Count Me In

Not too long ago I asked if you are tracking what you eat.  Today I want to take it one step further.  This inquiring mind wants to know…

Do you count things when you are dieting or eating healthy?  And if so, what?  Calories.  Or carbs.  Or points?

And if you do it, why do you do it?  To know when to stop eating?  Or to evaluate how much food you can have in a day to lose or maintain?  Or do you do it just out of your own sense of curiosity?  Or?

If you don’t, why not?  And is there another technique you use to help you moderate your eating?

In my many years of dieting experience (she laughs), I have been a counter and count-less.  Both with and without weight-loss success.  Years ago on Weight Watchers, I was the queen of finding low-point foods.  And at various times in my life I have tracked calories, either out of curiosity to see how many I was really taking in, or in an attempt to keep to a limit I set myself to facilitate weight loss.  One thing I have never counted is carbs.  Yes, I have sometimes been on what some would consider a low-carb diet, but what I would consider a “good” carb diet (South Beach), but the plan does not involve counting or limiting carbs.

Part of the reason for me asking all of you is that I am still in my ongoing process of questioning my approach to eating healthy.  And wondering if maybe the time has come to pay a bit more attention to the whole mathematics of calories in vs. calories out.  Which, of course, requires me to track calories.  And while, at least for me, there are several disadvantages and deterrents to that whole process, there are several potential positives as well.  And I have to say that I am not sure the math always works.  (More on that coming soon in another post.)  But there surely is something to be said for taking in less calories than I am burning off. For taking in less calories period!

When I started my tracking last week, I tried out some online systems that readers recommended and, no surprise, each one tracks calorie count.  Whether you want to or not!  It has been a bit of a revelation.  For many reasons.  Like how fast the calories add up.  And how very careful I need to be if I want to cut back a bit.  And that I take in an awful lot of snack calories compared to meal calories, although that is not really a surprise to this over-snacker.  Tracking calories has made me think more about what I am putting in my mouth and that is a good thing.  So, for now, count me in…decisive.

Your turn to weigh in.  Counter or countless?  And why?



Filed under dieting, making a change

77 responses to “Count Me In

  1. I’ve counted calories on and off all my life — I’ve never tried carb counting, but I do restrict carbs. Last year, when I lost 20 pounds, I did it strictly by portion control. Because I stopped losing weight for several weeks, I figured that my portions were probably getting too large and I resumed calorie counting this month. Yes, I was eating too much, and have resumed losing weight. I feel that my portions are under control again and plan to stop calorie counting in March and rely on portion size. I avoid empty calories. I “snack” on fresh fruit, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, raw cauliflower, and carrots. Since I truly love veggies, I don’t feel deprived. I try to eat only foods that have mostly a high nutritional value — by doing that, I avoid most junk foods. When I want a restricted treat, a scoop of ice cream is always my weapon of choice.

    • Karen

      One thing I hate about counting is having to weigh or measure food. Yesterday’s lunch was leftover chicken. I got out the scale before I microwaved a portion. Given my druthers, I’d only weigh nuts – because it is way to easy to go over on those.

      I found that my fruit and veggies had more calories than I thought! I guess years of “free” veggies on Weight Watchers and no need to watch them on South Beach kept me from thinking how it adds up. And my large apple yesterday – yikes! I think I’d rather choose “healthy” foods than be searching for the lowest calorie options. I am impressed that you avoid empty calories and snack well. I have to work on those veggies.

  2. I used to calorie count obsessively and it turned out to not really work for me at all. So i stopped and when i investigated types of diet to try i decided to go for one that monitored by portion size and the size of your hand (so no weighing). I have 1 handful of meat/protein, 1 handful of carbs and 2 handfuls of veg and that makes my main meal.

    • Karen

      Typically, meals are not an issue for me. (Couldn’t have said that back when I ate a lot of pasta!) It is the snacking in between that adds up so fast. Sigh.

