There is nothing I hate worse than basing the happiness and effectiveness of my day on a number.
Because honestly, I just hate numbers. I always have!
And don’t even get me started on Sudoko, ya’ll, because the fact that it is A GAME is seriously mind-boggling. As a creative, word-oriented person, the harsh constraints of numbers were just never something I really enjoyed dealing with.
Now, look. I’m not crazy. I know numbers are necessary in life, money, taxes, reports, analyzing things, etc. I use them when I have to! But if there’s anytime I can eliminate being trapped to a constraint of a number, I will relish in it.
My Fitness Pal- the Calorie Counting King
Over the years, we’ve all been taught that when it comes to losing weight, it’s calories in, calories out. That it’s virtually impossible to lose weight without doing so, and apps such as My Fitness Pal have people glued to their smartphones, inputting every bite of what they eat in hopes of a magic calculation that could get them their dream bodies.
While this is actually really helpful for some people, especially those, just starting out in a healthy lifestyle, it has the potential to be damaging, as well. Especially for people who already are at a healthy weight.
Because let me tell you something. I did this. For a long time. Back before I was truly educated on the science and actual effective workouts. And I was actually in the WORST shape I’ve ever been in.
Why? Well, it was my thought process behind it. I trusted the magic calculation without trusting science. If I knew it was the weekend and I was going to go out, I would skip meals and use my calorie “quota” on alcohol and snacks instead. Healthy? No. But I was staying under my alotted calorie count!
While this is an extreme example- can’t you see how something like this may not instill healthy principles?
It sure didn’t for me. And it actually hindered my progress.
These days I know that skipping meals encourages fat GAIN, and alcohol greatly inhibits muscle growth. And keeping your muscle and building more is THE KEY to fat loss, because that is what will take your metabolism through the roof. Muscle BURNS fat at rest. It’s an amazing thing, really.
But you can’t build that muscle on 1,200 calories a day.
And at 5’2″, my calorie quote was always around that number. Man, these days, if I only ate that many calories I just literally couldn’t function. I’d probably end up in the hospital! My workouts are generally pretty intense, causing my metabolism to rage 24/7.
So much so that the other day, I went around 4-5 hours without eating while at work with my fiance and literally CRIED because he wanted us to run an errand before we went to get food. Yes. I cried. It was sad. It was an emotional moment. I neeeeed food.
In calorie counting’s defense- I do think it’s wise to be aware of the calories, ingredients, and nutrient profiles. I’m in no way telling you these things don’t matter at all- but all I’m saying is it may not be wise to judge your entire day’s success rate by fitting into an arbitrary calculation made by a computer.
My philosophy is- if you’re working out effectively, these 20 calories, or 100 calories aren’t going to make a diddly squat of difference. If you’re doing things to prevent metabolic damage, your body will be running like a furnace and there is no need to get that obsessive.
And the best way to prevent metabolic damage and keep your body running?
DON’T RESTRICT TOO MANY CALORIES. AND LIFT HEAVY.
Especially if you’re working out a lot, restricting your calories too much just isn’t going to help you. Your muscles need the food!
This is one of the biggest misconceptions in the weight loss industry, IMO.
So when it comes to calories, definitely use them as a guideline to be aware. No, you probably don’t want to eat 2,000 calories on a chicken finger meal at Chili’s. But the high calorie count in an avocado? Don’t stress. It’s not going to cause you to gain weight. I promise.
The IIFYM Debate
Now, unless you are a complete beginner to fitness, you’ve probably heard of the concept of tracking your macros, or IIFYM- “If it Fits your Macros.”
The whole premise behind it is to track your Protein, Fat, and Carb grams in the food you eat, and that each person has a magic “ratio” of macro counts that will help them lose fat while retain muscle. It allows people to not necessarily cut out entire food groups, and lets them incorporate treat foods, as long as they “fit their macros.”
