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Food tracking: how not to be obsessive?


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I'm trying to pay attention more to my diet because I'd like to lose weight or at least body fat (5'6", 164 lbs).  However, I also have a tendency to obsess about food and fitness, and I don't want to fall into that again.  Because of that I've been hesitating to count calories or set restrictive negative goals ("Don't eat X"), but I'm worried that without restricting in some sense I won't be able to improve.  At the same time there's part of me that feels bad for even wanting to lose weight because I feel like I should be "over" that and just be happy with working out to get stronger, and eating healthy for its own sake.

 

Does anyone else struggle with this?

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Change your idea of why you are eating what you are eating. The day I stopped looking at food as instant gratification and started looking at it as either building blocks or gas in the tank I started having a really easy time bulking and cutting.

 

I track everything I eat about 90% of days in a notebook. My body composition goes in the direction I want very predictably. I don't find myself obsessing about anything because I know that if I trust in the process then the results will slowly come.

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Yes! I do struggle with this because I can get obsessive with my calorie counting, too. One of the tactics I've started to do is instead of giving in to: "I need to eat XXXX amount of calories to lose XX lbs/week" I've resorted to "okay, XXXX calories is my maintenance. As long as I eat less than that, I'm good to go." I've also overhauled my diet so that I'm eating better food, which goes a long way into making sure that I never go over the maintenance even if I tried, and even if I slipped up and ate a piece of cake or something. Now I struggle getting the minimum of 1200 calories in so that MFP doesn't yell at me for eating less than that, but it's a work in progress, and it's improving my relationship with food and with calorie counting.

 

I don't feel like I have a restrictive diet other than what pescetarianism demands, but then, I'm really grossed out by processed foods, too. When I say "overhaul," what this means is that I'm simply cooking more than I used to -- which was not at all. Fast food was my game for the past couple of years.

 

If it helps, maybe keep a food diary to look at what you're eating instead of how much you're eating? Still keep portion control in mind, of course, but if you focus on the quality of food, the amount will follow. This is what helped me.

 

At the same time there's part of me that feels bad for even wanting to lose weight because I feel like I should be "over" that and just be happy with working out to get stronger, and eating healthy for its own sake.

 

This feel, I get it. I've shifted my focus to trying to lose body fat instead of weight but I'm still looking at that number on the scale, too. I wish it was as easy as just "changing your mindset" but our brains don't work like that. Personally, I think that working out to get stronger and eating healthier to be healthier is a better thing to work towards than losing weight, because the weight will follow -- but we are the products of our society and this isn't how society programmed us. It'll take time, but I trust you'll get there. Again, I'm still working on fixing that mindset myself, as I intellectually know this but my subconscious thoughts and instincts aren't there yet.

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Yes! I do struggle with this because I can get obsessive with my calorie counting, too. One of the tactics I've started to do is instead of giving in to: "I need to eat XXXX amount of calories to lose XX lbs/week" I've resorted to "okay, XXXX calories is my maintenance. As long as I eat less than that, I'm good to go." I've also overhauled my diet so that I'm eating better food, which goes a long way into making sure that I never go over the maintenance even if I tried, and even if I slipped up and ate a piece of cake or something. Now I struggle getting the minimum of 1200 calories in so that MFP doesn't yell at me for eating less than that, but it's a work in progress, and it's improving my relationship with food and with calorie counting.

 

I don't feel like I have a restrictive diet other than what pescetarianism demands, but then, I'm really grossed out by processed foods, too. When I say "overhaul," what this means is that I'm simply cooking more than I used to -- which was not at all. Fast food was my game for the past couple of years.

 

If it helps, maybe keep a food diary to look at what you're eating instead of how much you're eating? Still keep portion control in mind, of course, but if you focus on the quality of food, the amount will follow. This is what helped me.

 

 

This feel, I get it. I've shifted my focus to trying to lose body fat instead of weight but I'm still looking at that number on the scale, too. I wish it was as easy as just "changing your mindset" but our brains don't work like that. Personally, I think that working out to get stronger and eating healthier to be healthier is a better thing to work towards than losing weight, because the weight will follow -- but we are the products of our society and this isn't how society programmed us. It'll take time, but I trust you'll get there. Again, I'm still working on fixing that mindset myself, as I intellectually know this but my subconscious thoughts and instincts aren't there yet.

