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1 year ago
5 Things That Happen When You Stop Counting Calories

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This article was written by Kasandra Brabaw and provided by our partners at Prevention.

While doctors and nutritionists have recommended counting calories as the best way to start—and stay on top of—your weight-loss journey, doing math every time you eat can feel like homework.

(Lose up to 15 pounds WITHOUT dieting with "Eat Clean to Get Lean," our 21-day clean-eating meal plan.)

And for nutritionists, it actually is homework. When Lily Nichols, R.D., was working toward her nutrition degree, counting calories was one of her least favorite assignments. "The more I counted calories, the less I paid attention to the food in front of me," she writes on her blog. "It was like looking at a spreadsheet on a plate." Now, Nichols actively encourages her clients to stop counting and just eat fresh, whole foods.

In addition to minimizing dinnertime distractions, giving up on tracking calories has a slew of health and weight-loss benefits. Here, five things that happen when you quit counting calories:

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1. You Won't Stress Eat Anymore

When you stop keeping an eye on calories (and inevitably breaking the calorie bank with treats), your urge to snack all day, every day will disappear. By paying attention to the actual foods on your plate, chances are good that you'll also notice the flavor, aroma, color, texture, and temperature of those foods, says Wendy Bazilian, R.D., "Eat Clean, Stay Lean" contributor. Thinking about these factors makes you more conscious of your body, so you'll know that reaching for an unhealthy snack has more to do with stress than it does with actual hunger.

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2. Eating Will Actually Be Pleasurable Again

Life is stressful enough without constantly weighing, measuring, planning, and calculating meals.  When you focus on building breakfast, lunch, and dinner around fresh and flavorful foods like nuts, beans, herbs, spices, and lean proteins instead of how many calories they contain, you can feel good about the quality of food on your plate.

And when your brain isn't stressed out about budgeting calories, your gut is calm, as well, says Bazilian. By relaxing a bit while eating clean with real wholesome foods, you'll enjoy a stress-free moment in an otherwise time-strapped and stressful life, she says.

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3. You'll Lose Weight (Yep!)

With all the effort that comes with counting calories—like weighing and measuring everything you use in a recipe—Nichols says most of her clients turn to pre-calculated packaged foods and stray away from home-cooked meals. Besides the fact that packaged foods are sometimes nutritionally worthless, they actually have more absorbable calories than whole foods do. That's because your body takes longer to break down whole foods than it does to digest packaged ones, says Nichols.

For example, some studies show that you only take in about 20 percent of the calories in nuts because your body takes so much energy to digest them, but since nuts are high in calories, many shy away and opt for something like a highly refined breakfast cereal, she says. While the label on the cereal box may list fewer calories, your body will absorb all of them. That means you might end up storing more energy from the cereal than you would from the nuts. Plus, by choosing the cereal, you'll also miss out on the fiber and healthy fats in nuts that can help you slim down.

"When you start focusing on whole, real, nutrient-rich foods, you benefit from foods that satisfy your appetite and boost metabolism," says Bazilian.

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4. You'll Have More Energy

Calories are a measure of energy, but eating a set amount of calories without focusing on the quality of the food on your plate can leave you feeling tired. That's because some calories, like those found in processed foods, are less satisfying than others. "Numbers don't nourish you," says Bazilian. When you focus on what you are eating, instead of how many calories are in it, you may find that your energy is steadier, cravings are diminished, and you're less hungry."

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5. Your Hunger and Fullness Cues Will be On Point

When you think about food as a means of losing weight instead of as fuel for your body, you'll lose track of how your body feels about food. That's because instead of relying on your bodily cues, you depend on hitting your calorie quota, says Nichols. And that makes eating a lot harder than it should be. For some, the idea of listening to your body to know when you're hungry and full seems scary. "People are sometimes surprised that they can have a couple bites of a brownie and then say, 'You know, I've had enough,'" she says.  But you can! 

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