In the four years since my wife and I have been married, I have gained (at the peak) 40 lbs. Surprisingly (or not), 30 of that came during 2014. Between the stress of family issues, living on my own for a couple of months (nachos for a week, anyone?), and having little spare time to exercise between balancing a full-time job and a freelancing career, I
sort of really let myself go.
At one point during one of my sporadic bursts of resolve, I decided that if I couldn’t find time to exercise and burn calories, I was just going to count them. After all, it’s just like money, isn’t it? I have a certain budget to work with every day and I’m not allowed to go over budget. I’m all about financial surpluses, so why should this be any different? So I downloaded just about every calorie counting app I could find to see which one worked the best and away I went!
Thinking about food all the time makes you want food
I think about my financial budget every day. Reaching our financial goals is important to me. But when I’m thinking about my budget, it doesn’t make me want to go out and spend. It makes me more conscious about where I can save. What about the calorie budget? Well, let’s just say it’s not a good idea to tell an overweight person the best way for them to lose weight is to think about food more.
I was obsessing over how to balance three meals and snacks in between without going over, and analyzing everything I saw. “Hmmmm I wonder if I could fit that in,” or “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper? How about I do a banana until dinner, then I can eat half a pizza?”
It’s less about what it is and more about how much
When I was focused on budgeting my calories, I was so hell-bent on getting that energy deficit that I wasn’t paying attention to what I was putting into my body. Take the pizza example above. To someone with a goal of 1,750 calories, a banana and half a pizza doesn’t sound too off, right? But eating half a pizza is always a poor life choice.
Rather than focusing on making sure I eat the right foods, like fruits, veggies, and less meat and carbs, I was twisting the program to make sure I could still fit in all the garbage food (I still miss you, ramen). The only purpose fruits and vegetables served was so I could keep my nachos.
You lose sight of the big picture
Budgeting for the sake of budgeting is crap. It’s a means to an end, not an end unto itself. When I did get a chance to exercise, it was only to increase my budget to buy me more calories. Sure, my goal was still to lose weight, but after a while that goal was swallowed up in “I’m going to go for a run. Sweet, when I get back I can eat that brownie” or “I’m going to be so pissed if this potluck kills my calorie goal today.”
As far as potlucks, traveling, holidays, and all those other roadblocks, life is like that sometimes. But one day (or even a week) isn’t going to kill you or your long-term goal. The same goes for your financial life, by the way. If you’re obsessively counting beans just because, you’re missing the point. What’s the goal? What happens if your car breaks down? To be able to reach your goals while maintaining your sanity, you have to be able to see the forest through the trees.
When I first started budgeting as a single dude back in September 2009, I was doing pretty darn good until December (that magical month of financial and gastronomic binging). I felt like I had been doing pretty well, so I decided to let myself splurge just a little and not track my budget. During the first week of January I decided to check on how I did, and my “little” splurge turned into over $500 more than I had planned on spending. Yikes!
With my calorie counting, the same thing happened. Every. Freaking. Time. “You know what? I’ve done awesome this week. I’m going to treat myself with this pizza.” 15 minutes later… “Did I just eat that whole thing?” The evening was actually the worst time for me, and still is. I’d save up my calories just because I knew I tended to graze after dinner, but that rarely stopped me from overdoing it.
As embarrassing as it is to say this, it never really crossed my mind that the behavior of grazing after dinner is one I should give up.
Why counting calories doesn’t work
It’s simple. Counting calories doesn’t work because it does nothing to change your lifestyle or your behavior. It’s just a way to try to fit your current behaviors into a smaller box. It’s also just not sustainable. Sure, it’s exciting when you first start, but after a while it’s just downright annoying.
When I think back on a similar weight gain I had in high school, I didn’t lose it all because I was counting calories like a mad fiend (I don’t even think it was a thing back then). I lost 40 lbs. in high school because I did three things:
- I exercised almost daily.
- I cut out high-fat and high-sugar foods from my diet (including soda).
- I stopped eating after 7 p.m.
There were times here and there when I broke the rules a little, but I generally stuck to those behaviors and was able to reach my goal in just a few months. So if you’re trying to lose weight, like I am now (again), let’s focus more on that lifestyle.
p.s. Don’t even get me started on those stupid fad diets. Save your money and work on yourself rather than making others rich.