As much as I love 3FC
(and I do, I really, really do), I get tired of seeing people talk about calorie counting as if it's the be-all and end-all. I feel like a complete radical when I say that you can absolutely lose weight without calorie counting, and that for some people, doing so is the best possible strategy. It isn't a secret that I've struggled with emotional eating, but one of the implications of that is that the idea of counting calories (or points or carbs or...) for the rest of my life makes me start twitching. It takes me right back to the binge-and-starve diet mode I was in so long, when I was obsessed with every bite I put in my mouth. I don't count because it has miserable associations for me, has only ever led to failure, and because I really do fear that doing so could trigger those behaviors or that mentality again.
I've been asked how I do it, and the truth is, it started with this: When I decided to give weight loss another shot, I sat down and thought about all of the things about dieting that make me miserable, and then decided I wasn't going to do them this time around. No feeling hungry all the time, no feeling deprived, no counting calories or points or carbs, no feeling like I'm bad or a cheater if I don't make the wisest choice. If I'm going to maintain this for the rest of my life, there can't be parts of it that make miserable, otherwise it's doomed. I wanted to find something I could do for the rest of my life, something that would be easy for me to sustain and that I could be happy with. Since counting, weighing, and measuring were right at the top of the misery list, I needed to find a different way. It meant changing my approach to food and eating, and it took work, but it is so worth it. Here's what worked for me:
When I first got serious about losing, I decided to cut out whole categories of food. For me, that meant no fast food, no deep fried food, no junk food, no "real" desserts (but definitely yes to diet desserts). I limited my snacks to things like fruits, veggies, nuts, cheese, and yogurt. The reason this worked for me is that I had a lot of trouble having just one cookie or french fry or pretzel (etc.) It was so much easier to say no altogether, and not to even have the first one, than it was to have one and then try to stop. Plus, it's mentally and emotionally easier for me to have a lot of flexibility within the categories of food I can eat. I can't deal with feeling bound to eat according to a laid-out menu, but I can easily deal with choosing one out of a whole bunch of acceptable snacks.
I don't wish to imply that I completely ignore calories and fats. I do things like check a restaurant's website to find out the healthier choices. But I think of that as just having the information, not being part of a plan that rules me. And while I don't regularly measure things, I've done it on occasion to learn what one portion looks like. But again, that's about having the information I need to make the best choices. Now, here's the most important thing:
Willpower can only get you so far. I truly and firmly believe that willpower has its place, but you cannot depend on a strong will to keep yourself in line for the rest of your life. What willpower is
great for is giving you the time and space to develop new habits. First you get used to the idea of an apple for a snack, then you start to accept that as the new normal, and eventually it is normal. And that time when you're depending on your willpower to firmly tell yourself, "no, I cannot eat that," is the time in which you're adjusting to your new normal. Now here's the awesome part:
It is no longer a struggle for me to eat healthily. I never, ever, believed that this could happen, but it did. (And it was something of a shock when I first realized it was happening - I wrote about it here
.) These days, it's just normal for me. And the other part I never expected is that now I can
have just one fry, or half a cookie, or a sliver of cake, and feel completely satisfied with it. It's not that I try to convince myself that I've had enough; it's that I HAVE had enough. This also means that I can be at a birthday party or a pot luck and not feel deprived, and when I do have what I want I don't feel like I'm out of control or doing something wrong.
There are definitely still times when I need to remind myself that the only problem food can solve is hunger. There are definitely still times when I feel the impulse to try to fix a bad mood with chocolate. But there are far, far fewer of them and they've gotten a lot easier to deal with. Part of that is that they've gotten a lot easier to identify - if I feel the sudden need
for chocolate, I can recognize that it's not a normal thing for me, and then ask myself where the craving is coming from. Once I recognize the stress for what it is and figure out what's causing it, I try to figure out what actually might help, because food's not going to do it.
I don't know that what I'm doing will work for anyone else. We've all got our own issues, and I think that for me, part of being successful was trying to work within the framework of those issues rather than ignoring them or trying to fix them. That they did get fixed (at least, to a large degree) is an unexpected joy, but it wasn't part of my goal.
All of this is to say: It is absolutely possible to lose weight without counting and without making yourself into a crazy neurotic. It takes work, but then, any eating change is going to take work. You just need to figure out what kind of work you are capable of doing.