What I Learned From Losing My Fitbit

Last week, I had a very traumatic event happen…I lost my Fitbit (okay, maybe traumatic is an exaggeration but I digress). Thankfully, my mom had one that she didn’t use at home and could send to me at school. Still, this left me Fitbit-less for about a week. One day that week, I had the strangest thought while walking to class. I felt like walking wasn’t worth anything because I had nothing to show for it (ie. No big green star at the end of the day when I hit my step goal). I quickly had to shake myself out of that crazy thought. It blew my mind that losing this little piece of technology and not being able to see how many steps I had taken made my walking feel useless.

I did, though, get a good lesson out of this crazy thought of mine: My life is constantly a numbers game: how many steps I take, how many ounces of water I drink, how many calories I eat, how many minutes I exercise for, and the list continues. I can have a few OCD tendencies at times; I like to keep track and make sure everything is neat and organized and I guess counting all these things can bring a little bit of organization to my life. Even if you aren’t someone like me who is obsessed with counting steps, calories, minutes, and ounces, it seems like that is what we are recommended to do. The US Food and Drug Administration recommends we consume about 2.5 cups of vegetables, 2000 calories, 5.5 ounces of protein, and 64 ounces of water each day.

My point is that we are a numbers and counting driven society even though that is not the recommended way to lose weight or create a “healthy” diet. Counting and recording everything has been proven to be an ineffective way to have long-term weight loss – it is just not a sustainable behavior. Instead, listening to your body and making logical decisions about what and when to eat and exercise is the best way to go. This crazy thought during my Fitbit-less walk showed me that I need to do a better job of just listening to my body and not worrying about the numbers- especially when it comes to physical activity.

Is your stomach growling? Go get something healthy to eat. Are you full? Stop eating- you don’t have to finish everything on your plate. Craving chocolate? Break a few squares off of the big bar, enjoy them, and leave the rest for later. The same goes for exercise. Sitting at a desk all day? Get up and go for a walk. Sore muscles and exhausted? Take a rest day. Feeling unmotivated? Remember that exercise will make you feel better so go get it done!

Your body knows exactly what it needs, you just have to learn how to listen and understand the cues it gives you. I know it isn’t as easy as it sounds. It takes time and work to be “on the same page” as your body. Setting number driven goals (like 10,000 steps per day) might be beneficial to working towards a target weight or activity level, but in the end, it is all about how you feel. Whether you meet those goals or not, if you aren’t feeling good all the calories and steps you counted don’t mean anything. You should always try to feel healthy, not hungry, tired, or deprived.

Dietetic Internship Search Update
The beginning of senior year means the hunt and application process for a Dietetic Internship (DI) has begun. A DI is a 1200-hour supervised practice program a student must go through to in order to sit for a board exam to become a Registered Dietitian (read more about the process here). I am looking at DI’s that have a master’s degree program combined, so that narrows down my options but there are still lots to choose from.

Step one in applying to any of these programs is taking the GRE (Graduate Records Exam), which I just took in August. I got my scores this week and thankfully I did well enough that I don’t need to take it again!

The next steps are figuring out exactly where I am going to apply and starting my personal statement. Stay tuned for more DI updates 🙂

Counting Calories

caloriesOur obsession with calories and calorie counting today can be blamed on Wilbur Atwater, the scientist that discovered what calories were. In the early 1900’s he found that all foods contained a certain amount of energy (now known as calories) and that same energy is used up when we partake in physical activity. While Atwater had a great scientific finding that has allowed us to understand how weight gain and loss works, the subsequent result of obsessive calorie counting isn’t always the best nor healthiest habit.

Should I be counting calories?

My short answer: no.
My long answer: maybe sometimes. Here’s why:
Calorie counting is tedious, time consuming, and unrealistic over the long term and therefore is not sustainable. It also takes the enjoyment of eating. If every plate becomes a math equation and entry into a food long, you are neither going to have a pleasant time eating nor a healthy relationship with food. On the other hand, I think one of the most important ways for people to sustain a healthy diet is to understand what is in the food they are eating. It can be a great tool to be able to look at a plate and eyeball about how many ounces of chicken you are having or about how many calories are in the side of stir-fried vegetables. It is also a good tool to be able to know about how big your portion sizes should be or how many snacks you should have to keep your daily calorie intake around 2,000. So, one of the best ways you can gain that knowledge and ability to guess-timate you calorie intake is to count calories- but just for a week or two.

If you are new to the calorie counting game, I would recommend keeping track of everything you eat each day (for a about a week) and adding up the calories at the end of the day (or you can use a fancy calorie tracker on your phone – My favorite app is MyFitnessPal). This will give you an idea of about how many calories you are eating on any particular day. If you are around 2,000 calories, great! Now you may want to focus on the types of foods you are eating (but I’ll leave that topic for another post). If you aren’t around 2,000 calories, you should revisit your log from the past week. Figure out if there are certain foods that are putting you over your calorie allowance, or maybe your portion sizes are unrealistic. This is where calorie counting is helpful; it allows you to figure out where “the bumps in the road” are. Once you have identified those “bumps”, try to make some changes, keep a food long for another week and see if you get closer to your calorie goal. Once you get a good feel of what “normal” portion sizes are and about how much you should eat per day, then I don’t recommend keeping track. Counting calories for too long can make you become obsessive over every little thing you put in your mouth. The goal is for you to be able to understand what fits into your daily “calorie budget” naturally in your daily life, not to be able to precisely know statistics about your food.

Not to burst your bubble, but…

The calories listed on food packages might not actually be true. Many recent studies (like this one) show that the actual number of calories in a food item is about 8% higher than what is stated on the package. Better yet, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) allows this as long as the actual values are not more than 20% greater than what is listed on the label. That means that a product label could list 250 calories but it could actually have 299 calories, and the FDA would say the label was acceptable! Same goes for all the other nutrients like fat, carbohydrates, and protein. This is all the more reason why counting calories is not the best idea!