Thoughts About Counting Calories

Hi all,
What are you thinking about Counting Calories? Do you count? What pro’s do? How can we manage weight without counting?

Currently, I am Counting calories for 1.5 years. But I have a strong hunger even I eat maintenance Calories. I know I am eating maintenance because my weight is not changing. So I believe I will gain weight if I quit counting. I eating healthy of course.

What is your strategy?

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Calorie intake, and hunger, in my experience are not linked. You could eat a tub of ice cream (lots of calories) and still be hungry. Personally I aim for quality, satiating foods. If I want to loose weight but control hunger I go for protein and fibre rich food. But I just eyeball food and fuel workouts as best I can, I seem to maintain my weight, I don’t want to be super low BF as I found it’s unsustainable for me, and wreaks havoc with my endocrine system getting there.

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I have via my fitness pal to get a handle on portion size and quantify all the extra calories we tend to overlook like: butter on the toast, 1/2 and 1/2 in coffee, that drizzle of honey on oatmeal…

After a couple months I understood my habits well I stopped and just looked in the mirror and scale once a week or so.

The hardest for me is during base when riding long days. It’s difficult to eat enough on the bike to avoid overeating off the bike. Real food is important here.

Eating more often off the bike helps too. 3 main meals and 3 snacks to spread the calories also is a good strategy for me. Lots of greens and lean meats…

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Check out this insightful video from Lotto Soudal rider Harry Sweeny - especially his views (expressed throughout) on counting calories.

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My mom had some advice for me once that stuck with me. It’s pretty simple and can be applied to many different decisions. I don’t remember exactly how she said it, but the gist of it is to ask yourself if a certain behavior is something that you would want to see yourself doing in the future. Not just now, but habits. So if counting calories is something that you see as a beneficial, healthy, and long-lasting habit, then you would want to continue. But if your goal is a different relationship with food, then it may be helpful to consider what you’d like to be in the future and work back from there. Would your ideal future self be counting calories? Food for thought…pun intended. (groan).
P.S. I struggled with disordered eating for many years and did used to count calories but have found that focus is not helpful for me personally, but I can see how each of is different and what suits one person may not suit another. Good luck to you!

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I count calories at the moment and I notice when I don’t that my weight starts to increase. I am 43 and sitting at about 10% bodyfat (measured in a bod pod).

Its a very fine line between balancing what I need to eat to make gains on the bike and what I need to do to not put on extra weight. I honestly don’t know what I would do differently if I didn’t count calories. It would be hard to get it exactly right.

The thing about a lot of these guys is that they eat less than they think they do. The guy in the video burned over 3k calories on the bike. Did he eat that much? I don’t think so. His portions were very small. A lot of thin people think they eat a lot, but when you tally up their totals, it ends up not being very much.

In the US, everyone loves to preach “listen to your body, don’t count calories, love the body you have and have a positive body image”. And I also see Americans getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Across the board. So what is the right answer?

No, I don’t want to count calories forever, but right now when I am trying to make gains and keep the weight low and perform at my best, I don’t know what else to do. I do feel I have success when fueling the workouts/rides and then doing my restriction off the bike. It seems to be the best of both worlds.

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Totally agree with this. One of my observations (n=1) is that there’s a push to fuel workouts with carbs and sugary foods for better performance and adaptation. My problem is that carbs and sugar make me want more carbs and sugar, and if I’m trying to lose weight I’m better off doing a 16/8 feeding window and focusing on lean protein, lots of vegetables, and lots of apples / pears when I need to snack and adding in bananas when I need more carbs around a workout.

But, back to the question. In hard training, I am trying to make sure I fuel my workouts better, which means being much more diligent about fat, and sugary / carb rich foods outside of the workout. Try and take in what you’re burning but don’t overdo it. I rarely count, but cheat foods all the time will still kill you even if you have a lot of volume.

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Were you dieting previously? If so it can take several weeks or even a few months for your appetite to normalize after switching back to maintenance.

Try eating +200 or +400 for 3-4 days in a row, that might be enough to reset your appetite.

I do it every few months for maybe a week. Quite insightful, more so the macronutrients and overall foods one eats, than the calories. But way too much effort to do it all the time.

I don’t calorie count. I’ve tried twice but it doesn’t work for me. My strategy is high carbs when on the bike and then low carbs + high protein for the rest of the day. Only one meal a day will have rice/bread/pasta/potatoes and then in fist sized quantities. I just make sure that I aim for 120g of protein a day.

