Why I Won’t Count Calories


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Years ago I heard a doctor speak about some of the (many) problems with the current state of “health” care in our country. She gave an analogy that continues to give me perspective today, not only on health but about life in general. I’m not going to get political, don’t you worry, I actually don’t want to talk about our health care system at all, but the story is an interesting analogy that sets the stage for what I really want to say in these posts.

Imagine, she said, that your neighbor across the street has a bright, beautiful, green, leafy tree growing in his front yard. One day out of nowhere, the leaves begin to turn unseasonably brown and it becomes clear the tree is in distress. The neighbor heads down to Home Depot and comes back with brilliant green paint. He then takes the time to painstakingly apply a fresh coat to every individual leaf. And every day thereafter, there he is out front going through the same routine. Problem: Solution.

The three questions she posed to the crowd were:

*On a scale of 1-10, how effective of a strategy is this for addressing the immediate symptom of brown leaves?

*Now on that same scale, how effective of a strategy is this for addressing the long term health of the tree?

*Does this nut job with too much time on his hands get an invite to the next Block Party/BBQ?

(Ok maybe that last question was one that I threw in.)

Immediate vs. Long Term is an interesting distinction to make, I think. Sometimes when you focus on controlling a symptom rather than determining the root cause of the problem you can actually do damage in the long run. We often don’t take that factor into consideration, or at other times recognize it but think we will get to it later. None of this sounds too inflammatory, right? This isn’t a giant light bulb moment for many of you, I would guess.

But I think the even bigger point is that both the Immediate and the Long Term strategies take work. And in most cases, daily work. When you choose to address a problem, there is rarely an option for “Do Nothing” right? Well unless your problem is that you are in a full body cast. But that’s another post.

If you are going to address a problem — if you are committed to doing work — why not put those efforts towards addressing the root cause of something, rather than towards addressing the immediate symptom? I think of this philosophy every time someone mentions counting calories, and I often just want to shout from the rooftops “STOP PAINTING YOUR LEAVES GREEN!!!” But obviously then I would get strange looks and well, that’s sort of uncomfortable.

If you are trying to lose weight, there are MANY things to consider. I’m not a nutritionist, I’m not a doctor and I’m not an expert on everything there is to know about the human body. But I have lost 100 lbs and I did it without counting a single calorie. Yep, NOT A SINGLE ONE. So if nothing else, I’m living proof that it can be done, and it can be (gasp!) ENJOYABLE. You deserve to be living a life you love, and it not necessary to doing something you hate in order to get there. That advice is straight out of my mother’s mouth and after all these years I’ve realized that she’s a pretty darn wise woman.

***Please note, I did not say “If you don’t find counting calories effective.” I’m not going to tell you that it doesn’t work for weight loss because at times it does. But like I said many moons ago so does snorting cocaine, but I wouldn’t recommend that either. If you *do* love counting calories and it’s the thing you look forward to most every day — well then, move along…nothing to see here.

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6 comments to Why I Won’t Count Calories

  • Caity @ Moi Contre La Vie
    February 23, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    Great anaolgy! That really resonates with me as well. I did a post last year on addressing the underlying cause of symtoms that you experience & how good nutrition can/should be used as a long-term solution rather than reaching for an easy/quick fix. (http://moicontrelavie.com/2011/07/04/nutrition-vs-disease/) I can’t wait to hear more about this from your perspective!

  • Steph
    February 24, 2012 at 2:13 am

    Looking forward to reading more!!!

  • Friday Best… « Just a Titch
    February 24, 2012 at 4:05 am

    […] A calorie-counting manifesto by my friend Holly. […]

  • Melanie Kristy
    February 25, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    I think that counting calories can be helpful if, and only if, it helps the person learn portion control and learn not to eat too much. For example, I belong to Weight Watchers. So we “count” points. But I rarely actually do that. However, if I feel like I need to figure out how much is really enough, counting points can help. This is only if I’m eating the right things. Not if I’m eating 35 points worth of ice cream. You know what I’m saying? However, I’m looking forward to reading your other posts on this subject, because I do agree that you need to treat the root cause, especially in weight loss, because otherwise you’ll gain all the weight back… like most people do. I like the tree painting analogy, though. That’s a different want to look at it :)

  • Internet Wandering | So Baby Why Don't We Just Dance?
    February 25, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    […] A Manifesto on Calorie Counting that I only partially agree with (I think calorie counting can be helpful for figuring out how much of the right foods someone should be eating. When you’re still starving all day, calorie counting helps you figure out if you’re really hungry or if your mind is going in different ways). But it’s a good read either way. […]

  • What’s Happening This Week?
    February 27, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    […] note to acknowledge that I do realize it is kind of ironic that I am in the midst of talking about why I don’t like counting calories while I am in making some stricter changes in my own diet. For the record: Still not counting […]

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