  3. I don’t count, but I do track for accountability. Not working so much right now. I generally avoid baked goods and white, starchy foods, but I am not obsessive about any numbers, carbs or calories or servings or exchanges.

    • Karen

      I’d rather not count. I’d rather just eat well, make good choices, only eat when I’m hungry. But that wasn’t working so well:( Sigh.

  4. I think the way to go is to wait for the stomach to growl which is the sign of true emptiness, eat what we really want, and stop when satisfied. Do not eat before another growl. If we start eating before the growl, we are not truly hungry so where is full? We just eat and eat and eat. We have all read so much about it, have tried many ways and methods, paid vast sums of money for memberships, foods, etc. It is not for a lack of knowledge that we struggle. We know what to do – we just don’t want to do it. We want the food and we want it when we want it. I have written a lot about this in my blog if you care to visit. I began in November – some pretty stellar stuff there!

    • Karen

      You are so right – I know what to do and don’t do it, usually. I don’t often feel real growling hunger, either. But I also have to be careful because when I get too hungry, I get shaky and cranky and out of control with eating.

  5. Barbara

    I use the new Weight Watchers PointsPlus system. They have recently changed it where calories don’t go into the point calculation at all. Points are derived from Fat, Carbs, Protein, and Fiber.

    Veggies have always been zero points with WW, but now, fruits are too!

    • Karen

      I went about a month ago to check it out. I did the old points thing many years ago. It was interesting to me how they totally took numbers out of the equation. I will probably write about it one day. I also keep thinking I’ll track points compared to calories sometime just to see how that lines up – out of curiosity. I hear lots of great things from people on the new plan.

  6. Jan

    My current approach is still to keep my calories <1200/day, but I am re-focused on keeping carbs <60gm/day AND no foods with sugar, starch, wheat, or grains. With so much weight left to lose, I still need to watch calories while keeping insulin stimulation down (no, I am not a diabetic) because there is enough evidence for me to believe that insulin production is one of the biggest causes of fat refusing to be liberated from cells. Too much fat (and thus caloric) intake and fat cells are happy to sit quietly. Thus, my diet is not full of pork rinds and sour cream 🙂

    One size does not fit all, or most.

    • Karen

      You would certainly know more about this than I would but what I hear and read seems to make me feel similarly. If I really did what I should probably do, I’d limit carbs and cals. I don’t know the science of it, but I know that there is something about grains that sets me off eating. I never liked that fat-allowed low-carb thing. I do find that 1200 calories adds up very, very fast!

  7. This may be an unpopular response, but yes, I am obsessive about counting calories and always have been. I track them on an Excel spreadsheet and have recently starting logging on for the sole purpose of having comprehensive nutritional values of what I eat each day. If I keep my calorie count at 1200 or below when LOSING and avoid sugar/white flour, I WILL lose weight. No matter what individual plan is working for you, I firmly feel that everyone ought to have a rough idea of how many calories they are consuming each day.

    Your last paragraph was very astute. Especially the sentence that said, “they add up quickly.” Yes, they do and the only way to comprehend that is to see it in black and white by tracking and counting.

    • Karen

      What really got me was the calories in my veggies and fruit! I think we each need to find what works for us and then the hard part – do it. Seems a lot of people have that number of 1200 and I find that hard to meet. I’m with you on the white stuff. Clearly is better for us too. Oh, if only it wasn’t so prevalent:(

  8. I will be reading the comments to this post with interest.

    I’ve been couinting calories for a year and a half–painlessly because I use SparkPeople. That means I don’t really feel like I’m counting. I just type in what food I ate and the amount and SP tallies, crunches and spits out the bottom line of cals, carbs, proteins and fat. 😀

    But now that I’m down to my last 40 pounds, I’m having trouble. I’ve refined my eating to the pont that I have little fat & almost no processed food. I’m basically eating clean and so get full. I’m finding that after dinner, I have 400 of my 1200 calories left. When I attempt to eat them to stay in my cal plan–I often end up with a binge. Which , of course, negates my excellent day. I’ve tried adding more fat to eliminate the huge surplus at the end of the day, but the fat gives me the munchies–even tho I’m full. ugh.

