Do you count?
After reading Caitlin‘s post about Calorie Counting, I was inspired to talk about my own experiences with writing down those all important numbers.
When I first began my “lifestyle change” in January 2007, I started using a food journal that looked pretty much exactly like this one:
In these journals, you write down counts for calories, fat, carbohydrates, protein and fiber and each section is separated into breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. There are check off boxes near the top where you can track your daily water consumption. There is also a section for exercise and a few blank boxes for whatever else you want to count for the day: sometimes I kept track of soda consumption or sugar grams.
I think each one lasts about 90 days, so I went through 3-4 before I realized I could just start keeping all this information on the computer in an Excel spreadsheet. I kept my used journals for a very long time, looking back on them occasionally to see how far I had come and to get some meal ideas if I was feeling particularly uninspired that day. However, when I moved this summer, I decided to part with them. I sort of regret it sometimes but in many ways I don’t, it was good to let go and focus on what I’m doing now.
When I moved onto Excel sheets, they were a basic replica of my journals, only they didn’t cost $14.95 each! I think an Excel spreadsheet, for those of you who are technologically inclined, is a great option and good to keep on your computer at work so you can keep track of your eats throughout the day. Plus it adds things up for you 🙂
In early 2008, I started training for a mini-marathon so I wanted to start keeping notes on runs as well. I started using a basic notebook and kept track of what I consumed, how many calories I’d had and what food groups I was eating from. I really got into the Food Guide Pyramid when I was training for the mini-marathon as it was around this same time that I started reading Cristin’s “Eat Like Me” blog and I started my own over on Xanga (way before I moved on to Blogger and now WordPress). Now that is fun to go back and read 🙂
At the time, this site was really helpful for me because it shows you what food groups you’ve eaten from as you input your food and it analyzes it for you to show you where you are coming up short; it even gives you a vitamin and nutrient analysis. During this time, I was at my lowest weight, but I know now that is because I was focusing 100% on cardio, running 6 days a week, whereas now I’m in a healthy routine of cardio + weight training and other activities, which have added some more muscle mass. I still like to, from time to time, stop over at the MyPyramid site to see where my daily intake stacks up in regards to the food groups. But I don’t use it every day anymore. In fact, I’ve read a lot of places that it’s not very up to date and tends to be carb-dominant, though I try my hardest not to ascribe to anything but a well-balanced diet; the ideas do get in my head sometimes by accident.
After that, I started using the computer again, but this time only to count calories. And then I moved on to a Weekly Meal Planner (not sure where I got this from but I think it was a blogger or magazine website) which allowed you to look at your meals for the entire week at once, which was very good to do retrospectively. I also liked to write in notes where I already knew what I would be eating on a certain day (like restaurant outings, celebrations, etc.) so I knew where to adjust the rest of the time and plan accordingly.
Sorry I can’t get these screen captures to come out better, but I hope it gives you a basic idea anyway.
There have been periods where I have not counted at all but tried to just keep a tally in my head or just be conscious and eat healthfully as much as possible. This works sometimes for me and sometimes it does not. I have a tendency to emotionally eat and to see how much I ate differently than I actually did. For this, my food blog has been EXTREMELY helpful. But for me, it is still a good idea to keep track, even if it is informally, like I do now (don’t worry, this was just the total after lunch):
That being said, I don’t adhere to any specific number each day, I more or less just like to be aware of what went in and what goes out so that it’s obvious to me when I’ve eaten too much and need to work out more. But I’d say on average, I hover around 1800 calories a day. Sometimes 1600, sometimes 2000. But I’d say 1800 is definitely my comfort zone and the number I tend to end up at naturally. There have been days when I’ve not counted everything until the very end and at least half of the time, I am good as “guess-timating” my meals and snacks for the day when I throw them in lunch bag — that is, I am able to correctly identify the right amount of food (calories) without actually knowing the exact number. But this is not fool proof, that’s for sure!
Some days, I jot down a count all the way up until dinner, but I have no way of knowing how much dinner was, either because I’m at a restaurant that has no nutritional info (or it’s wrong!), or I’m at a friend’s house and not sure what all went into their recipe, etc. I don’t sweat those…I know how much I had the rest of the day and as long as that’s good, one meal every once in a while not getting counted is perfectly ok. Sometimes I can guess because I have studied food so much over the past few years and there are sites like The Daily Plate that can help you get a rough estimate of just about anything. But don’t obsess!
Now that I have rambled away long enough, I want to know from you readers: Have you ever or do you currently count calories? What methods/mediums have you used to do this and does it work for you, whether you are trying to lose or maintain your weight?