Counting calories – Pandora's Health

Why I stopped counting calories

Calories in, calories out, right? I tracked my intake over several weeks, and found that it wasn’t right for me. Here’s why.

“You just need to watch your calories.” – have you ever heard someone say that? It’s common knowledge that in order to lose weight, you have to consume less calories (i.e. energy) than you expend day to day.

Recently, I’ve had some experiences with counting calories. There’s been some good points, like a general awareness of how many calories there actually are in my favourite treats. There’s also been some bad points, like how I was starting to obsess over these numbers.

Why did I start counting in the first place?

Quite simply, I gained weight. I’m not entirely sure how much I gained, as I previously hadn’t been weighing myself. I had no need to, as I’d basically stayed the same size for several years. Therefore, my guess would be somewhere between 7–14 pounds. What I definitely know is that I’ve gone up a dress size from a UK size 10 to a 12.

I’ll be honest too. There’s been some tears. There are dresses, tops and jeans that I just can’t fit in anymore, and that was a bit devastating for me.

Why did I gain weight? It comes down to the following options:

  1. I’m now in a relationship and have been enjoying a lot of pizza, cheese and general gluttony with my boyfriend
  2. Hormonal contraceptives have caused me to put on some pounds
  3. A bit of both

Weight gain in a relationship

I found a paper that reviewed 20 clinical studies (the researchers started with nearly 1,200!) that looked into how moving into marriage/cohabitation affects weight.1

In this, they found that transitioning into marriage* was associated with weight gain(1) and that a breakup was associated with weight loss.1

Why? Well, when you move in with your partner there’s the increased opportunity to enjoy shared, regular meals in bigger portions.1 And, you may work out less as you no longer need to ‘attract an intimate partner’.1

So… looks like my first hunch may be right.

* This paper focused on marriage but did note that more couples are cohabiting these days before putting a ring on it.

Weight gain and the contraceptive implant

There are thousands of studies about the efficacy (how well it works) and the safety of contraceptives. After a quick search, I found quite a few that specifically looked at Nexplanon. That’s the contraceptive implant that I use.

Now, the results that I found* were… mixed. One study found that 11% of women reported weight gain as an adverse event.2 After 3 years in this trial, the average weight gain was 1.4kg.2

In another study, 10% of women reported weight gain3 and 7% stopped using the implant because of it.3

Finally, another study introduced the idea of the “nocebo” effect.4 It said that a lot of physicians and women believe that contraceptives lead to weight gain, and that counselling women on this potential side effect can lead to the belief of weight gain.4 After 3 months of having the implant in their arm, 15% of women reported weight gain.4 Only 4% of women who didn’t have the implant reported weight gain, and the difference between these two groups was statistically significant.4

So was there any weight gain after 3 months? Yes. Women with the implant gained just 0.5kg.4

* There are definitely more papers looking into the effects of Nexplanon than I have referenced here. This search gave me a basic overview.

What was counting calories like?

I used MyFitnessPal, the classic calorie tracker. With the barcode scanning function, it was easy to count certain foods and keep track of my calories. I also had to manually create my own recipes though, which required some guesswork.

It’s definitely not a perfect system, per se. Some foods aren’t available, or you have to play with the portion sizes (which are sometimes in American measurements), so I can’t say that I was able to track my intake with 100% accuracy.

I was able to add in my weight, using the tactic of a weekly weigh in. I even went as far as buying fancy digital scales that not only measured my weight, but also my fat and muscle percentage, BMI, and even my bone mass.

At first, it was interesting to track numbers, and there were definitely a few surprises along the way. Here’s a good example. My beloved treat, the Sainsbury’s bakery cheese twist, contains nearly 400 calories!

As the weeks went on though, and I can confidently say that I tracked for a solid month with regular swimming, walking and pilates. I wasn’t seeing any changes though. My weight had barely decreased, and I found myself tweaking the system to try and get some results. At one point, the app suggested a total daily intake of 1300 calories.