Fat goes down and muscle goes up!

For context, I’m mid fifties, LV training plan and weight train 3 to 4 times a week.

So many good points. I think the “listen to your body” language is fine for people who don’t have weight issues and have a healthy relationship with food.

My wife has struggled with weight for her entire life…she told me she’s never not hungry. And if you dont have healthy options in the house, it’s a recipe for disaster. I have my own food issues so I certainly don’t mean to point fingers!

Counting calories has benefits I think. Calories in/out is key to weight gain/loss, but it can be too easy to stress about little things. @Jonathan has made great points in some podcasts about weighing/tracking food for maybe 1 week per month to set a baseline. I thinking trying to count every calorie indefinitely will only drive you nuts and may prevent you from eating healthy stuff that’s harder to track (like ingredients in a recipe).

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I find counting calories is the right habit. It gives you discipline. It also helps you to gain or lose weight, for example, when you burn more than consume or vice versa.

Completely agree. I was 2 stone heavier before lockdown and always felt hungry. I finally figured out that sugary foods were telling my brain that I was hungry even when my stomach felt full.

I lost the weight by going low carb. I adapted a meal plan that came with Andy Baker’s “Strength and Mass after 40”. Been keeping the weight off ever since.

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Some people track things dealing with how much they spend like spending, 401k etc. and then some people don’t because they’re self aware. That’s how I look at counting calories, some people like it ( like myself) and some don’t. It’s a personal preference and I like seeing how much I’m eating. Sure it’s not 100% accurate but it keeps me within myself. I have worked in restaurants my whole life, so it’s easy to just eat if I’m hungry. I can always eat, my job is literally making food and trying it. So for me counting calories keeps me in check.

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I don’t think you should count calories continuously. I would also say even though I believe in the law of thermodynamics, that the macros are arguably more important than the calories. If the macros are right, the calories should take care of themselves. Protein for example is critical to ensure you aren’t losing muscle that would cause a cycle of declining metabolism. All 3 macros are necessary for certain hormones to work properly. It seems from recent videos I’ve watched that keto has negative impacts on free testosterone and other key hormones. As others have pointed out, certain macros impact satiety. I’m a creature of habit, so finding meals that work for me and eating them regularly seems more sustainable than counting in the long run. I am interested in the concepts that make a “calorie” not a calorie. For example, High fiber foods have some percentage of calories that aren’t absorbed. Protein has additional expenditures required by the body to convert it to something usable. I kind of have a grasp on that, but other research on your body’s regulation of energy expenditure I’m a little more unsure about. Some argue that your body adapts to keep your energy expenditure the same no matter how much activity you do. If so, the calorie deficits created through exercise seem less effective. I’d be interested if anyone has any thoughts on that.

I don’t calorie count, however I do weigh myself daily.

This keeps me acountable if if my weight starts to creep up by a few Kg (when i don’t want it to) I know to be more “careful” with portion size and choice for the next week.

I calorie count. I think it’s good to know what I’m putting in my mouth. It keeps me accountable. I think in general, anything, whether it’s counting calories or macros, lo carb, or anything else, it will be a net positive if it leads you to be intentional with your food and you eat more whole food.

Just wondering if anyone finds food tastes so much better when counting calories?

Almost like a mind trick. When I can see my current count in writing, it seems to send a signal to my brain that I must be full, instead of when I just randomly graze. Then, at the end of the day or week I really enjoy having a treat or dining out much more when I know it is still within my calorie/macro range. Annoying to keep count yes, and I fail to do so much of the time. However when I get into a groove, myfitnesspal takes literally only a few minutes a day to journal my typical foods (which are saved in the app). The highlight of my day is to see I have enough calories for some late night ice cream…I mean leafy greens!

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This approach works well for me. Counting calories triggers some obsessive behavior in me where I almost involuntarily start calculating calories in/out constantly, and it starts feeling very unhealthy, very fast. Keeping track of my weight and adjusting my portions if needed has been better for my mental health. I also use an app called Happy Scale to keep track of longer term trends so I don’t react to day-to-day changes.

I use Fat Secret app (ios, android) periodically and feel it’s really nice tool for the purpose. At the end of the season I typically gain like 2-3 kg excess, that I shave away as new season proceeds. Mostly tracking right amount and quality of fats and amount of proteins. After hitting my target weight I typically go by feel weeks months if general weight looks ok, occasionally taking some days counting again say if I want to enter some race at optimal state, like empty-full :sunglasses: