An Interesting Window into Weight Loss and Calorie Counting

I recently shared a blog post entitled “Why you don’t have to count calories (and can still lose weight).” And while I was sure to clarify that “I am not saying counting calories doesn’t help some with the control they’re seeking – I’m just saying a healthy weight can be maintained without this mundane task,” I still got the expected counter argument that calorie counting is not only helpful but necessary for some, especially for those with food addictions and/or little self-control.

A Memoir About Weight Loss

So on the heels of that feedback, a new memoir recently came out called It Was Me All Along. The cover picture and title caught my attention, and then upon closer look I realized the author, Andie Mitchell, is a fellow food blogger who I heard speak at a blogging conference several years ago. Driven by my curiosity about weight loss struggles, I couldn’t wait to hear what Andie had to say about her journey to looking fit and feeling fabulous (and losing 135 pounds along the way).

An Interesting Window into Weight Loss and Calorie Counting - It Was Me All Along - Book Review on 100 Days of #RealFood

I’m gonna be honest here. I’ve never been considered overweight, and I think I’m one of the people Andie describes in the book as not having to work nearly as hard as she does to end up being small. Now, while I used to eat absolutely whatever my heart desired (and I mean whatever) with no visible repercussions, I will say that as I’ve aged (I’m going on 38 this year!) and birthed a couple of children, I do have to be much more conscious of my food choices, portion sizes, and exercise routines. Basically, if I slack off too much, it’s noticeable – to me, at least. BUT, I’ve also had an entire life with a completely healthy relationship with food to help me, and that’s where Andie’s interesting story comes in.

Andie’s Journey to Losing 135 Pounds

While I thoroughly enjoyed the book and highly recommend it, I must admit the first couple of chapters were hard to read. The lack of guidance and general parenting Andie received throughout her childhood was just heartbreaking. But at the same time, this brutally honest window into her life really helped me understand the challenges one faces when they don’t have a healthy relationship with food. And why, at 20 years old when you have almost no experience with proper portion control, calorie counting might be the only way to learn what is in the realm of normal.

In the book, you follow Andie on her journey of first attempting to just accept her obesity as a teen (268 pounds was her peak), to then wanting to make changes but not being sure how or if she has the willpower to do it, to finally – after many difficult and inspiring challenges – getting down to even below her goal weight (as a size 4) and finally learning to accept and love her new body.

You also follow Andie along as she goes from eating whatever she wants (times a dozen in some cases) to embracing Weight Watchers and the meticulous counting which helped her get on the right path, to the overly obsessive tracking of numbers which eventually took the joy out of eating and basically her life, to finally her happy place. Which I was really pleased to learn involves real food, the right proportions (by simply listening to her body), and occasional treats that are now much appreciated. No meticulous tracking necessary.

Real Food Plays a Role

So while Andie desperately needed clear boundaries (i.e., point and calorie counting) to figure out how to get from one end of the spectrum to the other, in the very end, real food prevails! And thanks to this well written memoir, it’s now clearer to me how food addiction can happen in the first place and why weight loss can be such a huge battle for some. While my hope is for us all to simply enjoy a variety of real food in the right proportions, I now fully understand how some don’t have the tools (and in Andie’s case – the self-control) they need to live this way. And if you need some inspiration, I think you’ll be equally amazed at how hard Andie was willing to work to achieve her amazing transformation and finally find peace in the end.

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82 thoughts on “An Interesting Window into Weight Loss and Calorie Counting”

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  1. Lisa,

    I heard your interview with Pat Flynn this morning and was very moved by your story which prompted me to read your blog. To my surprise and joy I came across this blog on a topic very dear to my heart: Food Addiction. I thought I’d add to the comments that, in my work as an eating disorder professional and a food addict personally, counting calories is the worst thing a food addict can do because it keeps her/him in the whirlwind of addictive behavior. The answer comes from staying away from certain “sensitive” foods and eating balanced meals…and of course as you say so often…eating “real” food.

    I love your blog and plan to follow!

    Thank you,
    Lisa (we share the same name too!)….

  2. I suffer from an addiction to food and an emotional eating problem stemming from childhood. I understand that counting calories can work for people, but I found that when I had tried counting calories I got really sick and tired of the whole “dieting” thing and ended up failing… and failing hard. Starting in March I decided to change my life and eat only unprocessed foods and making the majority of my meals at home and sticking to local, real food when I do eat out. No counting calories, no food journaling… just looking at ingredients and making most things from scratch. I have lost 12 pounds and have never felt better. I still have 18 pounds to lose and I don’t fear how long it will take or how dreadful it will be, unlike when I used to do mainstream diets. This is no longer a diet for me, it’s a lifestyle. Finding your blog has helped along the way. I don’t have children so I can’t relate with you there, but I love the simplicity of your recipes and the knowledge you have shared. I definitely wasn’t ignorant on nutrition but I chose to ignore it for most of my life just out of habit or fear or not enjoying myself. Now I enjoy life even more!

