Before my weight loss, I really didn't count anything. I didn't weigh myself, I didn't count calories, and while I exercised daily, I didn't really pay attention to how much I was doing.
Upon college graduation and the decision to lose weight, I started counting calories. When I was younger - perhaps in middle school - I asked my dad about weight loss and what techniques were the most effective. My dad keeps up with the latest research on everything and always seems to have the right answers. Way back then, he told me "It's just calories in verses calories out." As a result, whenever I wanted to lose a few pounds, I always resorted to calorie counting. And it always worked. So when I set out to lose the weight I put on in college, I started counting calories. I tracked the calories in the foods I ate, the number of meals I ate, the hours between them and the time of day. The Type A personality in me liked the organization and control I felt over my eating, so I never felt obsessed or inhibited by the counting.
I also started weighing myself. I weighed myself in college, but not regularly. I think I was in denial as the number went up. I've always been heavy for my size, thanks to a muscular build, so I reasoned that my weight was always "skewed" anyways. But throughout my weight loss, I weighed myself once a day, every day, first thing in the morning. This was also a number I enjoyed counting because most days, it went down (or at least didnÂ’t go up :)Â ).Â
I also bought a heart rate monitor and a food scale at the mid-point of my weight loss. Because I was using math as my method of weight loss, I wanted to be accurate. Both of these tools helped me estimate calories in and calories out as accurate as an inexpensive device can be. Perhaps this accuracy was why my weight loss was so efficient? When I put the math into action, it worked.
When I hit my goal of 120 pounds, 30 pounds lost, about 15 months later, I continued my habits, but with a lot more flexibility. I continued to count calories and record them in a food diary, and I continued to weigh myself daily. I counted for about a year after maintenance, which may be why I was able to successfully maintain my weight within a pound or two for the whole first year (when I hear it's easy for many to quickly regain weight lost).Â
A few months into maintenance, I realized the scale was starting to have a negative impact on me. When the number was low, it was a Â“good day,Â” but when the number was high, I worried I was doing something Â“wrongÂ” and gaining back my loss. During weight loss, I had no trouble attributing a plateau or gain to the ebbs and flows of water weight, but in maintenance, this drove me nuts. So I ditched the scale. I put it in the guest room closet and didn't give it another thought. Getting it out was too much of a hassle. Every now and then my curiosity gets the best of me and I peek at the number, but it's usually not 120.0 and I start to wonder "What if I'm retaining water this week...yadda yadda" and I have no frame of reference from the day before, so I just give it up again! I've probably only weighed myself 3 -4 times in the past year, and I'm very happy with that. Your weight will be your weight whether you know the number or not. Weighing yourself does not prevent weight gain.Â
It was a big day on my blog when I decided to stop counting calories. While counting wasn't really bothering me, I felt that it wasn't something I wanted to continue for the rest of my life. Like I say in the post, I didn't stop cold turkey but planned to gradually wean myself off counting since it was so intuitive at that point. I kept a tally in my head for the day's estimate for a while, and I still often tally up a meal or snack to make sure I am not sneaking in too many calorie-dense foods, but for the most part, I've learned that, like the scale, counting calories does not prevent weight gain. Weight gain happens because you eat too much, move too little, or both.Â
The most recent thing I stopped counting was the reps during my weight lifting sessions. I hate weight lifting. I find it boring and it hurts!!Â I used to force myself to do 3 sets of 10. Then I read somewhere that 2 sets of 15 was just as effective and switched to that to save time. And then one day I just decided to lift until my biceps hurt and moved on to another exercise. Nowadays, I don't count the reps, I just go until I am tired, 1 set of 10, 20, 25, and move on. Sometimes I find myself counting in my head on autopilot and switch to saying "Up, up, up" with each rep.Â But the big realization was that my muscles know how many reps it takes to make them tired Â– not my brain!
So these days, I don't count much. I gauge my weight maintenance by how my body feels, and I generally just knowÂ if I am gaining, or losing. If you asked me if I could re-do my weight loss (although I don't think that's something anyone would want to re-do!), I'm not sure if I would have done anything differently. On the one hand, the counting worked, and I survived with my sanity, but on the other hand, it did cost me a lot of time. I wonder, also, if my new mindset of realizing that your weight is independent from the numbers had to be learned. It's very hard to just tell someone to Â“listen to their body.Â” I don't know if I'd think the same about not counting if I hadn't first gone through a counting process. I definitely feel that it's much easier to let go of counting in maintenance. The number tools that I used taught me a lot, and I still use those principles to make choices today.Â
But I think the bottom line is this: counting or not, your body functions the same. Your math, the clock, the scale - they do not have a direct impact on weight loss. You do. What you eat does. And how much you exercise. Your body is a machine that is always working regardless of how you think it should work.
Do you guys keep track of anything in your strive for a balanced life? Have you tried just listening to your body? What happened?Â