Monthly Archives: February 2017

Should You Count Calories to Manage Your Weight?

Is calorie counting a good tool to use to manage your weight? It depends on your relationship with food.

Is calorie counting a good tool to use to manage your weight? It depends on your relationship with food.

Today I’m going to answer another question that often gets asked as women want to have less struggle in their lives with food:  Should I count calories to manage my weight?

If someone came to me and their goal was to lose weight quickly and they had a normal relationship with food, then yes, I would recommend calorie counting as the easiest and most reliable way to reach their fast weight loss goal (in this scenario, I’m going to define “fast” as safe [.5 lbs – 1lb a week], consistent, and doable).

But the majority of people looking to lose weight don’t actually have a normal relationship with food or their body and to them I can’t recommend calorie counting, for reasons I will outline below.  In real practice, I don’t recommend calorie counting to my clients (or to anyone who feels overwhelmed by food) and that is because I believe calorie counting conflicts with their long term goals. Most of the women I’ve worked with are trying to learn how to have less stress and worry around food and they are learning to trust their bodies to tell them what to eat. Calorie counting prevents them from doing that and for me to support goals of just weight loss can set these types of women up for a long painful struggle that is way too familiar to me. I’d like to prevent others from having to spend so many years beating themselves up physically and emotionally the way I did.

I lost 90 lbs between 2003 – 2007 by strict calorie counting and lots of punishing exercise. This was still in the low fat days so I also cut fat way down in order to keep my calories low. This meant I ate lots of refined foods just because they were low calorie and I almost always felt hungry. I had been “fat” for as long as I could remember and felt so proud that I finally found the self-discipline to stick to something that was working. The reason it took 4 years to lose the weight was because every so often I’d go off of calorie counting (because it was exhausting to have to calculate and track every single day) and decide that I could handle eating on my own without it. And each time I did that it resulted in a bit of weight gain. I’d drop 25 lbs, gain 10, drop 15 lbs, gain 7 back, drop another 25 lbs etc.  When I finally hit my low weight (about 137 lbs), I was thrilled and was determined to maintain it.

I tried to maintain it by running, a lot and of course continued calorie counting. Eventually I injured myself and couldn’t run anymore and had to do less vigorous exercise. I also took a desk job that meant I was less active than normal 5 days a week. And then I decided again, that my food issues were totally fine now and I could stop calorie counting – because REALLY WHO CAN DO THIS FOREVER?? IT’S MAKING ME FEEL INSANE.

And the yo-yo-ing started again. But it was going in the opposite direction.

Instead of gaining a little weight and then losing more than that again and again, I started to gain back lots of weight. Between 2008 and 2013 I gained 60 lbs of that 90 lb loss back. It’s not like I shut my eyes and just “gave up” on weight loss during this period – I was constantly and actively looking and thinking of ways I could lose the weight again. I’d go back to calorie counting for a bit, drop a few pounds, feel better and then let go of calorie counting again. I was so burnt out on calorie counting that I couldn’t sustain doing it for more than long enough to just drop a couple of pounds.

It was a rough couple of years. I felt terrible about my body and ashamed, sad, embarrassed about myself. Even though I still weighed less than when I started this journey, I felt even worse than I had felt at my heaviest weight. I felt like I was wearing a sign on my body that said “I’m a failure!” to everyone who had known me while I was losing weight.

Calorie counting does work. It can absolutely help you lose weight and it’s a far safer method of losing weight (especially if you choose to eat whole foods) than taking pills, powders, shakes or having to resort to surgeries. It can be done in a way that isn’t extreme (by eating just a 100 or 200 less calories each day than you normally would) and leads to slow weight loss, rather than in a way that is dangerous (such as eating under 1200 calories a day).

It works – But, again, I wouldn’t recommend it if you have any issues eating “normally.

Calorie counting is a tool that reinforces the need to listen to something else other than our bodies. I used it as a guide to tell me when to stop eating, when I had enough, when I must be full. Serving sizes didn’t matter because I had my calorie count to guide me. Fullness signals in my body didn’t register because the calories I ate told me I hadn’t had enough. Whether or not I was hungry didn’t matter, if it was 7pm and I had only had 800 calories so far, that meant I could eat a massive dinner. Even when I was hungry, if I had eaten a certain number of calories, I had to ignore my hunger signals and stick to my calorie goals.

All physical sensations, trust and knowing in my body went out the window for 10 years. Calorie counting got me more lost in my body than I was at the outset of my weight loss journey.

