interval training as your body releases hormones that make you feel less hungry and you burn more fat at the same time.
After measuring my calories on a day to day basis I realized the value of the experience as a key part of habit improvement, you don’t need to do it forever, but just enough for you to learn what is that you’re putting in your mouth. If you combine it with eating healthier, you eventually will stop craving many of the things you thought you could not live without, which also is a win. I hope you find this post useful and don’t hesitate to post any questions or comments in the comments section.