I actually think it’s a good idea in principle! Some fitness pros I really admire such as Layne Norton swear by it. And the crazy thing is, the more I learned about it, I realized I was actually kind of doing that anyway, but without the actual tracking part!
You see, I have personal guidelines for myself in which I make a point to keep my protein intake at least 20g per meal, and I shoot for about 4-5 small meals a day. I also try to eat a veggie with each, and fruits sporadically throughout the day. I eat plenty of healthy carbs and fats. I use nutritional timing, and try to keep the majority of my simple carb intake before and after workouts. All of these things work for me, and I had to experiment to figure it out. I also studied some great material including Precision Nutrition that helped me get on this track.
But the crazy thing is, I’m sure if I actually calculated my protein/carb/fat ratios, it would be pretty similar to something that the IIFYM site would spit out at me, I just never actually did that step.
And I don’t want to.
And I suppose that’s where I differ in opinion. Because one of the main issues I have with tracking/counting methods, is sometimes there isn’t much room to listen to your body. For example, I’ve heard people say they were starving, yet all their macros/calories were used up.
Something tells me that it’s wiser to just eat than to trust an arbitrary computer generated number in this case? That your body is sending out a message that you need to answer.
I believe there is a very large difference between setting meal guidelines for yourself, and letting yourself be RULED and DEFINED by these numbers. i.e.- getting depressed because you went “over” your carb macros for the day.
It seems to me that the people that get emotionally affected in this way may develop a mild version of disordered eating, of feeling like the “control” over their food is more important than properly nourishing their body. That’s the only thing that scares me and that makes me uneasy about it.
Now, if you are a bodybuilder or figure competitor, I actually think IIFYM is the best way to go about it, because I’ve seen it allows them to get to an extremely lean BF% (that is necessary in these situations) in a healthier way. And if you were going to track, I think doing it the IIFYM is probably more effective than just calorie counting alone.
But for the average person just wanting to be fit, and even lean, I’m really not sure if it’s necessary!
It’s not worth it to me, anyway. But like I mentioned earlier, I just hate numbers. 😉
I want to make it clear that this post isn’t to discourage anyone from experimenting with what works for them, I just want to show people that it’s simply unnecessary to track to make progress.
You can make progress both ways, but if you hate tracking and it makes you stressed out/depressed, then seriously, please don’t do it. You don’t have to. I’d rather have my personal sanity than compete, or strive for a single digit BF%. It just doesn’t make me happy. At this point I’m more focused on maintaining my healthy habits and developing more positivity towards my body instead of trying to hate it into looking “shredded.”
But I know you’re not me.
The great thing about the world we live in is we all have different mindsets, habits, and opinions. So you may be thinking- “You know, this doesnt sound too bad! I love numbers! I want to try this!”
Here are some signs it may be for you:
- If you really want more structure in your diet plan
- If you are able to use the numbers as guidelines instead of a set RULE
- If you LOVE numbers and calculations and they are comforting to you
- If you’re able to forgo your numbers every once in awhile to enjoy social settings and relax
Honestly, if it makes you seriously happy to track/count and you don’t have a mental breakdown if you’re not 100% “on track” daily, then by all means, do it!
So is it for you? Maybe! And that’s fine if it is! We all have different things we enjoy. I’ve spoken lightly on this topic before without being able to fully explain my reasonings, so I wanted to write this post to show people my side on it, again, not to “attack” people that do these things. But to offer another alternative that personally has proven to be more effective on my sanity.
But just remember: These are GUIDELINES and TOOLS- not LAW.
And as always, as you become more accepting of your body as it is right now, and develop healthier mental attitudes, you will be drawn to what is more fulfilling on a deeper level than simply getting as lean as possible. You will be able to experiment and find the things that make your soul happy, whether its not tracking, IIFYM, Paleo, Veganism, or anything else.
Because life is too short to let your diet define your life. Define your life by your actions, your thoughts, your goals, your dreams. Let fitness and health be a part of you like sleeping and breathing is. That’s the ultimate goal.