Calories have a bad reputation these days. But you can learn how to navigate the calorie minefield.
Consult just about any popular resource for weight loss and you’ll see that calorie counting:
- doesn’t work
- causes weight gain
- is pointless
- is bad for your health
- leads to restricting healthy food
- causes lots more alledged problems
Instead, you’re advised to tune into what your body needs, eat fewer processed foods, cook at home more, and my favorite, “think about how what you eat makes you feel.”
CAN some, all, or any of the reasons calorie counting is bad be true? Of course they can.
But, and this is crucial, if all you begin with are excuses, you’re not going to end up where you want to go. At least not long-term.
In other words, if you begin by searching out excuses, you’ve already lost the battle.
You Can Navigate The Calorie Minefield
You can have a healthy relationship with calorie counting. Part of the reason people waa-waa😢 all the time and harp on the “dangers” of calorie-counting is the old nemesis of all-or-nothing thinking.
All-or-nothing thinking is a very common cognitive distortion.
Cognitive Distortion: an assumption we make based on minimal evidence, or without considering the evidence.
All-or-nothing thinking about calorie counting means you believe it’s either totally the only way to lose weight, or that it’s completely useless.
Obviously, neither of those is true. It’s somewhere in the middle (of course), and so much of how you think about it is within your total control.
Change How You Think About Calorie Counting
One of the frequent criticisms of calorie counting is that you have to be a slave to it forever.
Notice how that very statement is fraught with negativity, though. You have to be a slave to it.
The very word “slave” already has a negative connotation, so naturally your brain is going to be at least a little repelled by it before it even gets going.
But know this: no matter what anyone says, calories are important for losing or maintaining weight.
That’s true whether or not you count calories!
I’m going to say it again another way, just so I know it sinks in.
The only way to lose weight successfully over the long haul is to be in a calorie deficit!
Treat Calorie Counting Like Your Finances
Do I have your permission to make an analogy? 😉
Keeping track of your calories is like keeping track of your finances!
No doubt people exist who have no interest in getting clear on their spending habits.
But would we criticize anyone for keeping meticulous (or even loose) track of their incoming and outgoing dollars? 💰
Would there be article after article written about how the best way to be sure you don’t spend more than you take in is to “think about how what you earn makes you feel“?????
I don’t know what that would even mean.
Let’s face it: keeping track of, and making sure your spending is LESS than your income is the best way to at the very least, maintain your living standard.
Why then can’t this be the same for your food intake?
If hearing the word “calorie,” makes you crazy, substitute the word “energy.” A subtle shift, but it essentially means the same thing.
How To Maintain A Successful Weight Loss/Weight Maintenance Journey
Maintaining a successful weight loss or maintenance journey entails the following:
- being in it for the long haul
- understanding your brain and why you eat the way you do now
- being honest with yourself about what you’re eating/drinking
- gradually changing your eating habits so you don’t feel deprived
- enthusiastically discovering healthier ways to make favorite foods
- realizing that quick weight loss is almost guaranteed to be temporary
- acknowledging that exercise (or some kind of regular movement) is necessary
Eating Habits For Life
Being in it for the long haul just means that weight loss, and weight maintenance isn’t a one-and-done thing.
It’s not practical to decide you’re going to go on a diet to lose 40 pounds and then once you’ve (hopefully) lost the 40 pounds go back to the way things were.
That literally never works.
And this (again) is why people say diets don’t work!
If you’ve read anything from me, you’ve heard this before, but it’s too important to just say once.
Healthy eating is a lifelong pursuit. It doesn’t mean a slavish adherence to austere, bland, boring food.
It’s a value, an aspiration that is well worth pursuing because it benefits you in so many ways.
Let’s face it, presumably we all want to live full, healthy, and long lives. To enjoy our loved ones, and engage in activities without pain or barriers brought on by poor health habits.
If you want to lose weight and get the body and health that you deserve, you can’t just make it a pursuit that’s abandoned when you reach your goal.
You’ll just be back at the same square before you know it. And more defeated than ever.
Why Do You Eat Like You Do?
Crucial to finding your way out is understanding why you eat like you do right now. What do you believe about yourself and the food you reach for habitually?
How much do you understand your habits and how your brain and thoughts work for or against your long-term health and happiness?
Sure, we all want to think that our brains, given a more or less normal life, steer us to what’s good for us, but in reality our brain steers us toward what it considers is SAFE for us.
And that just happens to be the stuff we habitually do. Because, evolution.
Your brain wants to keep you safe, not rocking the boat, not challenging your “beliefs,” not venturing into something new that might put you in danger.
If you find yourself saying things like, “I never this,” or “I always that,” or “I can’t lose weight because…,” this is your brain talking.
It’s not you. Well, it is, but it isn’t. You are NOT your thoughts. If you think the thought, “I have purple hair,” (assuming you’re not Megan Rapinoe) does that make it true?
Of course not. So if you think, “I just can’t lose weight (eat vegetables, not drink 4 glasses of wine),” that’s probably not true either! (In fact, I can virtually guarantee it’s not true).
While it may feel like it’s true at some certain (weak) moment, I can assure you it’s not.