That’s when I stopped.

When tracking becomes an obsession

I tried to tell myself not to worry, to not focus so much on the numbers, and the remember that I was only human.

But, I was able to recite the calories of my frequent foods off the top of my head. I was starting to feel panicky when I realised that I was nearing my limit, or that I was going over it.

Eventually, I realised that this practice wasn’t bringing me any joy, or even any ‘results’. So I had to stop. I wasn’t going to let this be the boss of me.

Intuitive eating

If you’re into health and wellness, you’ve probably seen the term ‘intuitive eating’. Sometimes, it’s called ‘mindful eating’.

This is the approach that I’m now taking. I’m not counting calories, and I’m definitely not labelling food as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ or ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’.

Instead, I recognise when I’m hungry and when I’m full. I try to focus on getting plenty of fruits and vegetables, and try to have whole grains instead of refined grains. If I really want a biscuit or something sweet, I’ll have a little biscuit or a square of dark chocolate. Most of the time, a couple of bites is enough to fulfil a craving.

What’s more, I’m learning to accept and respect the fact that, yes, I’m a few pounds heavier and my dress size is now a 12 instead of a 10.

Finally, I opted to have a health check up at work. The result? In terms of my BMI, blood pressure, heart rate and fasting blood glucose levels, I’m perfectly healthy!

The only number that was higher than normal was my body fat percentage. But, as the physician told me, this wasn’t an entirely accurate reading, as my water percentage was within normal range.

My new normal

It’s all about balance. There are highs and there are lows. But that’s part of the rollercoaster of life. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy my food (in the best ways that I can) and keep exercising. I even managed a 10km run last month!

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  1. Dinour L et al. J Obes. 2012;2012:294974.
  2. Sommers L et al. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2012;388:e1–e6.
  3. Paloma S et al. Gynecol Endo. 2012;28(9):710–21.
  4. Gallo MF et al. Obstet Gynecol. 2016;127(3):572–6.

  1. Ok, first of all, this blog design gave me LIFE.

    It’s like minimalistic and modern. Black and white sort of thing. And your pictures are on point. Love it, Sarah!

    And regarding calories counting, it worked for me in the past! I’ve always been super skinny and counting calories made me realize I was actually undereating.

    I did for a month or so but it was enough for me to learn how to set portions visually.




  2. I finally realised I had to eat for how I was feeling – and sometimes, when I am bloated, that means don’t eat for a couple of hours. Intuitive eating has taught me the difference between bloated and “full”… and knowing that I am bloated but hungry or NOT HUNGRY just uncomfortable. Calories be damned – how does this make me feel as I digest it?


  3. This is an interesting read. I’m using FitnessPal but have dropped it whilst on holiday and then being really unwell on return so a couple of months off. It actually really helps me focus on eating only when I’m hungry so I guess I’m doing the intuitive thing to a point already. I’m definitely going to research intuitive eating more but I’m continuing to use MyFitnessPal as when I’m consistent it helps me make better choices and I ignore the call of the weekly weigh in. Thanks again for making me think!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The word ‘Diet’ brings me out in hives I swear!

    I have tried just about every one out there. I lost 10 stone from 2012-14 but it is slowly and scarily creeping back on and I can’t seem to get it off again, no matter how hard I try.

    It becomes an obsession, and it does need to be for me personally to keep going but it can very quickly become a dangerous obsession that have left me with some nasty food issues.

    Good on you for seeing this obsession and stopping it dead x


    1. Thank you! Weight can change and fluctuate so much, and people tend to not like change! I watched a good video from Abbie Sharp on YouTube (registered dietician) and she explained that our body’s find their own equilibrium and crash diets damage that balance.

      Wishing you the best,


  5. I stopped counting calories and just changed my diet to have healthier food. For example instead of battered fish and chips, I have grilled salmon (with dill) and new potatoes.
    Even though the salmon is high in fat, it is a healthier fat that trims you down and benefits your skin.


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