Some people like to know the exact number of calories and / or macronutrients they put into their bodies. Therefore, they're counting and measuring almost all foods they eat. Personally, I don't count calories.
The most common reasons why people monitor their food intake are to lose weight and fat and get or stay fit. Others, very active people, may do it to be sure that they get enough food to properly fuel for their workouts and recover well from hard trainings.
I don't count calories. But I do think that counting is useful for people who have absolutely no idea how much energy or macronutrients are in foods they eat, but who really need to reduce their body fat. Some of them may really not know that one meal in a fast food restaurant has even more energy than they need in a whole day.
For those people, it would make their weight and fat loss much easier if they understood that they ate a large chicken breast and veggies instead of a burger, they get away with much less calories, but their food is also much more nutrient dense and they stay full way longer.
I'm not judging you if you want to measure your foods and keep a really close eye on your portions. If that works for you, that's fine! But I personally don't count calories or macros or any other numbers for that matter.
Many Ways of Tracking Your Food Intake
There are several popular ways to measure your food intake.
That's by far the most common way to keep a close eye on your foods and how much of it you get. There are a ton of apps and websites that help you to do that: Simply insert the food you had and you get the exact numbers of how much energy you consumed.
The downside of calorie counting (besides of being extremely stressful) is that many people forget all about macronutrients. They think that as long as I don't go over my number, I'm good!
But that's not really true. If one group of macronutrients is very dominating, say, your meals consist of 80 % carbohydrates, there's a serious balance problem, even if your calorie number was in check.
If It Fits Your Macros
Other people count macros. If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) approach is really popular right now. People who take this approach have set themselves a specific goal to eat x grams of macros to get best possible physique or to perform best possible way.
For example, your daily goal can be to eat 30% protein, 30% fat and 40% carbohydrates, and if there's enough room for some fats and carbs by the end of the day, you're free to go and have your donut–if it fits your macros.
Weighing and Measuring
This goes hand in hand with the first two: If you want to know how many calories or macronutrients are in your food, you often have to weigh or measure it. Measuring cups and kitchen scale become your friends that you can't live without.
Weighing and measuring can get pretty stressful as well. I use my measuring cups only for cooking when I'm following a recipe, but that's about it.
Weight Watcher Points
I used to count Weight Watchers points, but that was many years ago. I'm pretty sure that they've changed the values of their points since I did that, and that there are so may new foods out there. But the basic system should still be the same.
I was awesome at it. I knew all the values by heart. I was so great that everyone praised me for my consistency and willpower.
But it also took away all the joy of cooking and eating, because I was constantly obsessing about my “points”. How much did I have? How much do I have left?
Downsides of Calculating
But there are a few downsides of counting, measuring and calculating. Here are a few:
It's very stressful
When I was counting calories and Weight Watcher's points, that was all I did. I couldn't eat anything before I had written it down, and if I sometimes went back for seconds, I had to write that down again, and if I didn't have a scale or cup in hand, I'd freak out because I couldn't control exactly how much I ate.
Another thing is to plan ahead on how many calories worth of meal we're going to eat. You can make a prefect plan where your breakfast is going to be 400 calories, lunch 600, dinner 400 and a snack 200 calories.
But what if you didn't get full from a 400 calorie breakfast?
Then you either 1) diligently stick with your plan, don't eat more and are constantly distracted by hunger and can't get your thoughts away from food or 2) go get more food, but now you “messed up” the whole plan and have to eat less for lunch or skip a snack to balance it out.
Yes, been there.
We under- or overestimate how much we should eat
I've seen it quite a bit: People take a random number of calories or macronutrients that they think they should be eating, and try to hit that.
Say, it could be 1100 calories, so they can spend insane amount of time and energy trying to hit that number which may be absolutely wrong for them. 1100 is wrong for most of us.
We can also overestimate our needs. We may think that we need more than we really do.
Here's one tip for you: Don't trust those numbers that your treadmill shows you after you completed your run! Most of the time those cardio machines greatly over estimate your calorie expenditure. You don't know that and go home and think that you've earned 600 more calories with your dinner, but that's not true.
Our daily caloric needs vary
We all know that we are hungrier some days and less hungry other days. And we should eat accordingly. Unless there's no serious reason (as recovering from a chronic eating disorder, for example) why you should really work and make yourself to eat x number of calories, if you're not that hungry on that day.
Similarly, your needs can be higher on other days, for example, after a hard workout. I feel that I tend to be hungrier a day after a hard workout, especially a day after a long run. So, it doesn't make sense to try to eat one specific number of calories or macros.
We shouldn't panic about having 3/4 cups of rice or two eggs, if yesterday 1/2 cups and one egg was enough.
Days are not the same; some days we need more food, some days less. Sure, there's an approximate baseline, but depending on a day, the energy need can fluctuate quite a bit.
I sure keep my eye on what I eat by making sure to follow my nutritional must-haves every day. Protein at every meal, a lot of water and veggies, enough fat to keep me satiated and tasty foods are musts in my list. And of course, limit sugar, treats and junk foods.
I also try to keep my food portions in check. But I don't count calories, macros and I don't weigh or measure my portions.
I'm absolutely not judging anyone who does that. I've done it too. And partly because that I've done that, I have a pretty good understanding what foods consist of and how energy and nutrient dense they are.
If you've counted calories for months or years, you can just try to let it go and see if you can go without counting, because you actually know what to do. You may find that you do perfectly fine and also learn to listen to your body better.