Stop Calorie Tracking (and Start Living)

Featured Article, News and Advice, Weight Loss
on October 17, 2012
How, why and when to stop tracking calories during a diet.

Spry and editor Lisa Delaney is one of the rare souls who know what it’s like to be an “after.” This journalist and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl shed 70 pounds—and six dress sizes–and has kept it off for 20 years. She answers your questions here each week.

DEAR FORMER FAT GIRL: Do you still weigh and measure all of your food, or did you get so used to it that you no longer had to do calorie tracking? I track calories with an app and it’s easy, but I think part of me resents all the tracking. I don’t want to feel like it’s controlling me for the rest of my life.–Sandy

DEAR SANDY: I actually don’t do calorie tracking (at least in writing or with an app) any more. But, as you might (or might not) know, I have been at this for more than 20 years! I would say that it took me about five or so years to feel comfortable enough to stop keeping all the stats and to trust myself to keep a handle on serving sizes without using a food scale, measuring cups, or what have you. But here’s the thing–over the years, when my weight started creeping up, I found myself sneaking an extra scoop of cereal into my bowl, or I was unsure about the proper serving size for a particular food, I’d whip out the calorie tracking tools. In fact, I just in the last month or so started using a cup measure to portion out my morning oatmeal, because I was being a bit too generous with myself. (And if you’re rolling your eyes and saying, “But it was OATMEAL,” remember … every calorie counts!)

I totally understand why you’d want to stop playing bookkeeper and loosen up a bit. Here’s a bit of advice.

Try a trust exercise. First and foremost, do you trust yourself enough to let go of the calorie tracking? For the longest time, I was afraid that if I stopped tallying every BLT (bite, lick, taste), I’d blow up like a balloon instantaneously (think: Violet in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, who inflated to gigantic proportions–and turned blue–after sneaking a forbidden treat). But that is preposterous (really it is). As I’m sure you’ve heard many times before, you didn’t lose the weight overnight, nor will you gain it back in a blink. If you want to ease up on the monitoring but not sure you can handle it, just try it: go on a kind of “data fast” for day, a few days, a week. Gradually increase the amount of time you go without monitoring, and check in with yourself about how you feel–are you anxious, or confident? Are you staying on track anyway? Ease into it. If you weigh yourself, check in every couple of weeks, but don’t panic if you see an upward trend, just notice what is happening. If you see that over a few months, your weight continues on a slight upward trend, you may want to go back to counting/weighing/measuring for a week or so. That will allow you to see where you may be overdoing it and adjust accordingly.

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Do spot checks. Take a page from my book and spot check yourself every few months, gradually increasing the amount of time between checks. The goal is for you to be mindful of what and how much you’re eating, not imprisoned by your need to track, track, track. Once you ease yourself out of the incessant tracking mode, try doing spot checks every few months (or whenever you feel you need it), to make sure you’re eating what you THINK you’ve been eating.

Get a routine down. As much as I love eating a wide variety of foods, I’ve found that having a rotation of healthy breakfasts and lunches in proper portion sizes really makes healthy eating–and keeping track–much easier for me. The fact is, most days I know how many calories I’m eating–if I really think about it–simply because I stick to the standards at breakfast and lunch. I cycle through a couple of breakfasts (oatmeal with almond milk, mini box of raisins, and cinnamon or a scrambled egg on whole grain English muffin with lowfat sharp cheddar and Tabasco, both with a side of fruit–usually an apple) and lunches (turkey on wheat with half a small avocado, apple or other fruit; or lentil soup with whole grain crackers and fruit), and get my variety at dinnertime, when I’m eating with and cooking for my family. You may want to create a few meal options you know you can rely on (and that you enjoy) … if you’re a big lunch-eater or tend to like to eat lunch out, maybe you create a repertoire of breakfasts and dinners–it’s up to you. I hope this advice helps!

Lisa Delaney is editor of Spry magazine and Click here to ask her a question.