The Psychology Of Calorie Counting For Weight Loss [5 Stages Of Growth]
By: Zack Mathews
Calorie counting is an amazing style of eating that works for many people.
And it can definitely work for you.
It allows you the flexibility to learn how to enjoy the foods you love while still seeing progress, and also teaches you the basic fundaments of what food is made up of.
I’ve worked with clients for a long time and most, if not all of them, tracked their calories at one point in time.
From these experiences with my clients, I have seen that there are 5 phases that someone goes through when they count calories for weight loss, and that’s what you are going to learn about today!
Before we begin, I want you to know that this article is more about the psychology and skill of calorie counting.
If you are looking for more about the science of this way of eating and how much you should consume, check out my article on Macros For Weight Loss, which can be found HERE.
The 5 stages of growth behind the psychology of counting calories for weight loss are:
When you are learning a new skill, you're not good at it right away are you? I know I wasn’t good at basketball when I first started, I was quite the opposite. It sucked being bad at it, but it didn’t last forever.
And that’s how it is going to be with calorie counting.
In phase 1 of counting calories you might experience…
- A steep learning curve.
- That it's very time consuming entering your food into the app.
- A feeling that calorie counting is not for you.
These are all very common things to experience. Counting calories for weight loss does take a lot of time at first since you’ve never used the app, you are new to weighing and measuring food, and seeing what can fit into your day and what cannot.
Understand that this won’t last forever, and the more you practice, the quicker you will get to phase 2!
If you made it into phase 2, you have cleared a hurdle that most people do not.
Losing weight is hard to begin with, and when you throw a bunch of math and numbers on top of that, it can be too much for some and they quit.
In phase 2 of calorie counting for weight loss, you start getting used to tracking and realizing what actual serving sizes look like.
You are by no means great at it yet, but you are able to get through most days by being fairly accurate with your food input.
The real wins that happen in phase 2 are when you have the WHOA! moments when it comes to different foods.
I love hearing these from clients. Some of them from the top of my head are:
- This is what 1 tablespoon of peanut butter looks like?!
- I never realized how many calories all my small snacks were throughout the day!
- It’s really easy to go over calories with everyday processed foods.
- It’s sad to think that a pint of Ben & Jerry’s takes up a huge chunk of my daily calories!
That last one is my favorite haha!
Most people don’t know that a pint of B&J’s is over 1000 calories. When you are eating 1500-1600 calories a day, that doesn't leave much room for other foods.
And that’s one of the reasons why I love my weight loss clients counting calories, and why you will too.
This phase is all about becoming aware of serving sizes and improving your skill of calorie counting.
You are really doing great if you make it to phase 3.
There is no time frame for when you should be at this phase. Some people get there quickly, it takes time for others, and like I discussed in phase 2, some people never get here.
In phase 3 of counting calories for weight loss, you are now accurately tracking and you fully understand the breakdown of your food.
With your tracking you are:
- Measuring and weighing all your food.
- Able to plan your meals in advance based on prior inputs.
- Can fluctuate higher and lower calorie days within a week.
When you’ve inputed all your foods correctly week after week, you are able to pull and grab ingredients easily from your app to design your meals.
Now that you’ve been doing this for awhile, you are good at measuring all your ingredients, from the oil used in cooking to the handful of nuts you grabbed in the afternoon.
Getting good at accurately tracking everything, including the small things, is what will really allow you to start seeing progress.
Also in this phase you are now getting good at understanding the breakdown of food.
You can look at any food and know if it falls under the category of a protein, fat, or carb, or even a mix of both!
Additionally, you know what you can get away with in terms of eating foods that normally don’t fit into your plan. For example, maybe you want to have pizza and wine with your girlfriends on Saturday.
With your new knowledge on calorie counting for weight loss, you know how to eat lighter in the day to allocate extra calories in the evening so you can enjoy yourself, and not go over your calories.
Enjoy being here because it is a big accomplishment!
Ahhh, the sweet phase of reaching a place where the new skill you have been working on becomes easy.
Phase 4 is all about being in a place where you are completely comfortable counting calories and you are getting pretty darn good at even eye balling portions.
This takes a while to get to this place though.
I’ve tracked calories myself for a long time and it took a fair bit of learning where I could guesstimate my portions and be very close to the actual caloric amount.
But when it comes time to cracking down and accurately tracking, it's a breeze.
You can weigh your food without thinking too much about it, and you’ve been doing this long enough to have all your food inputted into the app.
Having 4 oz of chicken for dinner?
It only takes you a few seconds to weigh your meat, find the last time you had it in your app, and put it in.
Making a dish that has lots of ingredients but you’ve saved it in from the last time you had it?
Boom, just copy the ingredients and you are good to go!
In phase 4 you are now experienced at calorie counting for weight loss and should be getting great results with your body!
This phase is my favorite for clients to reach!
I didn’t want to say it in the beginning to throw you off.
But the goal of tracking your calories shouldn't be that you are going to do it forever.
By gaining the skill and working hard to perfect it, you are learning everything you need to know about how to eat for your body.
And once you reach this point, you are in phase 5 and you are now an intuitive eater!
You know correct portions, you know what works well for your body and what doesn’t, cheat meals can be programmed efficiently into your plan, and most importantly, you feel confident in what you are doing.
Now you take what you have learned and stop tracking, if you want that is.
That’s important, if you want, because some people will love calorie counting for weight loss and want to continue and that’s totally fine.
But if you reach phase 5 and feel confident as an intuitive eater start by doing one of the following:
- Stop tracking completely and monitor progress.
- Slowly lean off calorie counting by counting only 5 days of the week, then 4, down to 1.
- Track for a week and then don’t track for a week.
You can either slowly work your way out of it, or if you feel confident, jump right into being that intuitive eater that you have unknowingly become!
Counting Calories For Weight Loss Is For Everybody
I hope you’ve learned that anyone can count calories for weight loss and everyone will have their own journey.
You might be in one phase longer than someone else, but that’s irrelevant.
And on the other hand, you might breeze through these quickly.
Focus on your journey as you progress through the stages of calorie counting and enjoy the journey!
Now if you are ready to learn about calorie counting and how it works and how to find your numbers, check out this article HERE.
If you have any questions, feel free to comment below or reach out to me at ZackMathews@VBAFitness.com.
Good luck on your calorie counting for weight loss journey!