    Again, I do understand that counting calories can help people, but coming from someone who does suffer from deeply ingrained food issues, people can be successful without the monotony of counting calories or writing every single thing down.

    Sidenote: My wife and I made your pimento cheese sandwich and it was seriously to die for. Thanks for the recipe!

  3. As a child I was overweight and at 37 I am now in the “normal” weight category. Counting calories is what got me to stop gaining weight because it was the first thing that I could take control of and understand. As the years have passed I have definitely realized that if I eat real foods and exercise I do not have to rely on tracking every last bit. It is freeing to not have to spend so much time focused on calories, but it is a great place to start your journey of understanding how food works for your body.

  4. I really love that I found your website, and because of it I have been trying to learn more about whole foods and I’m just starting to consume more of them and reducing processed foods. I haven’t read Angie’s book yet, but I have been thinking about your idea that you don’t need to count calories to lose weight and I posted some about it on a personal blog I have about my weight loss journey. I feel this portion of what I wrote describes my feelings:

    “I get the point she is trying to make, but I’m a bit on the fence about what she is saying. While I do agree that eating whole foods “can” make you lose weight, when you are replacing healthy foods for the unhealthy ones you previously consumed, the reality is that if you eat more calories of these “real foods” than what you need, you are going to gain weight. Period. Any nutritionist will tell you that. Your body may feel better because you’ve cut out the junk, but consuming too many calories will always result in weight gain, no matter where those calories come from.

    So what does this mean? For some of us, we will need to count calories, period. When I was a member of Weight Watchers I lost around 40 pounds counting points, which is roughly the same idea, I’m putting a numerical value to what I put in my mouth. However, I don’t think you need to count calories forever. Because I’m learning that over time as you learn how many calories are in the foods you eat, you will learn to make better choices simply because you can roughly guesstimate the calories in something, therefore allowing you to make the right choices throughout the day. For instance, I calculated that my green smoothies typically fall in the 125 – 150 calorie range. And why is that? Because I also learned that 1 cup of spinach is only 7 calories and one cup of my frozen Dole fruit is 70 calories. So I know now that I can eat just about as much spinach a day as one person could possibly tolerate without adding many calories, but if I do the same with the fruit, I’m adding more calories. Same if I add some nonfat Greek yogurt to the smoothie. Still healthy choices, but because I know how many calories are in fruit vs. spinach, I know that if I completely gorge out on my fruit I’ll be consuming more calories.

    Another example is my mason jar salads. I took the time to calculate that with the fruit and veggie mason jar salad I make I’m consuming about 350 calories while if I eat my mason jar cobb salad I’m consuming about 520 calories. So maybe I decide to eat a fruit and veggie salad rather than a cobb salad on a day when I will have a heavier dinner or higher calorie snacks. It’s all about finding the right balance, and many can’t do that until you know SOMETHING about calories.”

  5. Hi Lisa-

    I have struggled with my weight my entire adult life. I am currently reading Andie’s book and can relate to so many things in it. I think that we are all different and what works for one may not work for another. I have tried various weight loss plans. Over the years, I was most sucessful with the Weight Watchers plan. That being said, my weight would always creep back up. I know that it’s because I turned to “my old eating habits” and exercised less. Hence, it has always been a struggle.

    In January of 2014, I changed my focus. I didn’t concentrate on weight loss (even though I needed to lose weight). I read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. I realized that I was eating more “food” from a lab than real food from the earth. That book somehow led me to your blog. For the past year and two months, I have maintained a “real food” diet. Yes, I allow myself to veer off course every once in a while. However, I became very convicted of certain things after reading that book, following your blog (and others’ blogs) and can’t imagine going back to eating out of a box.

    I focused on my HEALTH not my weight. I read where you said that your body’s weight would take care of itself if you ate a real food diet. That is true. Over the course of last year, I lost 30 pounds. Was that a fast weight loss plan? Absolutely not. Am I disapointed? Absolutely not. I developed lifestyle changes that are now lifetsyle habits. If I “pig out” on brussel sprouts or fruit, I don’t worry about it. I don’t think anyone ever became fat because of a brussel sprout!

    This way of life has changed my life! I haven’t counted a single calorie and it has been FREEING! Does that mean it works for everyone? Of course not.

