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Ah. Well, I would be lying if I said it wasn't. Although, I wouldn't deem it so much boring as anxiety-inducing for me. What do I eat? How much of? Oh, no, I'm over my fats. Wait, but I'm not eating the same thing tomorrow - dammit, where's the barcode on this thing?

I understand the frustrations because as much as I have tried to make the whole calorie-counting gig a seamless and streamlined process, it can still be a pain. Especially when you are trying to hit individual macronutrient goals (save that swamp for another post).

It's definitely doable - but it can feel restrictive and claustrophobic at times. So is it essential? That depends. Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself before jumping into it.

  1. What are you trying to achieve?

First of all, let's go back to the drawing board - how much weight are you trying to lose? If trying to deal with obesity, then chances are you probably need to start by simply "tidying up" your nutrition. For example, replacing regular soda with diet counterparts and going for low-sugar and low-fat alternatives; no calories touched, just smart nutritional choices.

But if your goals are more specific, or you have already done the "easy fixes" and find yourself in a plateau... time to step on the gas.

2. Can you be accountable?

Although calorie counting as a concept is kind of inherently inaccurate for a number of reasons (such as food database errors), it will only work if you are meticulously and consistently honest with yourself and your tracker. This means no ambiguous tablespoons, teaspoons or cups - this means grams, mililitres and scales; and 15g of peanut butter (a recommended serving) is not a lot, I will tell you that right now. So ask yourself - do you have the discipline snd mindset to not only measure everything out, but actually stick to your portion control?

3. Do your circumstances currently allow you to track?

Leading on from the previous point, tracking will inevitably take some pre-planning of your meals, as well as the time and commitment required to prep and portion those meals. Granted, this is a pain if you're eating out, or cooking multi-ingredient meals for multiple people. If you are serious about tracking, you will find that something will have to give: complexity and palatability of meals, frequency of socialisation, and so on. Therefore, if you know you've got a busy social period in your life coming up, can you really stick to tracking? Is it realistic? Is it doable? These are important to consider when strategising your nutrition.

Lastly, there is of course, the idea of longevity. Dedication and iron will aside, you are also a human being - I doubt our ancestors frantically carved numbers on stone slabs in an effort to watch their waistline after devouring a mammoth. From experience, calorie-counting can seriously impair one's ability to recognise natural hunger cues and compromise the 'intuitive' (as much as I hate the concept) nature of eating. Plus, realistically speaking, how long are you planning to count every mouthful for? Definitely not the rest of your life, as that would make quite a depressing (and mentally damaging) existence. So... what to do?

One important aspect to understand is that calorie-tracking doesn't have to be forever. It is not a permanent cross one must carry. I would highly recommend deciding on a set period during which to track, and then stopping for a set period as well - breaking up your tracking will make it seem a lot less psychologically daunting, and it will become more of an educational experiment instead. During the time of tracking, you will find that you start getting a better idea of portion size, and eventually trust yourself when eyeballing foods. Then it might be a good time to transition to partial tracking (for example, just tracking protein) with the end goal consisting of effortlessly being able to fuel your body while maintaining a physique you can live with. Calorie-counting should be a step in your journey, not the journey itself; a crutch to rely on in its initial phases.

To conclude - precise, meticulous tracking and plan adherence will produce results (provided that the plan is at least semi-decent). However, it is important to first evaluate whether this level of meticulousness and adherence is achievable. Then, it's worth approaching calorie-counting with a long-term strategy in mind prioritising mental health and quality of life - what happens when you stop? When to break up your calorie-counting cycles - for example, is there a vacation or busy period coming up? And the single most important thing to remember - never should you be a slave to your tracker.

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