Imperfect Calorie Counting

February 9, 2012

Imperfect © by Joel Olives

I just finished a three-week period of calorie counting. Actually, I finished three weeks of highly imperfect calorie counting.

I had full permission to do it “imperfectly” and it’s a good thing, because Perfect calorie counting has a tendency to drive me bananas.

In imperfect calorie counting, you take a quick glance at what perfect looks like, then you leave it behind and only do the parts that are appealing to you.

“Perfect” Calorie Counting

  • Weigh and measure everything (this puts a lot of pressure against eating out)
  • Have a specific calorie target each day
  • Calculate exercise calories (choose to deduct them or not)
  • Write it all down (or use software)
  • Pre-plan how you will spend your calories

My Imperfect Calorie Counting Experience

My big caveat on the Imperfect Calorie Counting experience is that I’m actually a very experienced counter.  I’ve probably spent about two years of my life counting calories (or fat or carb grams) very carefully, and I tend to dip back into counting, weighing and measuring for a few weeks every year or so.   I have a good basic knowledge of calorie density of most foods, and know by heart a lot of the measurement shortcuts (an ounce of cheese is about the size of your thumb, 4 ounces of protein is a deck of cards, etc). If you don’t have this kind of background (from years and years of dieting) than maybe an “imperfect” approach wouldn’t be as useful.

What I Didn’t Do

I did not eat to a specific calorie target : 
I recounted recently how I ate to “satisfaction” and found a large variation between what it took to satisfy me on some days versus others.  Had I eaten to a specific target, I’d have over-eaten on some days, and been frustrated on others.


I did not calculate exercise calories :
 I’m actually not doing a lot of intense exercise these days anyway, but I now believe that exercise is very beneficial to health, but that it’s not essential for weight loss.  I’m a fan of exercise, and I have a lot of life goals around increasing my fitness, but I don’t think it’s beneficial for people to simply plug calories burned in exercise into a “calories-in, calories-out” equation.  I wish life was that simple, but it’s not.

What I did do, Imperfectly :

Write it all down :
I moved significantly up the Food Journal Ladder, moving up several rungs all at once.  I actually did a double log system, using a small paper journal and also an app on my phone.  I did my pre-planning and general jotting down on paper, then entered the items on my phone.  The app has a “recent meals” function that I found useful, as I eat a lot of leftovers these days and a lot of my breakfasts are variations on a theme.  The first week I really liked it, the second week it started to grate on me, and by the third week I was in open rebellion, skipping days liberally.   Since one of the things I’ve committed to in doing this Reasonable Diet program is writing down everything I eat for a full 12 weeks, when I realized the rebellious spirit, I abandoned the app and just kept to the paper journal.  Imperfectly.  Part of the imperfect notion too is that when I grab a few radishes from the fridge, they get neither written down nor counted.  I’m not working on losing 75 pounds because I eat too many radishes.


Pre-Plan how to spend my calories :
I did this very simply, I just wrote down what I planned to eat.  I did this on paper, and without numbers (imperfectly) but again, I have a pretty decent estimation of calories so I knew the meals would come close to what is appropriate for me to lose weight.  Rarely I actually entered the foods into my phone app before I ate, but usually it was just jotted down.  I did the pre-planning for lunch and dinner about 70% of the time, and found it to be helpful enough that I kept it up.  I tend to eat the same breakfasts, so the pre-planning isn’t really as useful for me for that.


Weight and Measure Everything :
I chose to ignore the “weigh and measure everything” advice, but I did weigh and measure from time to time. I carefully measured olive oil, and butter early in the week, and from time to time during it, to make sure my eye was re-trained.  I measured cream in my coffee, and I’m at home a lot in the mornings and several cups of coffee with cream can add up.  From time to time I would pull out my scale as I cooked or assembled my lunch, to check how much chicken I was adding to a salad, for example.  As I did these intermittent measurements,  I would have my own estimation in mind, and often found that I was over-estimating how much oil I was using for sautéing, for example.

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