I believe that eating can be an intuitive practice . I do.
even after six years of maintaining a 135lb weight loss, I’ve come to know something about myself: I am a calorie counter.
Eating intuitively, with no rules or quotas or numbers in mind, with only a keen observation of the natural hunger and fullness mechanisms we’re born with, it really and truly does sound magical. Perhaps even more magical when you’re a former binge eater. Or perhaps it sounds magical even if you aren’t, and you just think cupcakes and pie are two things that tend to trip the wires in your brain that tell you when you’ve had enough.
The thing is, I know that eating in an intuitive way does exist. And for those who eat this way, I imagine it’s a whole wide world of wonderful. It’s freeing. It helps to create a healthy relationship with food. Often, I wish I were entirely intuitive. But then I come to a place of honesty with myself. Yes, over the past six years, I have found balance. Yes, I can now monitor how I feel in terms of hunger and fullness. I can pay attention to my internal dialogue with regard to a buffet, with regard to Thanksgiving feasting, with regard to White’s Bakery. I have a keen sense of when I should start eating and when I should stop eating.
But I, like lots of others, feel comfortable counting.
I know counting. And it’s not the antithesis of intuition with regard to eating. Despite the way it may seem to a non-counter, those who count calories have found a [hopefully] healthy number or range for their bodies. It takes a long time to find that number. I’d liken it to number of hours spent sleeping. Ideally, we’d all just fall into bed when tired, and rise when sufficiently rested. However, it’s not always that simple. There is a world to navigate, a whole world of things to do that require working with and around. Still, we value sleep, we know we need sleep. Many of us, over the years, have discovered the number of hours per night that we require for our bodies to function optimally. So we stick to that, to the best of our abilities. Yes, our levels of tiredness vary day by day. And yes, sometimes we’re not exactly exhausted at the same time every night when we crawl under the covers, but still, we try to adhere to the schedule we’ve learned to work for us. We stick to getting in bed at a certain hour, we set alarms for the next morning. And we can hopefully rest knowing that we’re doing our best.
When I finally learned about nutrition and weight loss I kept a journal with an accurate count of everything I was putting into my body. My body, when I started, didn’t even know the meaning of self regulation. When I tallied up the calories I’d once eaten daily at 268lbs, it was somewhere up in the 3,000 range.
Through meticulous counting I was able to figure out the correct amount of nourishment I required. I made that number important. I created a routine around that very number. And while sticking to the number might have seemed like a burden at times, it served me well. I lost the weight.
Now, even if I don’t set a limit on how many calories I want to consume I still can’t help knowing the number of calories in the foods I’m eating, and tallying up the day’s number. It is hardwired into me. And, I like that. I like knowing that if I’ve come to the end of the day and tallied that I’d only eaten 1600 calories of whole, pure foods, it’s perfectly fine to eat a cupcake. Because while I don’t need caloric permission to eat what I want (no one does), I’ll be eating said cupcake knowing full well that it fits into a balanced, healthy quota.
I have embraced the fact that for at least the near future, I will be consciously and unconsciously counting calories, even if my goals aren’t to lose weight. And though there exists a stigma with regard to counting calories- the associations with obsession, the restrictive connotations- I’ve owned this part of me.
It is entirely possible to have a healthy relationship with food and be conscious of the calories you’re consuming. It need not feel like a prison of numbers. It need not preoccupy your whole mind, your whole day. Calorie counting allows people who are a tad type A, like me, to plan ahead and feel a reasonably amount of control.
Ever since I started counting calories, I’ve maintained a daily goal number. And though the number has gotten looser and much less rigid in the past few years, there always existed an awareness of it. When I was losing weight it was a goal that would put me in a deficit, when I was satisfied with my weight it would be a number to allow me to maintain my weight, and when I thought I was a bit too thin it was a number that would allow me to gain weight. No matter my goal, I always had a number in mind each day. And because of my commitment, I usually reached those goals even when it was difficult. If I was near my limit for the day and my mom came home with a blueberry pie I would abstain even though I wanted a slice, knowing that there was always tomorrow to fit a slice into. Lately I have been experimenting with a different kind of calorie counting that would remove the stress from this kind of situation.
Instead of setting a daily goal, I have been setting a weekly goal. So if I want to eat 2000 calories a day, which I generally do, instead of paying attention to adhering to that daily number, I would look at it as eating 14,000 calories a week. This gives me more freedom day to day if there were occasions where I wanted to consume more. If I go out to dinner with friends or my mother surprises me by overnighting me a cake that turned into a delicious pile of of frosted slop on its 3,000 mile trek (it happened), I can eat whatever I want without any feelings of guilt or failure. I simply adjust the next day or days accordingly.
If you are a calorie counter who often stresses about a daily limit, this technique may work better for you by giving you more freedom, more wiggle room. Or if you are someone who struggles to lose weight because you give up after one bad day this technique gives you a chance to right the ship. Maybe you’re hungrier on certain days because of a work or exercise schedule. Maybe you’re the type who sticks to a solid nutrition plan during the week and wants to be looser on the weekend. Or maybe you like to have a few glasses of wine on Friday night. Maybe you like to get a burger and fries on Saturday nights. Maybe you want two pieces of cake because cake is, simply, awesome. Counting weekly calories can give you more leeway to indulge without “failing” to meet your goals.
Still, it isn’t for everyone. You need to make sure you plan ahead enough so that you don’t “run out of “ calories before the end of the week.
All this to say: I think intuitive eating is fantastic if it works for you. I’d call it ideal if it worked for all of us. But some people will always feel more comfortable counting calories than winging it, so I thought I would share something I’ve been experimenting with recently.
Has anyone else experimented with counting calories weekly vs daily? Did you find it easier or harder to meet your goals?