    Anyway, I’m toying with not counting and just eating healthy, low-fat, low carb food. But that lack of bounday scares this fatso.

    I’m sure hoping someone has an answer!

    Thanks for posting this.


    • Karen

      Interesting how it plays out differently for us all. What I still don’t like about the online systems I’m trying is there is no getting around weighing/measuring and calculating for recipes. But for now, I’m doing the extra steps. I wonder what else you could eat earlier in the day that would give you the cals but not the fat and munchies. Good luck figuring it out, Deb:)

  9. I’m a Countess ~ off and on that is. When I’ve got it ‘all working’: gym, food journaling & choices, inspiration ~ I am on it, AND the scale goes down.

    When I’m lax, not so much. I have filled several little notebooks with millions of calories 🙂

  10. I count carbs and calories- I use sparkpeople so it counts it all anyways- my goal is under 100 grams of carbs a day, the calories aren’t as important to me.

    I do it mostly to keep accountable and to get an idea of what does and does not work for me. IE- today’s post- all shakes doesn’t work! lol.

  11. I am definitely a counter, now. But as you know I wasn’t always. I keep track using Web MD’s counter to figure the number of calories in each food item. Because I have done it so long, I do not write everything down anymore, just aim for a certain amount of C’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner , plus two snacks. I also give my self a range 1200-1500 a day. I am not fanatical about counting calories, either. I am sure when I get to the point where I have maybe the last 20 pounds to shed, I will be more fanatical meaning more accurate. I actually feel this is my safety net that I am not absolutely accurate about my calories, but still losing weight slow and steady. That tactic will give me some wiggle room when I am at that last 20, or at least that is what I believe.

    BTW: I had to get my DIL to help my figure out IMO (in my opinion, right?) from a comment your posted on my blog this week. My DIL is hip and in the know about such things!

    Have a great weekend, Karen.

    • Karen

      LOL – Sometimes I have looked up acronyms online. They use many in my “diet” forum so I am now getting better at figuring them out myself.

      I have said it before and will say it again, your plan is so smart. And what is great about what you describe is that it is very livable for you. I think many of us restrict calories in a way that makes it too hard to stick with and then we “fail” at that technique. I suspect when you are close to your goal you will find you need less and less calories to lose. Frustrating how that happens.

  12. I had a great laugh at that cartoon. Very funny. I count points. I have counted calories in the past, but I find it easier and less onerous to count points. I need it simple and easy, otherwise I get frustrated and resentful.

    • Karen

      I would be more inclined to count points again (yes, did WW in the past), if I had an online version or a smart phone version. But I am curious enough that I may soon go back to some past days and calculate the points and compare to cals, just for grins.

  13. I used to count calories, but that drove me crazy. Now the only counting I do is the number of fruits and veggies consumed, trying to make it at least five a day.

    • Karen

      I was surprised to find out how many calories there were in the veggies and fruit I was eating. I think I got used to thinking of veggies as not counting since they were free in Weight Watchers. Yesterday I had almost 300 cals in veggies alone! I know they are good for me but that is a lot of cals for something I don’t even like:(

  14. You know what I do and don’t do! I try to count points on the new WW, and I do well on and off with tracking. I’ve tried calories and I never stick with that too well. Overall I would say that while I believe it’s important, I really don’t like counting and find it unsustainable for me. Another option is to just write down what you eat, without the points or calories – just for a log. That one seems like a good idea until I eat a sleeve of cookies!

  15. I am a points counter…it helps me stay on track and what I have had the most success with. I tried with calories and it just did not work for me. I think I am just more comfortable with the WW program as it has worked for me in the past and I enjoy the meetings and need the accountability.

    • Karen

      I did WW successfully several years ago. I enjoyed the meetings back then but I had a friend who I went with, which was also great for support everyday. I stopped going when I reached lifetime. Big mistake. Sigh.