Keeping a food diary has been helping, and feels less restrictive and obsessive than calorie counting.  I really like the idea that losing weight follows from getting stronger and eating healthier.  That way I can focus on those good goals while at the same time not having to berate myself for wanting to lose weight - I can just tell myself I'm working that at the same time and don't need to focus on it specifically.  Thanks, that helps. :)

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This topic = my life. I recently decided I wanted to "go for the gains" because I consider myself pretty lean from my fitness journey thus far and really want to get some serious muscle definition. I've been an obsessive calorie counter for years, and though I want to start using MFP so bad, I'm also really worried about getting obsessive.

 

For those of you who do food journals, do you just write down what you eat, or do you use a program like MFP that tracks your calories as well? (I know some of you have commented above that you use MFP, that question is more geared towards those of you who just said you use a food journal without much other specification.)

 

For all of you, how do you figure out your maintenance intake?

 

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I was someone with a very unhealthy and obsessive relationship with food in the past (both when calorie counting and not, as I was bulimic). The difference for me has been seeing my calorie goals as a target rather than a maximum, broadening my scope to track my macros, making it about eating to perform and feeling that I was in control of what I eat.

 

I set my calorie targets using a FitBit and tracked exercise (originally with a heart rate monitor but now based on estimates). 

 

Okay, so it might seem obsessive to people who think that calorie counting is bad and evil and wrong, but if I track carefully then I perform better in the gym and feel less stressed out about what I'm eating.

 

When I stop tracking, it doesn't take me long to slip back into bulimic habits even when there's absolutely no need.

 

What worked for me:

  • Flexible dieting/IIFYM - Nothing forbidden but has to fit my calorie goals and my protein goal has to be hit.
  • Seeing food as fuel AND friend
  • Being assertive on My Fitness Pal that I will not celebrate people under-eating (1200 calories or less)
  • Not demonising any foods - When I focus too much on "eating clean" I will walk around in circles for hours when hungry trying to find the perfect food when what I actually need is just to bloody eat something.
  • Lots of protein (c.1.7-2.2g per kg of bodyweight)
  • Lots and lots and lots of vegetables (c. 800-1200g per day)
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This. So much of this.  I think one of the trickiest things is finding the balance and not falling back into that completely horrible relationship I had with food and my body for almost 5 years.

 

Things that work for me:

  • Focusing on the exercise.  I know this is not the advice from most people but exercising a healthy amount makes it easier for me to eat better without the obsession.
  • Eating real food.  If I eat real food (not processed junk) and have at least 1-2 servings of veggies per meal, the rest works itself out.
  • Keeping a food log vs counting calories.  (I'm better at this in theory than real life but if I feel myself getting obsessed with calories or grams of something, I just stop and write down my food).
  • Weighing myself daily.  Again, not popular advice but I just want to know where I am and have that reassurance that I didn't gain 500 pounds over night. 
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Before I went almost all obsessive with calorie counting on MFP, and to be honest I still measure food if I can. What I don't do is worry whether I'm eating more or less than my TDEE.

 

What Special Sunday said worked for me too:

- Eat about a bit of everything;

- Eat when I'm hungry, while I'm hungry;

- Eat enough protein (more than 110g a day);

- Focus on my exercise accomplishments and less on weight and measurements.

 

With this I worked out a few things that just made me realize... calories isn't everything. If you're eating when you're hungry, good nourishing foods, your body will start changing on its own. Slowly, but steady. And if you eat more one day, it won't even matter. You'll probably have days you feel less hungry, and days you just need to go over. That's normal. And it won't matter because I took more than 10 years to reach the point I was before dieting and exercising. One or two days eating above won't do a thing compared to that.

 

I still count calories because I still am a bit afraid of complete intuitive eating. But atm I mostly log in everything at the end of the day, and the number is usually very close to what my programmed TDEE is.

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Liking this topic. Intuitive Eater here.

 

I don't track food, it makes me certifiably insane. The bit of IE advice I happily fly right in the face of though is that I also weigh myself every day. Weight, bf%, h20%, lbm calculation, and body measurements (the main 4, not arms, legs and everything, not often anyway). 