Be Honest (with yourself) About What Goes In Your Mouth
Now we get down to the calorie nitty-gritty.
It’s not even so much that calories are the be-all-to-end-all.
They are a relatively easy way (in theory) to figure out if you’re giving your body approximately the right amount of fuel to do its work.
Not too much, not too little.
But if you’re not honest about what you eat, trust me, you can fool yourself into thinking you have big bones, your metabolism is out of whack, your thyroid condition causes you to never lose weight and any number of other probable untruths.
Don’t Kid Yourself…You Probably Eat More Than You Think
I once knew a woman, quite short, and quite overweight, who insisted she really just didn’t eat much. So, I went to her house on several occasions and watched her not only eat, but prepare and cook food.
It was quite an eye-opening experience. She tasted (a LOT), and dumped olive oil into literally everything. I’m not kidding when I say dumped.
I once watched her take a huge bag of grated cheese from the refrigerator and mound it on top of a take-and-bake pizza that already had twice as much cheese than I would ever consider using!
Clearly, she just wasn’t seeing reality.
If this is your experience, then you need to figure out what you’re eating, plain and simple!
Get an app, a notebook, or a scrap of paper and write every dang thing you put into your mouth down for a week.
A month is even better.
Don’t neglect ANYTHING. Measure it, weigh it, don’t wing it.
Only then can you begin to get a handle on changing your eating habits (a tiny bit at a time).
Graudally Change Your Eating Habits So You Don’t Feel Deprived
This is super important. I wrote a very long post on losing weight while still eating what you love. Be sure to read it.
You won’t change if you make yourself miserable. At least not over the long term (which means you won’t change).
If you don’t change your behaviors gradually, you’re almost doomed to fail.
Sure, we’ve all heard about someone who changed X one day and never looked back. Replace “X” with stopped smoking, drinking, eating junk food, taking drugs, or what have you.
But you get what I mean.
You need to sort of trick your brain into doing what you want. I know it sounds crazy, but we’re really two or more people in there!
There’s your “chimp” brain, as Dr Steve Peters calls it in his excellent book, The Chimp Paradox.
Then there’s the “you” mind, the real you who wants to look slim and healthy and do all kinds of awesome stuff with your life. That REALLY IS the real you.
It’s not the other way around, which is what others try to tell us. Have you ever heard something like this:
“If you really wanted to lose weight (stop smoking, win the 60+ bikini contest), you’d have the willpower to do it!”
Bull. That’s just not true.
The real you really really wants to be healthy. It’s your chimp brain that wants to keep you safe and doing the same old familiar, comfortable stuff.
Enthusiastically Discover Healthy Ways to Make Favorite Foods
Key word? Enthusiastically.
Get yourself pumped about this process. There’s absolutely no reason you can’t make it fun and interesting.
Remember back when you were in junior high school science? You did some kind of fun experiments that made learning fun.
Have that sort of attitude. Don’t think, “crap, I want to eat that 7,050 calorie super-duper deep fried bacon, cheese, steak, more cheese, guacamole, cheese-topped chimichanga, but instead I have to eat this bean burrito!”
No, no no. Instead think, “how can I achieve the taste and mouth feel I’m craving while eating a healthier version of what I want?”
Seriously, though, if your idea of a great Mexican food meal is the above-mentioned chimichanga, you’re probably going to have to overhaul that baby gradually.
Which is totally okay. I can work with that!
Slow and steady wins the race!
Quick Weight Loss Is Almost Guaranteed To Be Temporary
We’re all pretty good at losing weight for events. Weddings, school reunions, summer trips.
I’ve never had an interest in attending a high school reunion, but I can guarantee you if I did plan to go to my 45th, which is coming up in a couple of years (sigh…), I’d want to be as hot as a 66-year-old could be (that’s how old I’ll be then)!
If I could channel either Christy Brinkley or Christine Baranski, you’re damn straight I’d be workin’ out to the best of my ability.
But we’re markedly less good at weight loss–or even weight maintenance–for life.
Once we arrive at our destination, we go back to the same old habits.
You’ve been around the weight-loss block a few times, right? Then you know what I mean.
This is really a corrollary to “be in it for the long haul” (see above).
Acknowledge That Some Sort of Exercise is Necessary
Physical exercise over 50 is not optional. I want this on my grave stone! For so many reasons, the least of which is weight loss, you just cannot neglect this.
You must find something you enjoy and engage in it regularly.
Strength training too. The last thing you want is a broken hip, a fall, or the loss of your independence.
Not only all those reasons, but studies show that those who engage in regular physical activity are more likely to lose weight and keep it off.
You don’t have to join a gym (thought you certainly can), or own any special, expensive equipment.
You can literally march in place in your living room while you’re watching TV, and then get some inexpensive resistance or loop bands to do strength exercises, again while watching Netflix.
There are countless free Youtube videos of all lengths and fitness levels. Trust me, you can find something you enjoy.
Now that you know calorie counting is not the enemy, will you give it a try? Let me know in the comments. And if you want to explore it, along with getting pointers, recipes, and encouragement, join the Calorie Counting Over 50 Facebook Group!
Join the Calorie Counting Over 50 Facebook Group!
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