  16. sunnydaze

    Counter. Point. So I know when to stop eating and to also see on paper what I’m putting in my body so I can be more health concious.

    • Karen

      So I am curious because I know you exercise… do you take that into account when figuring out how many points you can have? Seems to me lots of people just ignore the activity points.

  17. I counted (w/sparkpeople) to lose, then counted a bit to maintain and then I stopped for about a year and now I’m at a happy one day tracking every 2 weeks, just for a check in, like my weight, once a month now. I’m trusting myself more and more but I’ve very cautious, I will not see those 90lbs again!

  18. I was a successful counter but not a balanced, healthy counter. At the time, I recorded every morsel. But I was a slave to it… used it to estimate my worth.

    Now rather than count, I do a rough, general estimate. I have several breakfasts I choose from that are generally 250 – 300. Then, I have several snacks that are between 100 and 200. And so on… it’s a general sense of things, but I try to focus more on whether I’m feeling nourished, on how much food do I perform best physically, mentally, and emotionally.

    • Karen

      I had not heard that before – reminds me of people who let the scale do the same thing for them. I love your plan:) And it includes PB!

  19. Karen, you know I could write a book on my thoughts about this. I think the one thing to pay attention to in what you wrote is that ONCE YOU STARTED COUNTING CALORIES AGAIN, IT DID SHOW YOU THAT YOU WERE EATING MORE THAN YOU THOUGHT & IN YOUR SNACK CALORIES. Every study shows that people underestimate what they eat & overestimate how good they are being… the truth!

    Karen, nothing says you have to do this for life but for me, learning early to track my portion size per food & then the calories for that portion of food has helped me long term. I did not track forever & don’t now but if I add a new food n, I measure out the portion size & know the calories associated with it so I can plan that into my food program.

    The older I get, the more important this is because at least 98% of us older folks & especially women are going to hit that time when you are doing everything right but the bod slows down. I do all the right things but my bod slowed even with my high activity level & weight lifting & the knowledge of portion size & yes, calories that match that has helped me thru this difficult time & still working it as it keeps changing.

    I do watch the portion size, know the calories… and also I know the protein/carb/fat make-up of the food. It is all important to me.

    I do tend to eat higher protein than others my age due to my weight lifting but I also watch % of carbs in my diet.. I am NOT low carb BUT I am particular about the types of carbs I eat…

    Feel free anytime to email me – you know you can! 😉

    • Karen

      I should probably clarify that counting showed that even when I eat “well” I am eating more calories than I thought. I am pretty sure I knew that when I was going on my little binges, there was major calorie overload accompanying the food overload. But I was just ignoring it. Yesterday I ate about 300 calories in veggies. Just veggies! That surprised me. And my apple was over 100. It was big:) And I had one portion of almonds. Weighed. Almost 200 calories!

      • That is what is so interesting Karen… we all know we can overeat & gain weight on good food too.. just knowing the numbers helped you realize some pieces of the puzzle!!! It is amazing how fast they add up & that is why the food part of weight loss is so crucial & that exercise is important too cause we can always eat more than how long it takes to burn it off… using nutrition & exercise long helps us lose & keep it off long term..

  20. I mentally count. Does that count? LOL Generally, I try to keep meals to 300-400 calories, and overall stay below 1200-1300 calories a day. I’m not meticulous. I know the general range of calories of the foods I eat. I don’t put it down on paper/computer because frankly, I don’t want to create a new obsession by doing so. I’m trying to obsess less about what I eat, and focus more on WHY I eat and WHEN I eat. That’s just what works for me. 😉

    • Karen

      See that not snacking when I am not hungry has always been a bigger problem for me than portion control with meals or calorie counting. If did that I think everything else would easily fall into place.