    You may not know what it’s like to struggle with losing weight, but you KNOW about the positive changes that a real food diet can have on a person’s health. I thank you for sharing your insight every day on this blog. It has been life changing for this life-long weight battler!


    PS – I’m going to email you a before/after photo to show you the difference in one year of a “real food” diet.

  6. Love this post as well as your first post on the issue. I never post responses but feel compelled to say thank you for this site and your insight

  7. Thank you for doing such a beautiful job with your mission and this website. Keep up the fantastic work!! I must add, that there a great many of us who do lack self-control or willpower of whatever label one wants to throw on it. No one is twisting my arm to keep drinking sugary coffe drinks that I need to stop, no one is making me order bacon, egg and cheese from that yummy national chain we all love that has “upscale” fast food. Point being, my weight gain has come from making poor choices over the past three years and as a result, I’ve put on weight and my hormones are a bit out of whack. We have all gotten way to PC for our own good and Lisa, you are entitled to your opinion and are allowed to express it in any way you choose. I didn’t take offense to your sharing with us that you have never had a weight struggle; nor was it offensive that you mentioned self-control as ONE of MANY barriers to weight gain/weigh loss. Unless one lives under a rock, the majority of people now know that there are multiple reasons why we can not maintain healthy weights. Eating real food is just one step, one tool in getting to or maintaining our health. And that is the reason I find myself at your website. To read the inspiration and encouragement to add great food into my diet and ultimately, quit the sugary drinks and ‘fast food’ altogether. Thanks again. You are great.

    1. Thank you SO much JL for your words. I was really starting to get discouraged there. I appreciate you not being afraid to admit that while medical/psychological/other issues CAN be to blame – that is by no means the problem for 100% of the overweight people out there. I understand some of the other commenters have struggled no matter how hard they tried to keep things in check, but the fact is – like you said – not everyone in our country is quite so diligent and much of the time there are unfortunately consequences. I never expected to be criticized for sharing my personal background, which I thought I was doing in a very “matter of fact” way, so again I really appreciate your kind words.

    2. Well said, JL. In the last three years, I’ve gained 45 pounds. Some of it is because I’m now 45. Most of it is putting work before myself, not exercising, and eating far too much pizza. But I’m back on track now and like you, come to this page for food ideas. Like you said, there are a million reasons why some of us can’t lose weight. Stress is a big factor, but in my case, all of this has been a choice. A bad one, but still…a choice. I find Lisa’s page to inspire me to quit the garbage and actually love myself again. And Lisa – thanks for all that you do!

  8. Thank you, Lisa, for sharing your thoughts. I am a 60 plus year old Grandma who has been overweight but fit most of my life. I certainly have “struggled” with various weight loss plans during my lifetime.
    It has never seemed fair that some people “win” and some people “lose” the genetics lottery, but there we are; it is true.
    I did not find your message to be at all judgmental. I think you are a lovely caring person who would really like to understand what some of us have experienced in our lives. I am quite sure that you pray that your little ones will “win” the genetics lottery. You are providing the best environment that you can for them. Thank you for all that you do. Keep up the good work.

  9. I get what Lisa says about it being unnecessary to count calories if we maintain a real-food way of eating and control portions. But, of course, calorie counting can be very valuable to gain perspective, since our culture has none. Plus, it can just be a way of getting organized, and knowledgeable about what we’re eating. Many of us, like myself, have a really hard time losing weight…mine is due to an auto-immune disease I am trying to heal with food! But it doesn’t matter how many calories I don’t eat, how much I exercise, or anything else…the weight won’t budge. I don’t have a food addiction and I do have self-control when I want to, but there are times I don’t eat that great, even if the food classifies as real food. Calorie counting/food journaling can be a great way to just keep track of things and get in a routine. I don’t think she was trying to discourage people who can’t do it so easily, but just that, and I believe this, once we get to where we want to be (or somewhat close??), we can maintain just by eating real food and controlling portions without the counting. It’s true.

  10. It’s funny to read all the comments. If you are offended ask yourself why. If you truly don’t have self control issues, then the idea or topic shouldn’t bother you. I am not “overweight” but do have to watch what I eat as I’ve gotten older, etc. and I do have self control issues. Each persons journey is different. Counting calories- or in my case, weighing my food and counting MACROS, led me to a very unhealthy relationship with food. So for me- it’s portion control, self control, and eating real food. That combined with excersize works. It works for a lot of ppl! For some, it may be calorie counting b/c they need that discipline. So be it. I don’t think anything that was said was offensive. Typically when you get offended in these cases there is a reason- a sore subject. If it doesn’t pertain to you- brush it off. Who cares! Nothing that was said was out of line anyway. I think Ron said it very well! To each his own. We aren’t all going to agree on this stuff but that doesn’t mean the blog wasn’t informative and accurate for many ppl.