I weighed 225 in college because I had trouble listening to my body in the first place. I had gained so much weight because I used food as comfort instead of dealing with feelings I didn’t want to feel. And then when I found calorie counting, it was GREAT because it made it possible for me to both lose weight (my biggest aspiration at this point in life) and continue numbing and distrusting my body. I could ignore everything my body told me because calorie counting would lead me to where I wanted to be.

None of this would be a problem if calorie counting every day for the rest of my life was possible or reasonable. Well, technically it’s possible, but it’s not something I’m willing or really emotionally able to do. Even though I still have calorie counts for everything under the sun still memorized in my brain (can’t shake it no matter how hard I try!), the act of tallying up every bite I eat and the emotional imprint it has on me if it’s a “good” or “bad” number is exhausting on a deep soul level. It saps my energy, my creativity and my focus. There’s so much more interesting and important sh*t for me to do than that.

Because I couldn’t and wouldn’t calorie count for the rest of my life, when I stopped it became glaringly obvious that I didn’t know how to eat in a way that my body needed. I had lost touch with all intuitive knowledge my body had and because of that every meal was a gargantuan battle between should and shouldn’t, want and need, desire and punishment. I was so f*%king confused!

I’ve had to spend the last 3.5 years reteaching myself how and how much to eat, how to listen to my body, how to trust what it tells me and how to know if a food I’m eating is adding value to my life. All because I clutched too tightly to a tool like calorie counting. It’s still a learning process and I still make some goofs and poor decisions sometimes but I am so crazily happy that my choices are now based on the trust I have built with my own body and it’s needs now, instead of trusting an external tool.

Should you count calories to manage your weight?

My answer is it’s ok only if you don’t have any issues with food. If you already only eat when you are hungry. If you only eat to fuel your body (and minimally for fun). If you already know when you’ve had enough to eat based on signals inside your body, then you can probably use calorie counting for the short term to lose a few pounds. But before you do, ask yourself this:

Why do you need to lose weight in the first place?

Why did you gain weight that needs to be lost?

And how many solutions have you sought that are outside of yourself?

Most of us gain weight because we are eating too much. We don’t eat too much because our bodies need it. We eat too much for a myriad of reasons and most of them have to do with not dealing with our feelings or being deprogrammed from feeling our hunger signals. If you have weight to lose because of these things, then calorie counting may only exacerbate your struggle in the long term.

If I knew then what I know now and could do things over, I would not choose to lose the weight with calorie counting.  I would have paid more attention to why I gained weight the first time and why it was so hard for me to eat without something or someone telling me what / how much to eat. I would have learned how to decode the needs of my body and how to stay with myself when uncomfortable craptastic feelings came up. It took me years to lose the weight in the first place – learning to eat more normally would have saved me a ton of time and pain. Moral of the story: think about why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place before choosing how to move forward.


Have you gotten my newest free guide You Have What it Takes? If you’re an emotional eater, overeater or longtime dieter who wonders if she has what it takes to change her relationship with food, then this for you. And it’s free. Click on the image below, then enter your name and email and it’s yours!

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Should You Weigh Yourself?

Should you weigh yourself if you have a history of eating issues?

Should you weigh yourself if you have a history of eating issues?

I’ve decided to cut back from posting a new blog every week to just 2 a month. I’ve been pumping out a new blog every week for a long time and my brain is starting to feel a little fried when it comes to keeping the content fresh. On one hand I’m kind of bummed to take a break from it (I love to not break a long streak!) but I also need to listen to my needs and get out of that kind of perfectionism. I think backing off a little will help bring back some creativity that I feel I’ve been lacking in my writing lately. It will at least free up some of my time to work on other things I want to do in my business which is something I have to do.

Today’s topic is a question that I hear many people asking and my answer is a little more unconventional than you might think considering the business that I’m in.

Is it okay to weigh yourself?

Should you throw out your scale if you’ve struggled with body image issues or disordered eating?

This is a question that comes up a lot for women who have struggled with some aspect of their relationship to food or their body.  Many health and mental health professionals and those in the body positive movement usually recommend that we toss out our scales.

I personally think it depends on the individual person and their specific relationship with the scale.

I go through periods where I weigh myself daily and then I sort of walk away from it for awhile and might only weigh myself once or twice a month, sometimes I go through longer stretches where I don’t weigh myself for a few months (mostly in the winter!). This works for me. I don’t get anxious about not weighing myself and I don’t get anxious about the number when I do.

