Recently I did something that I haven't done in ages — I counted my calories for few weeks.
Today, I'm going to share with you what I found from this experiment, but first let's talk about the WHY:
Why I Counted Calories
I simply wanted to know, out of curiosity, how many calories I'm consuming daily, and what it looks like compared to years ago when I was eating way less and working out way more than I am now.
I know that years ago, when I was running 70-100km per week, there was a period when I ate 1500 calories a day. No kidding. It was really stupid of me, as I've now learned. Hello, hypothalamic amenorrhea!
But that was years ago. Since I started improving my relationship with food, which happened about 4 years ago (this is how long I've gone without bingeing!), I haven't counted my calories.
I didn't do it even when I was recovering from hypothalamic amenorrhea. While it's recommended to eat at least 2500 calories a day to recover (No Period, Now What), I didn't track my food intake but went with intuition. I figured that I have enough counting experience to know what a minimum of 2500 calories looks like, and I made a conscious effort to make my meals calorie dense. But if you don't trust yourself and/or know that you have the tendency to under eat, then I recommend you count your calories during recovery, to make sure you get enough.
Anyhow, back to my counting! It's been a while since I've used MyFitnessPal. I haven't missed it a tiniest bit. But couple of weeks ago, I figured that I'm going to give it a try and see what my daily food intake looks like.
Here's what I learned:
I have no idea how I ever ate less than 2000 calories a day.
Seriously. I talk to a lot of women who have hypothalamic amenorrhea and who tell me that they are currently eating 1500 calories a day and there's no way they can eat over 2000. They just get too full! If you have the same problem, check out this IG post to learn how to eat enough.
During the two weeks that I tracked my calories, there was one day when I ate around 1800. Other days, my daily food intake was anywhere from 2100 to 2500, but most days, around 2200.
2200 may sound like enormous amount of food for some people, but for me, it really isn't. I typically eat four meals and a few snacks, have something sweet almost every day, and I do eat quite a bit of fat which is high in calories. If I'm also having a glass of wine, which I do about 2x/ week, 2200 calories come together even easier.
I would be really hungry by the end of the day, if I tried to eat under 200o calories a day over a long time!
It's very easy to eat a lot of carbs.
I thought I eat a lot of fat and maybe not that many carbs… before I checked my tracker and realized that I do eat a lot of carbs actually! Which, different from what current diet trends are trying to tell us, is not a bad thing.
It's not hard at all to get a lot of calories from carbs. And I do recommend that women who are physically active OR are recovering from hypothalamic amenorrhea, EAT CARBS. We all know that carbs are the body's first source of energy. When you work out, you need to get fast fuel. If you're in hypothalamic amenorrhea recovery, carbs are the fastest source of energy you can give your body, so that it can put it in use quickly. Eat them!
I can see how people's calories drop when they leave their carbs out. This is how I lost a bunch of weight when I was on a really strict Paleo diet. I only ate some fruit and veggies, but no potatoes, oats, rice or bread. Of course I lost a lot of weight, but this was also the time when I had the worst insomnia in my life, I was cold and shaky all the time, and my period was nowhere to be seen.
When you start adding carbs to your diet, you should be able to easily bump up your calories — which is what you want to do when you're recovering from hypothalamic amenorrhea and also an eating disorder like anorexia.
It's not that easy to eat a lot of protein.
Here's another reason why I wanted to track my food intake — to see where my protein levels are. I've added quite a bit of exercise to my routine, so making sure that I get enough protein to recover well was another reason why I wanted to track my food.
Came out that it's actually not that easy to hit 25-30% of protein per day, which I wanted to do. Most days, I actually ended up getting less than that, and I really had to make a conscious effort to eat more of it, although I have some at almost every meal.
That's something to think about… and especially if you're vegetarian or vegan — you need to find some options that help you to keep your protein levels high!
Counting and measuring food is exhausting for me. Maybe it's not the case for someone else, but I find that it takes me a lot of time and creates a little bit of anxiety.
During these two weeks when I was counting my calories, I still wanted to maintain my other dietless eating habits. That meant, I wanted to eat as much as I needed to, and not having a problem of going back for more if I was still hungry.
I didn't limit myself to a certain number of calories or macros, for example, thinking that my lunch should be no more than 500 calories so I'm going to put 500 calories worth of food on my plate and eat only that. Instead, I put the food that I thought I was going to eat, on my plate, then measured it, and then ate it. It was work to keep doing it multiple times a day.
But it was even more work once I relized I'm actually still hungry and need more food. I would have to pull out the kitchen scale again and measure again, if I wanted to get an accurate number.
Tracking calories every day is not easy and I couldn't see myself doing it for the rest of my life. Occasionally and out of interest, sure, but in long term– no.
It was interesting to do this experiment and see where I am. But that's not to say it was stress free. It was WORK! Much harder than intuitive eating.
Most days, my calorie intake was somewhere around 2200 calories.
Remember, this is not the number that you should aim for! We all have different physiologies, activity levels, preferences, lifestyles, health. You may need more or you may need less. But I'd like you to remember two things:
- If you're recovering from hypothalamic amenorrhea, aim for 2500 calories per day. I may eat 2200 but I am recovered. I've had my period for 15 months now and I can afford to eat less than that. I don't need more than that, other than some days when I actually did eat 2400 calories. And these kinds of fluctuations are totally normal, depending on so many things.
- Most healthy and active women need at least 2000 calories a day to be healthy, have energy and feel good. I think most of us don't realize how much our bodies need calories. Of course, it's different with people who are extremely obese and don't move at all, but if you're reading this blog, I'm quite sure that you are the exact opposite — fit, active and normal weight or even underweight.
Do you track your calories? What have you learned from it?
Do you have hypothalamic amenorrhea? Learn how to eat to recover from it.
You can also apply for 1:1 coaching with me!