  11. Thanks for all that you do to keep us informed. It must be extremely difficult to write anything these days without the fear of offending someone – i even hesitate to reply for that same fear. A lot of people are upset about the “self control” comment and i get that. I have lost a significant amount of weight (75 pounds) and have kept it off for almost 3 years now. I agree with the “self control” part of it – yea it hurts but it works. An example of this for me was when i was heavy i used to visit the “treats” area of our office – i would tell myself that i would only have one donut, but the reality was that i ended up having four. So the “self control” part of it wasn’t to only have one – it was to have NONE. I think if more people were honest about what they really eat and knew what they were putting into their bodies then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. And its not about “trying harder” its about “trying something else” and for me that has been eating real food.

  12. it is whatever works for an individual that counts. and people who have never had a weight issue can never truly understand the struggle these people go through. i am 52 now and until last year never had to worry. last year i found out i have hyperthyroid and hashimotos, hashis is just like hypothyroid where you gain ( in my case 40 lbs ) in a short burst. i went to az to visit mom bought all new size 10 due to that weight gain, 2 months later none of those fit. it is a struggle just to walk, always in pain. i am having a hard time exercising. i am not willing to starve myself. i am trying to eat better, but have never been a huge processed food person to begin with. i am now a size 12-14. people who have never been there do not understand. and in my case until hyper turns to hypo, i can not be treated for the hashis. it is near impossible to loose weight for us who suffer this no matter what we eat or do.

    1. Hashis is not just where you gain weight quickly. It is an autoimmune disorder…your body is attacking itself. It sucks. I have it too.

    2. I have Hashi’s too. I am embarking on a new option starting Sunday…the Auto-immune protocol diet. Yes, it’s restrictive but I will in no way be deprived of calories or nutrition…just some things I “love” and only for a while (hopefully, unless something causes issues). I am so willing to try this because I need to feel better. I can hardly function. The extra weight that refuses to come off isn’t fun either. But this is supposed to basically reset your body, heal your gut and I’ve only read positive things about it. I’m all in. Oh, and no calorie counting involved lol!

      1. i would be curious to know how that works for you. i have heard of that before and have looked into it a smidge.

  13. Weight, and weight loss is such a personal issue and so many things impact it-food, stress, hormones. Research does indicate that biochemically the body doesn’t use all calories in the same way. A calorie from a pre-packaged donut is very different from a calorie from kale. People may be interested in The Calorie Myth by Jonathan Bailor for another perspective.

  14. Dear Lisa,

    Thanks for writing this post and reviewing the book. I’ve been interested in that story as well (I love Can You Stay for Dinner?) but I haven’t gotten a chance to sit down and read it yet.

    I’d also like to thank you for taking the initiative to write the post knowing that there would be backlash. Weight is a touchy subject for us all and I think it takes a certain amount of bravery to put your two cents out there. Kudos.

    I don’t understand why everyone is up-in-arms about the “self-control” comments. I lack self-control. When I’m sad, I eat ice cream. Around 3pm, I want a bag of chips…so I go eat them. Controlling myself is an issue, and something I know contributes to my gaining weight. I think that everyone struggles with self-control now and again, and I don’t think that it’s taboo to say that a lack of self-control contributes to weight gain OR lack of weight loss.

    I lost 50 pounds three years ago and I chalk it up to giving myself the grace to realize that I was flawed and needed to whip myself into better shape in the eating department. I agree that eating real food is so much better for you than processed food and I admit that I tracked calories and exercise on my journey to weight loss. I counted calories daily for a year and, while I didn’t burn out, I did find that I simply didn’t need to do so anymore. Committing to that plan led my body to realize what a good portion was and my brain to eat in the proper way to know that I was full.

    I don’t believe it’s right to unleash your insecurities on others. If you don’t like to read about weight loss, you should avoid posts that include those words in the title. And just because someone hasn’t struggled with weight before doesn’t mean they don’t lack self-control in another part of their lives. It’s those little pieces of us that make us unique. Fat, thin, lazy, athletic, depressed and insufferably cheery – we are still all thinking, feeling people.

    Here’s to all of you on your great life adventures! I need my 3pm salt fix. :)

    1. Well, because *some* of us are overweight and *don’t* have problems with self-control.

      The assumption that we read into that statement is that overweight = no self control.

      Simply not true.

  15. It’s really hard to think about it, and to explain it, when it’s not you.

    You admit that you’ve never had a weight problem, so it’s going to be really difficult for you to judge, or to even understand.

