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Why I Stopped Counting Calories

Everyone’s heard of New Year’s Resolutions, with the most common one being – “I’m going to lose weight” or some form of a health-related claim. Essentially, a lot of people feel that the beginning of the year is as good a time as any to jump on a new train and work on themselves. This year, I did just that.

My girlfriend and I made the decision that we were going to “shrink together,” a sort of play on the idea that most couples try to “grow together” in a new year. We made a plan to eat healthy, start working out with a trainer, and to just overall take better care of our bodies through things like skin care routines and better hydration. To do the whole eating healthy part, we both decided to try counting calories (in our own ways). She took the Weight Watchers route – the one I wish I would have done – and I took the MyFitness Pal route. If you’re wondering, MyFitness Pal is an app that allows you to track your caloric intake and gives you a daily goal for calories and exercise based on how much you want to lose. My daily goal? 1,275 calories.

Basically, I went from eating probably more than 4000 calories a day in fast food and junk to eating only the essentials, and at first I loved it. I loved seeing my weight drop on the scale, feeling my body getting healthier, and having the mentality that I was going to really change things for the better. But slowly, I started realizing that harshly restricting your diet can do a lot to your mental health.

I could handle the hunger that came with dropping my calories. That wasn’t a big issue. I’d grab some carrots or celery and I’d be fine after a good serving of them. What I couldn’t handle, however, was being constantly on alert about what I could or couldn’t eat. Going out with friends with take hours of mental preparation, because I’d have to basically tell myself, “Jack, you can’t get the big pasta dish at this restaurant and you absolutely cannot eat the bread.” I’d have to look up menus of places before I went out to see if there was anything I could eat in my calorie goal, or otherwise I’d have to basically starve all day to save the calories for a big meal at dinner.

While all of this is already unhealthy on its own, I also became hypersensitive to when I would fail to stay in my calorie goal – as if eating a hamburger one day would cause me to instantly gain back the pounds I’d lost. I would have anxiety about unhealthy meals from the moment I ordered them to as much as a few days after I’d consumed them, and this is when I started to realize that maybe this calorie-counting thing was doing more damage than good.

Though counting calories did really help me to lose ultimately about 30 pounds by early March, the toll it was taking on my head was too much. During Spring Break, I went on a trip to New York. While there, I decided I wouldn’t count calories because, hey, when you’re in New York – you do it big or not at all. To my surprise, despite not counting calories, I still did pretty well with how I ate. I portioned my food better, I made slight healthy choices with my orders, and I drank tons of water. I didn’t need an app to keep me on track, and I didn’t feel bad about myself every time I ate because I wasn’t vigilantly monitoring every calorie that went in my mouth.

Counting calories taught me a lot about what my stomach actually needs to feel full and what my body needs to feel good, but in the end, it was never worth the mental stress. After New York, I stayed off the app I was using and what do you know? I’ve still been able to lose weight. So if you’re seeking to lose weight too this year, maybe just try out a fitness app in the beginning to get you on the right path too, but then take what you’ve learned and apply it freely.

After all, you only live once. You can’t go through life avoiding all the foods that make you happy forever. I mean, you could, but that would just be miserable. So get the burger, the pizza, or the chicken nuggets. Whatever it is, it’s okay to indulge for your taste buds some times. As long as it’s in moderation, a little slip up here and there is not going to kill you.

Hello, my name is Jack Rivera and I am a graduate student at SFASU. I did my BA in English with a minor in women's and gender studies at SFA as well, and I currently am working on my Master's in Literature with a focus on British and American women writers and queer theory. I am a Senior Editor for HerCampus SFA, but I additonally like to dabble in writing when I have the time. Aside from that, I enjoy reading queer fiction and biographies, and I spend most of my free time hanging out with my lovely girlfriend and our cats. 
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