 

I love watching the graph. Weighing myself every day has actually helped with IE in that I can link an off-trend weight loss or gain with anything from food to exercise to sleep to stress to everything in between. If I was doing weekly weigh-ins I wouldn't be able to understand the fluctuations so well, could assume that I'd put on 3lbs in a week and lose my marbles. The feeling that I can look again tomorrow takes the pressure off, for me. And I don't like the idea of not weighing myself EVER, but it does work for me now. I could do it when I'm at some happy, content, maintenance level just by going by how I feel and how my clothes fit, but not yet. Doesn't work for everyone, but to me it's the complete opposite of tracking food, when it comes to how I feel about it. I guess daily weigh-ins have changed my relationship with food for the better, in that I understand better how different foods affect me personally. Granted, the first few months I did this, there was some freaking out until I learned how to read the data. But, exposure therapy worked. Use with caution, I suppose.

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Disclaimer: I cannot testify losing any weight on this method because I'm trying new medication and it's doing all sorts of weird things, and my weighing has been super inconsistent.

 

I tracked my food for 2 weeks, just trying to see what I eat normally so I would know how to modify it to meet my goals. I thought I had a high-protein diet, but compared to how much I should be eating (IIFYM), I was actually pretty low. So I decided to start eating more meat and fish, but that meant that I needed to cut out a lot of the grains I was eating just because I was too full to eat anymore. 

 

I kind of made a formula for what I eat every day, that seems to keep me on track. I have vague calorie limits for my day; if I have 300 for breakfast, 600ish for lunch, and then 400 for dinner, and that gives me 300-400 ish for snacks. If I think that I might have overeaten for a meal, then I just have half a banana for snack, or only 2 eggs in my omlette for dinner.

 

 

I think the most helpful thing was just going through all the food I eat on a regular basis, and checking the serving sizes and calories in them to make sure I'm not over or under eating.  That way I have the vague calories of everything I usually eat, and I know if I'm getting enough protein, but I'm not obsessing over every single gram of yogurt in my bowl, either. 

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I've gone through stages with this - I've got a long eating disorder history - and still occasionally have to adjust my approach. What worked for me when I first started losing weight isn't necessarily the same now, and different people have different things work and not work.

 

1)performance based goals - when I started training at a crossfit gym I didn't set any weight loss goals. I came up with performance and habit based goals that were compatible with losing weight, but also encouraged being healthier and building muscle. By the time I felt ok setting a weight goal (i.e. I felt fairly stable in my eating and thought processes) I had already lost 40 lbs. I also didn't own a scale during that initial period. Now I feel ok setting a goal to drop bodyfat and focusing efforts on it in part because during that initial period I learned to value getting stronger, faster, healthier, technically more proficient, learning new skills, etc. The size and body comp goals are balanced out by the other stuff well. 

2)fat loss, not weight loss. This seems like semantics, but it became a big deal. I needed to eat to fuel my muscles and my workouts and I needed protein. It also meant that if I stepped on the scale and it was 4 lbs heavier than the day before, I could take it in stride. I didn't put on 4 lbs of fat overnight, which means that number is showing something else. This also discourages me from obsessively weighing or trying to manipulate the scale when I'm going through periods where old thought patterns and behaviors are coming back up. Taking photos and measurements helps a lot as well.

3)I count calories now on most days. But there are days I don't, and I feel ok about that. I cook most of my meals and plan my eating with a focus on getting adequate protein, veggies, fiber, carbs and healthy fats. But I also plan Friday nights out with friends when I'll eat fries and chicken wings or a burger if that's what I'm wanting. I feel like I'm making good choices the vast majority of the time, so the other stuff becomes both less stressful and less guilt inducing. (Note: there's research supporting the idea that we actually enjoy foods more when we feel guilty about them.) 

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It's very refreshing to see ED's talked about so openly on here. I nursed a colourful relationship with EDNOS for longer than all of my other relationships. On my strength / fitness quest, I'm still painfully aware of my propensity to slip back into obsessive inclinations when I start tracking calories and macros again, so I try to avoid it as a guide for what I SHOULD be eating. For that reason, I've also stopped weighing myself. It's hugely comforting to see that it's not just a "me" thing ... it's not exactly something that makes for a good conversation starter in the gym!

 

I've found that, when I'm slipping into the obsessive phase of counting and tracking, the amount of weight that I can lift drops noticeably, which goes completely against my current priorities. I use this as a rationale to move away from that. I've started to see food entirely as fuel with a purpose, rather than the guilty, nasty indulgence that was previously my attitude, and because of that manage to (most of the time) sustain a diet that better complements my goals. 

 

Horses for courses though - I know that MFP works for a lot of fitness-orientated people! You need to do what's right for you, and find a balance between addressing your need to "better yourself" and letting that particular quest take over your enjoyment of cracking on and just being :)

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