    ” I still got the expected counter argument that calorie counting is not only helpful but necessary for some, especially for those with food addictions and/or little self-control.”

    Enjoy winning the genetic lottery. Really. Because in reality, it is NOT simply this black and white! I’ve been fat. I’ve been thin (ish).
    – I do not now, nor have I ever, had a “food addiction”
    – I do not have a problem with “self-control”
    – Yet I’ve still been obese, and am currently overweight by about 6 pounds.

    The fact of the matter is – I did not win the genetic lottery.
    At no time in my life, even in my 20’s, was I able to just “eat whatever I wanted and not gain weight”. When I was in my 20’s and in the military, it’s the closest I’ve ever been. Eating out, plus sports, plus beer, still was only a few pounds overweight.

    It’s when I left the military, kept up the eating habits, and didn’t keep up the same level of exercise and activity, that I became obese.

    I wasn’t addicted to food.
    I didn’t lack “self control”.
    I just hadn’t ever really THOUGHT about it.

    And the years, well, they just get crueler, don’t they?

    I had my second baby at 42.
    I gained 50 lbs.
    I did not gain 50 lbs because I lacked self control. I did not overeat. I continued to exercise. However, my body had a great “memory” for weight gain, and I gained 20 lbs in the first trimester. Due to insomnia, work stress, and my mother’s death at week 11, I did not sleep much. That, simply, is why the weight came on so quickly.

    And then losing weight at 42, 43, 44, with an infant/toddler, an older child, and a full time job at a failing start-up company – well, that’s another recipe for weight loss failure. Stress? Check. No sleep? Check.

    The *only* time I was able to lose weight was by calorie counting. I could easily maintain my weight without it – whether it be at 168 (where I was 1 year ago) or 141 (where I am now). If I wanted to lose faster than 0.5 lb a week, I would have to give up specific foods, like anything with sugar (no dessert), anything with wheat (no bread), and anything with alcohol (no wine, not even a glass a week).

    I don’t have a problem with sugar, alcohol, or bread. I don’t *need* it. I’d like to be able to have an occasional cookie, glass of wine, or piece of homemade bread. But I am unable to lose weight with those things in my life. I *must* count calories to lose weight, and sometimes even to maintain weight (it’s been a particularly bad month on the cold/ insomnia/ work stress/ sick toddler front).

    I am never going to be “trim”. It’s not my body type. I can be “normal weight” with a HECK of a lot of work. It’s hard to explain to someone who can have a few glasses of wine a week, eat dessert on Saturday, and have bread 4 times a week how different it can be for others.

    My good friend just turned 70 last year – and all of a sudden she gained 5 lbs in her middle. She’d always been trim. She said “Marcia, I kind of get it now. I only eat 1200 calories a day and I exercise 2 hours a day. My doctor said – you’re 70, get used to it. Be glad it took this long.”

  16. I don’t understand why there needs to be a right or wrong here. For me, calorie-counting has been very helpful, and it is nicely related to eating whole foods. With calorie-counting, you realize just how much more you can eat if you are eating vegies, and you realize that some whole foods are still loaded with calories. While I can’t imagine calorie-counting forever, I think doing for awhile has given me a good education. I also think that many of us who are a bit overweight fool ourselves about how many calories we burn by exercising, and how many calories we need. I’m all for any method that gives us information, and for me, calorie-counting was a way to look closely at the little lies I told myself! If it doesn’t work for someone (I can imagine folks becoming too focused on those pesky little calories), then I am in no way offended that it doesn’t work for that person. If it works for me, I can’t imagine anyone being offended by that.

  17. I have always been a very fast eater, so IMO a big part of my excess weight stems from me eating too fast for my body to realize he does not need more food in a timely fashion.

    But since I have cut out processed food and all sweet things (well, except for things like fruit or dried fruit ) I have made a curious observation: I feel a lot warmer and generally dress a lot lighter to the point where members of my family and friends ask me, why I am not cold. I am in my mid-twenties, so this cannot be attributed to going into menopause.

    I have read an article where the author says, that weight-gain has a lot to do with the hormonal make-up of the body and that hormones like insulin (too much sugar, not enough fiber), cortisol (stress) and oestrogene-like substances (BPA etc.)play a big part in it. If the level of hormones that promote weight-gain is low, then according to this article the body will find a way to burn off most of the excess calories by either burning it off through more movement or a slightly higher temperature.

    I still have excess weight that I want to get rid of, but I have not gained weight since I changed my diet even though I work less out than before. So keeping to a real-food-diet does not automatically make you slim, but it can help you keep your weight even if you do not exercise and eat too much.