      • One simply has to get up enough gumption to walk down that path. I don’t know why we resist it so much. Hell, I’m just now figuring this out at 59? Talk about stupid. LOL

  21. edit: stay BETWEEN 1200-1300 calories a day. doh. And even that, I’m trying to focus less on. And more on eating a ‘reasonable’ amount of food, and not snack when I’m not truly physically hungry. 🙂

  22. Counting for me, for now anyway.
    It’s definitely making a difference if only that I can’t be unconscious about what I eat. Yesterday was a snack all day day, but I counted. Now I know with certainty that the problem is in the crackers and chips. They add up too fast.
    My “math problem” is a carb issue. It matters in my body.

    • Karen

      I already have a post written about that, just not sure when I’ll publish it. Don’t want to sound redundant. To me, it is a separate topic but to some it may seem more of the same.

      I have to admit that I have studied cracker boxes in the past, just hoping to find one that was fairly healthy and low calorie. I’m thinking that for me, there is no good cracker option. At least not for now.

  23. The math always works!

    Not doing it correctly doesn’t work. Why would it?

    • Karen

      I always think of you and Bobbie when I think about math. I could hear both your voices in the back of my head when I drafted my coming “math” post.

  24. In the past, while losing baby weight from baby #2 I kept a food journal and gave it to a trainer at my Y. She was AWESOME and whipped me into the best shape of my life. NOW I’m trying to lose the weight from baby #3, who is now 2-years-old.

    I purchased MyNetDiary app on my iphone and it is AWESOME for counting calories, it keeps a running total of what you have eaten, tells you if you need more fiber, less sodium, etc… It makes me more mindful not to take a bite or twelve, ahem, whilst cooking dinner. Those calories COUNT as much as I don’t want them to.

    I’ve been doing this for a little over a month, (this being eating healthy, smaller portions, food journaling on the app, and exercising at least 5 days a week) for the last month to month and a half and I’ve lost 7.5 pounds. I bought food scales because I really didn’t know what 2 ounces of turkey looked like, etc. And it has helped me to learn what a portion size of anything ACTUALLY looks like, and I have been AMAZED at how much I get to eat of fruits and vegetables. Like FO REALZ you can eat a HUMONGOUS salad and feel full or have like, one enchilada and still be starving. I would HIGHLY rec this app, it even calculates the calories you burn while exercising and it so easy to use. I don’t have to read labels and figure out “points” etc…

    • Karen

      I am envious:( I am low tech, now fancy phone with apps. I think that would be a great way to go. I’ve been measuring lately. Yesterday I measured my chicken leftovers I was having for lunch before I put them in the microwave. But I have to say that the veggies I like best seem to be the higher calorie ones.

  25. Weight Watchers now calculates points by fat, carbohydrate, protein and fibre content. They’ve moved away from calories because they’re not always a fair representation of intake. For example, the calories in fruit are used up through digestion so they are “zero” points value. Things high in protein and fibre are low in points, things high in carbs and fat are high in points.

    It takes some getting used to, but I do think it’s a more valid representation of what you’re eating and what you’re using.

    • Karen

      I went to a meeting about a month ago to check out the new program. Lots of buzz. I did WW many years ago. I hear a lot of great things from people on the new plan. I may have to post about this too someday.

  26. I just started counting calories today on the advice of a friend who lost weight 8 years ago and has kept it off
    I will lett you know how it goes

  27. I sort of count/track calories. When I first started losing weight, I tracked every bite I ate in SparkPeople. That was, in part, for accountability but it was also to learn how to combine foods I liked into some sort of long term plan. (It worked!)

    After a while, I quit using SP but I still kept a running tally in my head and simply jotted a note in my daily planner if I deviated from my normal eating plan. That’s pretty much what I do today, and I’ll probably always do it in one form or another. It’s kind of a habit, right along with all the other nutritional and exercise habits I built. Fine with me, as long as my weight stays under control. 🙂

    • Karen

      Well you know I think you are a great role model for this healthy living thing:) Your approach to losing was very doable and your approach to maintenance is as well. I suspect a lot of successful maintainers always sort of have that running tally and know what they typically eat.

  28. Counting cals works for me. Every time! Still I forsake it and try new things, and then I come back to counting cals again.

