At some point in your weight management phase and it doesn’t matter if it’s to lose weight or to gain weight or just to manipulate your body composition, you’re first though it to count calories. Maybe I’m the first person to tell you this or the 10,000 but the truth is, calorie counting does have a use but it’s not going to lead to long term success.
Do you want to be a slave to numbers?
If so, keep counting those calories. Let me know how that works out for you in say, 10 years from now. The REAL secret to success was given to you at birth and over time thru family and society was manipulated. It’s a little talked about principle called Instinctive Eating.
This skilled called Instinctive Eating is something you developed at an early age but for most of us, is forgotten or manipulated. In simple terms:
Instinctive Eating is feeding the body when it’s hungry.
- When you are physically hungry (actual hunger pangs)
- When you lose the cognitive ability to focus and concentrate
It’s at this time your body is saying.. I AM HUNGRY! Feed me. As you age, you move out of this phase and instinctual eating is replaced by habitual or emotional eating.
Habitual eating is the eat 5-6 meals a day, 3-4 hours apart each and every day. It doesn’t much matter if you are hungry or not, you have the clock, it says to eat, you eat. You eventually lose touch with your internal body cues and more often than not, you aren’t actually hungry, but it’s time to eat and so you eat. This is a classic problem with people looking to gain weight. Chances are they are instinctive eaters anyway, they eat when they are hungry and they stop when they are full. So gaining weight is unnatural. They are told (by myself and many others) to eat, eat a lot, and eat often. Which has the benefit of eventually allowing them to gain weight but without knowing this, they can lose that cue of actual hunger and instinctive eating.
Emotional eating is simply eating because you are:
And these triggers elicit some response to eat. It’s those looking for comfort foods. This makes it really hard to establish a good, healthy relationship with food because it’s an emotional response and has psychological factors involved.
Does this mean calorie counting is useless?
Absolutely not. It serves as a very good helper in the journey back to instinctive eating.
The Real Problem with Counting Calories is that most people learn this out of the gate and then never realize they need to re-learn the principles of instinctive eating. Over time, they quit counting calories and potentially over eat or under eat again as they never established a healthy relationship with food or re-learned the cues of actual hunger. The skinny guys loses weight as he gets bored with stuffing his face and the weight loss seeker goes back to habitual eating or emotional eating not really giving too much though to the process.
Need an example?
People are told they need to eat 5-6 meals per day, every day. Some of those meals might be pre-workout and post-workout “snacks.” But that assumes you are actually training. What happens when you stop intense training and engage in unstructured activity? Maybe you are doing some body weight training and not trying to engage in heavy, continual weight lifting? Maybe you’ve taken a break for a couple of weeks to recover?
Are you still eating like you training? Still getting those 3500 calories for weight gain even though your training is easy to a base line routine? At this point, you are a habitual eater and your instincts are telling you that 3 meals a day might be just fine but you keep plugging away, doing what you’ve always done. You end up getting fatter and feeling a bit sluggish with all this food for an activity you are not doing.
This is precisely where instinctive eating comes into play. It’s why you need nutritional periodization for your training. You shouldn’t be eating the same during the pre-season or competition phase as you do in the off-season or unstructured phases but nobody tells you this. They lay out a meal plan and you stick to it week after week regardless of your activity.
Do you know people who eat 6 times a day and never skip a meal but they don’t even train or aren’t training at the time? I do and I wonder myself, if they are even aware of their behavior patterns when it comes to food.
Any long term success is dependent on YOU learning the basic cues of your body that is called Instinctive Eating. When you train, your nutrition changes to support that effort. When you take breaks or reduce the volume, your eating patterns should change as well. As you go thru training cycles, you go thru nutrition cycles as well. Counting calories is a useful process that can you some great perspective into your current situation and to help modify behavior but it’s not the end game. If you believe you can count calories for the rest of your life and measure food, I wish you the best of luck.
Your real key to success is going to use modern tools to observe your behavior, to modify your nutrition to support your training and to adjust as necessary but the long term goal is to be in-tune with yourself not mindless number crunching and plowing thru food.
This is a pretty simple principle to re-learn but chances are you’ve forgotten it or been so involved in formula calculators that you are a creature of habit. If you have questions, comments or concerns, let me have them in the comment box below.
Until next time,
Marc David – CPT
“The NoBull Muscle Guy”
Author of NoBull Bodybuilding
PS - If you are a number cruncher and love counting calories, there’s no downside. You are continue to do so and be that exception. This post is for those of us who are not math lovers and need to relearn the tools we were given at birth.