  18. This book looks awesome. Thank you for the recommendation. I agree with you that in order to not have a poor relationship with food, you need to change your mindset. Living on a ‘diet’ is not a feasible option. Eating real food is a successful way to live, healthily. I do feel that calories in vs. calories out is still important. A calorie is a calorie! But, if you are eating the appropriate nutrients, your body will stop craving.

    Thank you for having such a positive attitude and website. You look great and your purpose is awesome. Keep doing what you are doing girl!

  19. I honestly don’t know all of what you have said about weight loss on your blog. But, I’ll say this. Obesity is really a fascinating, stressful topic – the scope of which most people don’t understand, including a lot of doctors. It is driven by so many things above and beyond a relationship with food, including genetics, stress, hormones, sugar addiction, the gut microbiome…that we still don’t clearly have mapped out. If you are overweight and haven’t read about leptin resistance, you should check it out. Once you lose pounds, those little fat cells are basically fighting you to gain it back. It’s seriously hard to fight hormones and biology. If you had asked me two years ago if I would have gained back the 40 lbs that I spent two years losing (eating low-carb Paleo), I wouldn’t have believed it could happen. But, the husband had health problems and surgery, I had tons of financial and job and parenting stress, and I just couldn’t fight it anymore. Some would say I lost my will-power. I say, life happens and sometimes you have to re-prioritize your focus.

    I have good years and bad years (I’m in a bad year weight-wise, oh well), and honestly, I’ve just decided to not let it define me. I’m happier with how I look when I’m a size 10, but I am trying to not let my self be LESS happy when I’m a size 18 just because of that. I’m not a worse person when I’m a size 18. I can’t let my life revolve around it. That’s one way that eating a real food diet is really hard for those with obesity. It requires so much emphasis on what we are eating and so much time cooking and prepping that it really adds to my stress levels because I don’t enjoy it, or the guilt when I’m not perfect. And just thinking about food so much honestly isn’t healthy for me. Just another perspective. Sometimes I have to take a break and do the “best options” that aren’t so incredibly time consuming and stressful for me.

    People are sensitive because it is hard to not envy those who don’t fight the weight loss fight. We all blame ourselves, because honestly, most people do chalk it up to lack of self control. So, self-blame, other-blame, it all takes a toll. I don’t enjoy weight loss success stories, honestly. I don’t find them inspiring. I know it can be done. I have done it myself. But, it’s exhausting to do it again and again. Eating real food is about being healthier, but the biological systems at play don’t mean that you will lose weight by doing it.

  20. I left a comment with my review of the book on facebook, but after reading your post here and the comments I wanted to add a few things. I am a binge eater and I have struggled with my weight since I was about 10 years old. I was raised in a house where real, whole food was the norm and processed foods were only given to us on occasion. I don’t know entirely why I binge, especially since I already know better, but, like the author of the book, for me there is a lot of emotions tied up in food. In particular, her description of letting go and giving into a binge could have been written about my thoughts. Control, not just in the sense of willpower, but in wanting to be in charge of everything definitely comes into play with this type of eating for me (and the author). Thanks for sharing the book as I think it can help others, like me, feel less isolated in our weight loss struggle. Also thank you for your blog! It’s been a wonderful resource of inspiration and recipes. :)

  21. It is February, folks. For me and a lot of others, it is the darkest time, both outside and in the soul. We are very likely to think the worst of things right now. But we could choose not to. Lisa chose to take a chance on what I’m sure she knows well is a very contentious topic. To KLM, there IS science backing up whole/real foods leading to health and weight loss. In fact, the FDA is changing information (food pyramid, recommendations, etc) to the public as a result. There’s also a lot of misinformation. None of that makes weight loss easy when it’s a struggle. I didn’t interpret Lisa’s post to say or imply that. She shared a story that another individual shared to provide inspiration that it’s *possible*. That it can be done. And that, eventually, maybe it can be easier. If it’s February for you and it’s too hard to hear, you have a choice. You can be angry, you can shake it off and ignore it if it doesn’t feel right, or you can be inspired – at whatever level you can or want to. Everyone is different – you have to just do what feels right for you.

    1. Are you aware that your comments come off as really condescending. It’s ok for me to disagree with the content of this post ANY time of the year – February has nothing to do with it. I’m not arguing whether eating real food is healthier and that we should be doing more of it. I’m arguing with the idea that if you’re eating real food and still not at a healthy weight, it must be because you lack self control. Please show me the science to back that statement.