  29. Good post and very interesting comments, Karen!

    The little inkle that bothers me is that it all seems to be another way to be obsessive about food. I want to eat when it’s mealtime, plan meals, cook, shop for groceries and otherwise not think about food at all. Guess you could say that’s a goal, huh!

    • Karen

      I guess I figure we each need to find what works for us, and that may vary greatly. Obviously, for myself, I am still searching. And I probably need a combination of approaches. Sigh.

  30. I’m tracking, primarily using SB again (I DO keep coming back there) and continue to check for my points on WW just because I have another month online. I am probably going to drop the WW online because I’m not really using it (although I did at the beginning.) I usually have fresh fruit and/or vegetables for a snack. I’m off the baked goods for the moment and currently not missing them.

  31. i count points as i’m a weight watcher member

  32. Melodie

    Hi! I just found your blog through Tina’s FFF 🙂 I am not a counter. I tend to gain weight when I count?! So, I just try to eat healthfully, which I have food allergies so I pretty much have no choice! lol It seems that if I listen to my body and eat when I am hungry and stop just before full that I lose weight. Those weeks that I stuff my face out of emotion or eat to much at dinner I either don’t lose or go up a bit 😉

    Looking forward to reading your blog!

    • Karen

      Ah, therein lies my main problem. Only eating when I am hungry. If I did that one thing, I suspect that my weight would not be an issue. Thanks for stopping by:)

  33. As I am sure you know already, I do count my calories on Livestong/dailyplate been doing it for 2 1/2 years.

    I do it because I need to stay accountable to what I eat. Its so easy to nibble here and there and then at the end of the day when I am ready for my chocolate snack to think “all I’ve eaten to day is this or that”. When in reality I’m already over my calorie limit.

    I have a number to try to stick with 1600 calories a day and I use to be a lot better than I am now to have a stopping point. On workout days I allow myself 300 additional calories; otherwise, stick with the 1600.

    When I first found out I had Type 1 Diabetes my nutritionist had me count carbs. I was allowed to eat 165 a day…UGH! I think I eat about 265 now with 1600 calorie diet. I frankly think that is my problem these days. Anyhow, I have gone on enough. Feel free to email me if you want to discuss more!

  34. I have been remiss in my tracking lately. I think I am in denial thinking that I am “doing okay”. Then I ask myself “If you’re doing okay why aren’t you making progress?” When I was making progress I was tracking on livestrong, watching my calories, carbs, protein and fat. I was also able to track calories burned and monitor the calories in vs. calories out. In reading your post I am reminded of how important it is to track and keep myself accountable. That being said I will begin tracking immediately. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

  35. As you know I count points, it’s a long term habit. It keeps me accountable to myself. At my age and my weight every bite counts! I really don’t have a lot of wiggle room, the less you weigh the less calories you need.

    Sounds like tracking is working for you!

  36. Hi Karen, such an interesting discussion! I’ve tracked my food using a kind of antique version of WW points (the 2000 version) since, well, 2000, when I went to OA. In OA you have to have a food plan of some type so I figured since I liked the flexibility of WW I’d use it. Of course, I’ve long been at my goal weight, but writing down my points each day is just what I do. I write in the exercise I do too but I never “eat” those points, as a matter of fact, I never eat over or to the maximum of my point range at all. That I attribute to OA! For the 12 years prior to getting there, I had joined and quit WW a zillion times and could never make it through one week of tracking food!

    • Karen

      Hi you:) You have shared bits and pieced before but I don’t think I realized you combined WW with OA. Obviously you found what works for you.

  37. MB

    Counting points or calories would make me crazy. I did count carbs once but learned I didn’t want to live a life without bread.

  38. Well I’m back to counting now since I’m trying to shed a couple lbs, but I got away from it for several months while maintaining. I count everything – cals, carbs, protein, fat and exercise calories burned.

  39. I’m a tracker. Some weeks are better than others. I basically eat the same thing all week so I don’t do it daily. Mostly on Sundays when I’m preparing my meals for the week.

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