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The AcCOUNTability of Calories

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I have a confession to make. I was born without a left-brain.

I’m amazed I don’t just fall over to the right from the uneven weight distribution in my head. In other words, numbers are not my friends.

So a year ago, when the third person told me I had to count calories in order to lose weight, I shuddered. Count? Me? The only math I’m comfortable with is figuring out the price of a discounted sweater at Marshall’s. But at that point I was exercising a lot, thought I was eating well, but was still not making substantial progress. That’s when a friend told me about myfitnesspal.

You see, there are applications for your smartphone or your computer that do all the work for you! It was a revelation for a math phobic like me. I mean, if I had to WRITE DOWN (god forbid, don’t even think I can read my own handwriting anymore) everything I ate into a little notebook, then figure it all out at the end of the day? I think I’d rather be fat. But the software took all the work out of it. And after a week or so, I found that I actually enjoyed it!

I learned a LOT after I began tracking every calorie I ate. Like, I wasn’t eating as little as I thought I was. Like, every coffee or mozzarella cheese stick adds up and fast. I don’t think I was intentionally lying to myself, rather things would slip my attention, small noshes that by themselves are a drop in the bucket, but when you add them up? That damn bucket is almost full! It’s amazing how quickly 1,400 calories can get used up.

Am I an expert? Hell no. Are there differing theories about calorie counting? Yes. But as always, I’m just here to tell you what works for me, and—many of you are not going to want to hear this, cover your eyes—in my experience it is necessary to count calories to lose weight, at least in the beginning. Yes, you will get to a place where you don’t need to anymore, but from where I’m sitting, it seems denial is the national pastime.

Much of losing weight is about awareness. Awareness in your body, awareness about how much you move (or how much you don’t), and awareness of what you’re eating. For instance, they passed a law in Vermont that fast food restaurants have to post calories on every food item. Well, one day I took my son to Applebee’s, and ordered the Oriental Grilled Chicken salad as I always have, thinking it a healthy option. But there were the calories next to the item: 1,390!!! That left me with 10 calories for the DAY! It’s true, I rarely ate the whole thing, but come on…1,390 for a salad?

These days people are more aware of these sort of hidden calories (and in fact Applebee’s now offers Weight Watchers Selections) but taking the time to track what you eat, even if it’s just for awhile, is very much worth the effort. It’s helped me to realize that if I use 140 calories on a chicken breast versus a granola bar I am far less hungry an hour later. And that some things are just not worth the calories they cost.

I’m in the home stretch in my weight loss adventure and goal to lose 65 pounds by my 50th birthday. I’m doing a six-meal everyday type diet, high protein, no carbs after noon. But my trainer is insisting I eat more calories each day (don’t envy me this dilemma, I would kill you now for a piece of fruit, a slice of dried mango), so once again the counting has proved invaluable.

I know if it were me reading this a year ago, I would think to myself, “Sure, YOU need to count, but I know all this stuff. I know how to eat less and watch my calories, what’s good and what’s bad. I don’t need to track them.“ But seriously, try it. Just for a week. Learn where your calories come from and how much you’re taking in. And be honest. Your body deserves honesty.

And as for me? four weeks and 13 pounds to go…

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About Ann Hagman Cardinal