      This isn’t about it being hard to hear or what month it is or anything except that the post was wrong. Flat wrong and judgmental. And I think it would be nice if she apologized and retracted the incorrect statement. I’m frankly surprised (or perhaps not) that so many are jumping up to defend it.

      1. Hi KML. My comments were not intended to be condescending, and only the one point was intended to be directed toward you. However, if they were, please accept my apology. It might be worth considering that other comments come off as condescending as well. Now that you have been more clear about your specific concern, and I reread both Lisa’s post above and her previous with comments, I suspect the concern is over the first use of the term “self-control” in the first paragraph. I agree that it comes off a little too narrow-focused, not acknowledging the many possible reasons that people struggle with weight loss. I think Joy expressed that in a really well thought out way in her comment above. Lisa did attempt to address the issue, though maybe didn’t do so in entirety, since that first reference is still there. Based on other comments to her previous post and this one, her posts really do help and inspire people. Are they the whole solution? Maybe not. I myself found the 21 Day Fix to be incredibly helpful because I very much struggled with portion control and balance of food groups on my plate. But no one solution is ever the whole solution, is it?

        Finally, everyone has their demons that they struggle with. You don’t know mine and I will not assume to know yours. I don’t know Lisa’s. But I think she’s trying to help people and by the many comments on her blog, she has done so for many. I think that’s why people are standing up for her. You’re not wrong to point out something that offends you. It’s not how I interpreted your comment. I’m sure if we were in a room together, I would not see a person as you described. Not knowing my demons, would you be so kind to me?

      2. Interesting. I also have had great success with 21 day fix.

        But not because I had self control issues. I didn’t. I can easily eat the right amount of foods (if I count calories). It’s simply that the 21DF makes it much easier to count calories than tracking every calorie.

      3. I think for me it was more lack of awareness. Yeah, we learn about the food pyramid, but seeing the amount of veggies compared to protein and carbs on my plate was different. Eye-opening even. I’m not going to lie, keeping up with it is, for me, indeed more a matter of discipline (Some might call it self-control). Keeping up with the excersize is even more so. I hate it, but as we age we need it more and more. All of that said, since becoming less “disciplined” about it, keeping up with real foods has helped a lot.

  22. You keep saying that you “meant no harm,” but sometimes we harm without meaning to. Your initial thought and response was to type out to all your readers that people who aren’t able to lose weight just by eating real foods (without counting calories) must be lacking in self control. I believe first reactions are the truest ones, and it’s clear that your initial judgment is that anyone who doesn’t have the identical experience or outcomes that you had must be just lacking in self control.

    To which I say, yeah, we know. We fat people are well aware that no matter what we accomplish in life, the minute we walk into a room, half the people there immediately judge us as fat slobs with no self control. Those of us who have been overweight since childhood or adolescence have deeply internalized that judgment. We get it. You think we’re not as good as you.

    Personally, I think you have an investment in maintaining your position that weight loss can be achieved with whole foods and a little self control. The promise of simple weight loss is a goldmine for blog hits and book sales. Your position, however, is based on your anecdotal experience, which does not even include ever having a weight problem. I agree with the above poster that perhaps you should stick to those claims that can be substantiated by science rather than delving into weight loss advice based on nothing but your own opinion.

    I think it would be nice if you’d quit responding to people that you “meant no harm,” and acknowledge that with your short-sighted post you have, in fact, done harm. And perhaps apologize for that and even retract your statement.

    1. KML – The author of the book I read did struggle with self control and was able to lose weight after she got that in check. The above post initially generalized that might be the case for everyone, and I revised a sentence to indicate that was the case for her (not necessarily everyone with a weight struggle).
      I still stand by my post and the fact that self control was a big part of her problem (as I am sure it is for some others out there). And believe it or not I wrote this post because I simply read a book that was inspiring and interesting – no “goldmine” with blog hits or book sales in mind. You clearly have me pinned down as someone I am not, and to be honest I don’t appreciate it.
      You state my stance is “based on my anecdotal experience” – I welcome you to read stories about people who are a healthy weight (or have lost weight) thanks to real food here: And I will add that once the author of the book I read overcame some initial struggles she was then able to rely on real food (and yes, self control) to maintain her new healthy weight.

      1. At the top of your post, you said that you “expected” the reply that “calorie counting is not only helpful but necessary for some, especially for those with food addictions and/or little self-control.”

        Leaving aside the issue of addiction, I wondered why you would focus in on lack of self-control, and would leave that statement to stand uncorrected and unamended. Based on my experience, it’s not difficult to draw conclusions. Assumptions about and prejudices against the overweight are rampant and considered acceptable by most of our society. No one likes to think that they’re being unfair or buying into stereotypes, but the belief that fat people are lazy and lack self control is so ingrained in our society that the vast majority don’t even see it as a form of prejudice.

