March 20, 2018

Counting: Pros & Cons

As you may know, my practice at Montana Whole Health involves a lot of dietary counseling.

Because of this, patients often ask about counting… calories, carbs, fat, steps, pounds… the list goes on.

So this week, I’m sharing my thoughts on counting with you. The pros and the cons…

Counting… the cons:

Until recently I was very opposed to counting just about anything.

Patients would ask about calorie limits, carb limits, step goals, etc. And the answer was always the same: “Please don’t count anything.”

I would advocate instead that you listen to your body. Eat when you’re hungry. Move when you’re restless. Rest when you’re tired. Express yourself when you have something to say. And, maybe most importantly, set solid boundaries, which comes down to speaking the words “yes” and “no” with integrity.

Do these things, and the rest will fall into balance. Mostly, I still believe this.

And I was opposed to counting because counting is the opposite of listening. Counting can lead to an unhealthy relationship with numbers and reliance on external – rather than internal – authorities. By external authority, I simply mean giving more power to something outside of yourself, whether that’s me, a book/author, the trainer at the gym, what worked for a co-worker, or anything other than to your own experience.

The potential risk looks something like this:

“I wasn’t really hungry, but I was 200 calories below my limit for the day,
so I ate a snack before bed.”
“I was so hungry, but I had already eaten all my calories for the day, so I went to bed hungry.”

Neither of these scenarios speaks of building relationship and trust with your body, and I believe that trusting relationship is a central key in living a vibrant life.

But nothing in life is black and white, and counting isn’t all bad, so let’s also talk about the pros.

Counting… The Pros:

For this, I will share a story. Maybe you can relate.

I recently had a patient struggling to make progress in spite of consistent dietary changes. This patient is a diabetic, wanting above all to control the condition without medication, so the stakes were significant.

He had been eating what he thought was a ketogenic diet for months, and yet his labs weren’t improving. I suggested an app to track total and net carbs, calories, fat, and protein intake.

The results were eye opening!

It turns out that he had no idea what he was actually consuming. The carbs, calories, and fat were way more than he realized. The protein was way less. Taking the new insight into account, we had clear understanding of his recent lab work and were positioned to make the needed changes.

And with this experiment, I found great respect for the insight counting could provide. Intuitive eating could tell us that something wasn’t working, but it wasn’t giving a clear path to the needed changes.

So… Should you be counting?

It depends. It depends on your goals. And it depends on your relationship with the numbers.

If you have any suspicion that tracking your numbers will lead to an unhealthy experience, please trust that and do NOT count anything. Learn, instead, to listen and respond to what your body is saying to you.

If you, on the other hand, think that details and objective data will balance and inform your ability to listen and learn, than consider it.

If you’d like to give it a try, email me and ask me my favorite app for organizing this aspect of your life. I’m happy to share the tricks of the trade that I’ve picked up along the way.

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