A couple of years ago, I started using a popular calorie tracker out of curiosity and with a view to keeping on top of my calorie intake. I didn’t particularly have any goals as such, my diet was pretty healthy and I exercised regularly but I’d heard of this app and I thought I’d give it a go. Probably not the best decision for someone that has already had a brush with an eating disorder.
I used it solidly for about 6 months before I woke up to the detrimental effects the app was having on my health and well-being.
When you think about how much time you have to put into using a tracker to count the calories of every ingredient you put into a meal and every morsel you put into your mouth, you soon realise that it is akin to having an eating disorder and not only is it easy to become obsessive, in order to do it right… you have to be obsessive!
The app gives you the option to put on weight, maintain weight or lose weight. Before even really thinking about whether I needed or wanted to lose weight, I had chosen the ‘lose weight’ option and clicked on the recommended 0.5 kg loss per week which reduced the amount of calories I was allowed per day.
Even though I was already eating less than my body needed to maintain a weight I was actually happy with, I felt guilty if my calories went over my allowance for that day. On the flip side of this, I was elated when I was under my calories and even treated it a bit like a competition to ensure that this happened.
The app requires you to weigh yourself weekly – something I had stopped doing many moons ago. Even though I know that if I am working out regularly and eating well, my weight either doesn’t change or increases slightly along with my muscle tone, I still did as the app told me to and weighed myself and thus became more obsessive about the numbers on the scale than my overall health.
Unfortunately, a calorie tracker doesn’t account for quality of nutrients; healthy fats for example are really high in calories but the health benefits far outweigh the calorific value.
I personally love avocado and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil on my salad and if you add both of these items to a chicken salad, you are adding 120 cals for 1/2 avocado and 118 cals for 1 tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil = 238 cals!! And that’s if you stick to a measly 1 tbsp. of olive oil… is that even possible?? 😉 Avocado and extra virgin olive oil might be high in calories but consuming them benefit your hair, skin, nails, cardiovascular system and have cancer fighting properties along with many, many other health benefits. Cutting out or restricting healthy fats also means lower levels of necessary nutrients are absorbed, especially the fat soluble vitamins such as; vitamins A, D, E and K.
I like to eat quite regularly and sometimes I found that if I had a good breakfast such as porridge with nuts and fruits, a healthy mid-morning snack and a good healthy lunch with some healthy fats, I ended up with hardly any calories left for my dinner. If you add a workout into the calorie tracker, it gives you back the calories that you’ve burned so I’d end up working out even if I was tired or really didn’t feel like it just so that I could have some dinner without feeling guilty for going over my calories.
All in all, it was a miserable experience for me and not one that I will be repeating. If you really need to lose weight and struggle with portion sizes etc. I can see how tracking your calories will help and it’s also handy to use it to understand and track the nutrients you are getting from your diet and what you are missing but using it daily for months on end just didn’t work for me and I’ll only ever use it now as a quick refresh on my nutrient intake.
I managed to find the right balance for me and my weight has stayed the same within around 2 kgs for a few years now and yes I am heavier now than when I was as a size 6 – 20 year old but (as anyone that knows me knows), I didn’t let that girl eat! I now manage to eat well and still have treats when I feel like having them and I am a happy and healthy maintainable size 8-10 with a full and happy tummy and a healthy relationship with food.
So…how did I find that elusive balance and find my ‘happy healthy’?
- I went back to eating by looking at ingredients rather than at calories – if it’s got millions of ingredients in it that I can’t even pronounce, let alone understand – I don’t eat it.
- I exercise 3-5 times per week and this includes doing a yoga based workout at least once per week.
- I drink 2-3 litres of water per day as a minimum.
- I eat regularly.
- If I ignore my hunger pangs, I end up making bad choices and reaching for the processed sugary snacks every single time.I snack on healthy foods and snack bars… again by looking at the ingredients.
- Some healthy snack bars look like they have as much sugar and as many calories in them as a choccy bar but you have to think in terms of nutrients and ingredients. If the sugar is coming from fruits and not from added refined sugar, it is more nutritious to have the healthy snack bar.
- I only drink alcohol occasionally.
- I don’t eat sauces with every meal, preferring to taste the flavour of the food rather than sugar laden sauces such as ketchup and I actually find them really sweet.
- If I am craving a sweet treat after a meal, I’ll try and have a fruit tea, some greek yogurt or a decaffeinated coffee with a tiny dollop of sugar free caramel syrup and these usually do the trick.
- If I really want some chocolate or a bag of crisps, I have some.
- I used to restrict ‘treats’ to weekends only but found that it would get to Friday night and I’d eat a weeks’ worth of chocolate and cakes in one sitting… the old binge eating!! Such a bad habit and overloading the body with sugar and saturated fats like that is not good for your blood sugar levels. A little bit every now and then, however, doesn’t hurt. It definitely works better for me not to restrict.
- I stopped worrying about what size clothes I was buying and concentrated on how they looked and felt.
- I want a nice peachy bum, (who doesn’t??) and I do squats and lunges and use weights to get it! Unfortunately, having a larger, more rounded bum means I can’t fit into a size 8 pair of jeans anymore. Something I used to want to change. Not anymore, I am happy with my size 10 bottom thank you squats 😉
- I try to eat healthy foods 80-90% of the time and allow myself to have the odd pizza or burger once or twice a week maximum.
- I try to make as much as possible from scratch at home, preferring to make my own burgers, muffins etc.
- I steer clear of white processed carbs; white pasta, rice and potato.
- I still eat carbs as they form an important part of a healthy diet but I choose to eat wholewheat rice, bread and pasta or lentil and chickpea pasta, sweet potatoes, etc. White processed carbs don’t agree with me so this is an easy decision to make. Sometimes I do have the odd couple of chips or white bun on a burger but it is rare.
Balance to me is about being happy with the look and feel of your body and the weight you naturally reach when you are eating as healthy as you can without depriving yourself of the things that make life fun.
With love, Tash x