When I weigh daily, it confirms for me that the way I am eating and the amount I am exercising is the right amount for my body.

It also has helped me understand the normal fluctuations in weight that my body has week after week or throughout the month, which results in not being alarmed by them. Lots of things contribute to our weight going up or down a pound or two – salty food (up), slow digestive transit time (up), dehydrated (down), week before period (up) etc. Weighing regularly has made me very comfortable with these changes.

As someone who has been challenged in her eating habits and used to be so dependent on tracking calories to know if I had eaten too much – the scale helps confirm for me that I’m on the right track (since I no longer count calories and instead use my hunger / fullness signals as a guide). Weighing myself occasionally tells me that the way I’m living is working, that I am in tune with my hunger signals (or when my eating issues are cropping up again) and that my intuition is working. It actually reinforces some of the good things I’ve worked on in the last 3-4 years.

When I take breaks from it for longer than a few weeks at a time, I find it’s like a silent decision I’m making that I’m going to go a little rogue with my food choices for awhile. I’m choosing to silence my hunger signals and while there’s nothing wrong with doing this once in awhile, I do have a history of really going overboard for long periods when I avoid the scale. If it don’t “see” it, it’s not happening! It’s a way I can lie to myself. For me, purposely avoiding the scale is an indication that I’m heading into unhealthy territory. It’s the opposite of what you’d expect!

When I’m using the scale as a tool, it doesn’t have a ton of power over me. I don’t give the number a ton of meaning. The number doesn’t tell me I’m good or bad, that I’m worthy or unworthy. It mostly serves to tell me if I’m staying present and being honest in my choices or if I’m trying to hide from myself.

Using the scale occasionally gives this former yo-yo dieter the confidence to keep choosing foods that both give me the nutrition I need and also tastes and textures that I enjoy. When you’ve had 90 pound weight losses and also 60 pound weight gains in your life, you realize that you are someone who can easily turn a blind eye to your ups and downs, and the scale helps me keep my eyes open to my actions. It’s something I keep in my personal tool box because even though I don’t put pressure on myself to weigh a certain amount anymore (and I do think it is possible to be healthy and overweight), I do know that if I allow my weight to creep too far back up and stay up, I am increasing my risk for diabetes (too much of this in my family history) and complicating my own history of high blood pressure (and each year that passes, I would be increasing those risks). I’m heavily motivated by living longer and healthier than the people in my family who passed away too young and for me, I know that keeping my weight stable is an important part of this, again, for me personally.

I know this is not the right thing for every woman with a similar history as mine. And I know there are many other women who feel like they get completely crazy over the scale.

It’s important to know yourself and listen to what is right for you, rather than doing what the masses are doing, or what a stranger on the internet says (that includes me – just because I’m sharing that using a scale helps me stay mindful, doesn’t mean that my answer is right for you).

Some women really become obsessed with the scale in a very unhealthy way. If the number on the scale isn’t a number they like, it can ruin their day or their whole week, it can make them restrict food and punish themselves with harsh exercise. It can make them feel helpless, worthless and value themselves less. Feeling this way can lead to really unhealthy behaviors.  For these people, not weighing themselves is a better idea. Using a scale causes them stress, anxiety and depression. In these cases, it’s not a tool, it’s punishment.

The key to knowing if you can continue weighing yourself or not is how much meaning you give it. In my opinion (and experience), if you can use the scale as a tool in a neutral way, that has about as much effect on how you feel about yourself you as tying your shoes does, then it’s probably okay to keep using the scale in some way. If you can step off the scale and not feel virtuous or ashamed, you might be able to still use it. If you don’t feel the need to do something in retaliation to what number is on the scale, you may be able to still use it. It’s important to know how it affects you.

If you are wondering if you should toss your scale out or not, ask yourself:

How do I feel after I weigh myself?

Do I feel virtuous or depressed depending on the number I see?

Do I feel the urge to do “something” to affect my weight in response to the number I see?

Does even thinking about giving up the scale make me feel very anxious? Why?

When in doubt, talk to your doctor or a professional you trust who is aware of your history to discuss what would make the most sense for you. And trust your gut!

Do you need more support with emotional eating? Come join my Ending Emotional Eating Group on Facebook to talk with other women going through the same thing. We’d love to see you there!


Have you gotten my newest free guide You Have What it Takes? If you’re an emotional eater, overeater or longtime dieter who wonders if she has what it takes to change her relationship with food, then this for you. And it’s free. Click on the image below, then enter your name and email and it’s yours!

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