Everyone knows that eating right daily and working out regularly are two key points to achieving your fitness goals. However, for many of us, we’ve simply tried, tried, and tried again to get where we want to be and we just keep slipping backwards.

Today, we’re going to talk about forming strong, healthy habits through calorie counting. Sometimes when we hear about calorie counting, we only focus on this idea that it can be restrictive, which is not the purpose of it at all. As such, we’re also going to discuss things that can truly get in the way of your progress. Lastly, we’ll go over different ways that you can use calorie counting to give you all sorts of interesting insights about your body — we promise it’s not there to limit you.

How Long Does It Take to Form a Habit?

According to research, it takes about 21 days to form a simple habit. That’s 21 days in a row of repeating a specific action before your brain starts to correlate an activity with your daily schedule. However, some studies have shown that forming a more complex habit, like working out and counting calories, might take a bit longer than 21 days. We bring up this point to show you that it is hard to make working out and eating right a part of your daily routine, but it can be done as long as you are dedicated to repeating that action daily for an extended period of time.

Many of us expect fast results from working out and counting our calories. Depending on your situation, you may see some results fairly quickly. However, sometimes it can take weeks to see any significant improvement. This is worth mentioning because it’s easy to set a fitness goal for a week, or two weeks, or maybe even a month. You know that if you work really hard for a short period of time, you’re likely to see at least a little improvement and that might satisfy your short term goals, but it won’t maintain them.

We suggest setting a goal for several months in the future, and when you reach that goal, setting another one even farther out. If you start working out, counting your calories, and set a goal for two to three months, it’s likely (as long as you stick to it) that you can form a healthy habit during that time.

If you count your calories daily and workout according to your schedule, you’ll start to get used to your fitness plan and you’ll probably even start looking forward to it. However, you have to give yourself ample time to form a healthy habit. Sometimes, with a complex habit like this, 30 days just might not be enough.

When you’re working toward a healthy habit like this, be aware that it is centralized around delayed gratification; you’ll have to change your perception of what rewards look like to you. It’s certainly much easier to reward yourself with any treat that sounds good at the time, but forming a truly healthy habit will be a lot of effort. Some examples of non-food rewards that you can give yourself could include:

  • A new workout outfit
  • A new fitness wearable
  • Attending the premiere of a new movie
  • Buying that new video game
  • An extra rest day from your workout routine
  • Signing up for a new fitness class

Why & When Do We Reject Fitness Habits?

Sometimes, you don’t necessarily feel strong emotionally or physically. If you’re feeling tired of your workout, you might skip any kind of exercise for days. Or you counted your calories for a few days, but you haven’t been as consistent with it as you would have liked. So, when temptation comes into view, you cave and go outside of your meal plan a little bit here and a little bit there, until you’re completely off of the wagon.

Getting derailed happens to all of us; we are human, and that’s ok. Your goal should be to try and form a new habit by sticking to your fitness plan for at least 30 days, and if you can, try go go for longer without “cheating”.

It’s so easy to tell ourselves that we “deserve” a cheat day because we have worked so hard. One cheat day probably won’t mess up your routine, but cracking too early can sometimes have a negative effect on your overall plan. One cheat day after just a week or two of working out might send you spiraling out of control and before you know it, you’ve broken a habit before you’ve even formed it.

You absolutely do deserve to treat yourself. However, treating yourself with only junk food doesn’t necessarily solidify the healthiest relationship with food. Treating yourself or having a cheat day doesn’t always have to be linked with just unhealthy foods.

If you’re tracking your calories, you’ll probably track what your macros, or macronutrients, look like (your intake of carbs, proteins, and fats). So, for a cheat day, maybe you eat something with a bit more or less carbs, proteins, and/or fat than you normally would.

For example, if you’re staying away from too much pasta or bread, maybe that could be your healthy cheat day. Just remember that if you only reward yourself for your hard work with food that isn’t great for you, that is how you can break good habits.

How Calorie Counting Can Help

It’s definitely worth mentioning that the opposite of what we talked about earlier can undoubtedly happen — you could form an unhealthy habit related to counting calories.

Counting calories is not about restricting your diet or limiting how much you can eat. It’s about finding a healthy balance between exercise and food. You want your body to have all the fuel it needs to perform its best; part of that is not overdoing it on the exercising, and making sure you eat enough calories.

Don’t beat yourself up if you go over your calories a little bit, especially at the start, these things take time. Your body might not be used to the change right away, so just do your best and don’t be too hard or restrictive on yourself to an unhealthy degree.

Workouts

Now that we’ve talked about some unhealthy activities, let’s talk about how counting your calories can truly help you feel your best and form good, solid fitness habits.

First, when you’re working out, you need to know that your body is getting the right amount of fuel to sustain strenuous activity. Counting calories helps you to make sure that you’re getting plenty of energy from calories to burn during your workouts. This way, you’ll have plenty of drive to do a harder workout, but you’ll also feel strong enough to power through it.

What you don’t want is to not eat enough, and to feel weak during a workout. You also don’t want to eat too much, and then your workout doesn’t burn enough calories. Counting your calories can help you find that healthy workout balance.

Calorie Intake

Counting your calories is a truly eye opening experience for most people. Often, we think we have everything under control ourselves and we have a pretty good idea of what our diet looks like.

However, once you actually get everything down on paper for several days or weeks, you start to realize that your habits are not at all what you thought they were. You might see a few days where you ate more calories than you intended, and then the next day you really cut back on your calories too much in order to compensate. Just knowing this information can help you even the scales, so to speak, on your calorie intake balance.

You can identify some possibly unhealthy habits, and start to eliminate them from your fitness routine. Even if you’re familiar with working out and eating healthy, counting your calories can still surprise you with with a detailed breakdown of everything that you actually consume in a day. You’ll feel more in control of the dietary choices that you’re making and you’ll have a better chance to reinforce good habits over time.

Tracking Your Progress

To get the full range of benefits, calorie counting should entail a lot more than simply recording numbers in a spreadsheet. By using a calorie counting app, you can gain much more insight into the food you eat, your habits (good and bad), and especially how you are doing on your path to creating new healthy habits.

As you track your calories day over day, you’ll start to notice some patterns in your eating and workout habits. Some of them are probably good, and you’ll want to keep going with them. Counting your calories with the aid of a mobile app gives you a wonderful opportunity to see a larger, full picture kind of view of your eating and workout habits. You can truly see a transparent layout of what things might be hindering the type of results you’re after.

It may also help you to understand your body a bit better. You’ll be able to track what you ate each day, and connect with how your body is feeling.

Perhaps you’re feeling sluggish for a few days in a row, but then you look back at your calorie intake and you notice that you’re lacking nutritional variety in your diet. As soon as you make that connection, you can start reintroducing some varied foods back into your diet to give you the boost that you need.

Another scenario might be that you occasionally crave certain foods, but you don’t know why. Take a look at what you’ve been eating; perhaps the food you’re craving will actually satisfy a nutritional need that you’ve been lacking. It’s important to listen to your body, and track your dietary trends, so that you can be even more in tune with your habits and how to improve exponentially.

Counting your calories might sound daunting at first. It is a somewhat involved process that does require your attention and dedication on a daily basis. However, there are some things that you simply cannot achieve in your fitness plan unless you choose to form a habit and count your calories daily. You’ll learn more about yourself and your routines, and you’ll be able to gain control over yourself and your diet. Not to mention, if you stick with it, you’ll be closer to reaching your fitness goals.

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