"Frank, what the hell does that mean?"
I get it, and I apologize that the title doesn't make any sense whatsoever.
I don't want you to count calories, but I do want you to acknowledge and respect their existence.
I'll flat out tell you that I'm in the anti-calorie counting camp. Now, that doesn't mean that I don't think there's merit behind counting calories; I do. Any way that you're creating self-awareness of your food intake is a solid method, in my opinion.
However, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) deems an acceptable underestimation of caloric value in packaged foods to be 20% in either direction. If you're eating a food where their label states it's 500 calories, in reality, you're consuming in the ballpark between 400-600 calories (20% less and 20% greater). Keep in mind that this is just one meal. Two more meals along with snacks in-between can create an even larger discrepancy with total caloric intake.
So what do we do?
- Eat sources that don't even require a food label. You'll realize that meat, poultry, fish, fruit, and vegetables typically don't have a food label tagged to them. Sources of food that roam the earth and are grown outside of factories will (hopefully) be the sweet spot of our diet. A great starting point is to incorporate another serving or two of fruits and vegetables daily, especially if your produce consumption is sub-par.
- Read the label, carefully. I had a client the other day tell me he had a can of ginger ale alongside his healthy salad for lunch. I bring this up because the can's nutrition label states that there's 26 grams of sugar per serving. In the little fine lettering, however, the can states that there's 3 servings in a 12 ounce can. This is a prime example of how you can consume a boatload of sugar without even realizing it. Make sure to thoroughly read the fine print on this guy below.
- Use your hand to measure food intake. This is one of the methods that Precision Nutrition uses that I have completely fallen in love with. It's a simple way to give a solid ballpark estimate on the portion sizes that work for you. Here's how it works:
Protein = Palm
Fat = Finger (Thumb)
Carbohydrate = Cupped Hand
Vegetables = Fist
Here's a great visual to help you understand what you should be aiming for each time you sit down to eat a meal. (Courtesy of Precision Nutrition)
This is my go-to method for portion control when it comes to coaching new clients. There are inaccuracies to it, but it's a very practical and easy way to start gaining awareness towards success in the kitchen.
If calorie counting works for you, by all means, continue. As I stated earlier, there is merit behind it; tracking your caloric intake is definitely a way to develop awareness of your dietary habits. Is it the most practical method, however? Probably not. Between the discipline it requires and possible inaccuracy created by caloric values, it could be quite misleading.
I'll continue to exhaust this main point: find a way to develop awareness of your eating patterns, and run with it. You can't correct yourself if you're not aware of the problems that are present.