Tips to Count Calories Without Getting Obsessed

I've used MyFitnessPal on and off throughout the past eight months. I'm currently on a 23-day logging streak, which is my longest streak ever. Over time, I've repeatedly hopped on the calorie-counting wagon only to fall off several times. I'm hoping that I'll stick with it now that I've made it more of a habit. When it really comes down to it, improving habits is the only way to get and stay healthy. As Aristotle said:

We are what we repeatedly do.

These are the primary changes I've made to encourage calorie-counting as a routine instead of a bubble that bursts after a couple good weeks:

Make your best attempt to log restaurant food. It's better than not logging it at all. True, most local restaurants don't have official calorie counts, and it can absolutely be difficult to record every last ingredient in a sauce you didn't cook yourself. But I've just tried to make my best guesses and add what I do know. Another tip is to search for certain dishes within the app. For example, I recently had veggie risotto at a restaurant, but had no idea what was in it (except deliciousness). I searched for risotto in the app and doubled the serving size to account for any extra calories that the restaurant probably added for taste.

Counting individual pretzels and chips is a pain, but it gets easier after a couple weeks. When I first started counting calories, I made myself count the number of snacks in a serving. This made me look like a compulsive weirdo at first, but now I have a much better idea of what constitutes a serving so that I don't have to count it perfectly every time. I also measured out 5 ounces of wine into a cup, so now I can simply remember how full the cup should be and fill it to there. Giving myself the freedom to refrain from counting each little pretzel lessens the obsessive load.

Give yourself a little grace. Just because I'm logging calories doesn't mean I stay within the recommended amount every day, and I'm trying to be more OK with this. I'm logging the majority of my workouts in MyFitnessPal, but there's plenty of activity I don't log; for example, my daily bike ride to the gym. MyFitnessPal "adds back" calories for workouts, so technically I should be able to eat more calories due to this extra activity. But I chalk it up to the imperfection of any calorie-counting solution, realizing that sometimes I burn more calories than what MyFitnessPal thinks, and sometimes I'm burning fewer.

Don't channel obsession from the app to the scale. One of the main features of MyFitnessPal is the ability to log your weight gain or loss each week in accordance with what you've eaten. I actually don't own a scale anymore and try to focus on solely the nutrition of my food, not the weight of my body. If I see that I consumed way too much fat and carbohydrate in a week, that's more meaningful to me than if my scale shows I lost a pound. (My original sentence said "that's a more meaningful KPI..." too much marketing lately!) I'm also trying to gain muscle instead of shed a ton of weight, so this measurement isn't really relevant to my goals.

Enjoy your food! Don't log the calories right away. Sometimes I catch myself logging a food before I've even stopped eating it. I'm trying to stop doing this because I truly believe it takes away enjoyment.

Take advantage of the water-tracking feature. MyFitnessPal lets you record the amount of water you're drinking every day in addition to food. Drinking water won't affect your calorie goals, of course, but it's a nice way to set a different health goal that's an easy win. (At least, it's easier for me to drink eight glasses of water every day than it is to always remain perfectly within my calorie allotment.)

MyFitnessPal is the only calorie-counting app I've used. If you think I should try a different app, let me know in a comment or a tweet!