        As others have pointed out to you, there are a variety of reasons people may not lose weight while eating the same foods and portions (or even less) as their peers who are more genetically blessed. For many of us, it’s really not about self-control. I can make sane, healthy choices with reasonable portions and still not lose. For me, the only thing that works is calorie restriction (and even that doesn’t work very consistently). It’s a battle I’ve been fighting since I was nine years old.

        Personal stories from people who read your blog, or from one person who wrote a book, are still anecdotal. I’m here telling you that food choices alone do not work for ME – is my anecdotal story less accurate than theirs? Neither of our anecdotes constitutes scientific evidence in any case. And as I’m sure you’re aware, science holds evidence to a much higher standard than “look at all these people who said this was true for them.” The fact is that you can’t make sweeping comments about health issues based on anecdotes.

        Current *scientific* research is coming to the conclusion that some people gain and retain weight for reasons we don’t fully understand, even when doing everything right. It would have been more accurate for you to say that calorie counting may be necessary for those who do not maintain a healthy weight based on real food choices alone, instead of making value judgments about WHY those people don’t lose weight.

        I’m sorry you’re offended by my calling you out, but personally, I don’t appreciate you perpetuating untrue and unhealthy stereotypes about others. I’m sure you didn’t mean any harm, but you did it anyway. If your goal is to help people and not just to generate income, then perhaps consider the perspectives of all your readers, and not just those whose experience mirrors your own.

  23. This is why I have always been so offended when you talk and ask for feedback on people’s success with weight loss when changing to real food diets. The responders either don’t have real food issues, or the changes they see are short term. Very few will find success just making a switch to real food for the long haul. I eat real food for health reasons, but I have no false impression that my relationship with food is healthy insofar as the quantity is and always will be a struggle. It’s not the design of processed food that makes me overeat – I’ve always thought that was a conspiracy theory that has no basis in reality. Processed food is designed to taste good, just as the food I cook at home is made to taste good. And I can just as easily enjoy a homemade loaf of 5 ingredient whole grain bread as I can a crusty white Italian baguette from Costco.

    It will always be hurtful for a person who has never struggled with weight (or at least studied and worked with people who have weight problems) to tout their solution for people with weight problems. We don’t need anyone else explaining how easy it is if we just did . . ., leading us to once again feel that we must really be losers since it didn’t work for us. Stay out of discussions around weight.

    1. Law, you OBVIOUSLY didn’t read any of the previous comments, both from Lisa AND from her readers. You are making an uneducated comment fueled by some deep seated bitterness and you are aiming it at Lisa because of her weight/body type as well as her self-admitted lack of struggle. That’s quite unkind and unfair, don’t you think? You should read the other comments before you get all up and arms. Cheers!

  24. The most enlightening book you will ever read about obesity is called “Fat Chance” By Dr. Robert H. Lustig. Everyone should read it. If you don’t, you can also view his research lecture on Youtube called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth”. He doesn’t just say it’s one thing…the sugar. There is so much more to it… and this after the decades of being told that some people just “lack willpower” and need to excercise control. Hogwash! There are reasons, and all the new science being done completely kills the “a calorie is a calorie”. Public health in this country does everyone, especially those who are obese, a huge disservice by not updating loudly that what we have been sooo marketed to believe is absolutely FALSE! Time to learn why folks! After reading it, you will understand just why a real food diet is so effective, and possibly, why some people can still struggle with their weight on a real food diet. A must read!

  25. I believe that many people can do what you do and maintain a healthy weight. I think real food is more important than many could possibly imagine given processed food is designed to make people addicted to sugar, fat, and MSG, etc., For those that did not grow up eating real food the struggle is real and it’s not just a matter of self-control. Once you are eating real food you begin to break that addiction. I am one of the lucky people who gave up processed food and gained 15 pounds. I have counted calories, weighed and measured foods with no loses. I am working on the types of foods I am eating now. While still whole food… fat is fat and I am probably eating too much of it to fill the void left from giving up processed foods. Ahhhh good times.

  26. Thanks Lisa! It’s great to see a different perspective. I tried your real food lifestyle a few years back and while I still believe it’s a great approach, I actually gained weight on it. I was not raised in a real food home or showed how to have a good relationship with food but I have also never been overweight, just a bit fluffy :) however when I did follow your guidelines I started thinking that since I was eating healthy fats and healthy whole grains I could have more of these. So I indulged in tins of healthy fats and whole wheat carbs and desserts made with raw honey or real maple syrup. I was also running several miles almost daily so I thought all was well until the scale kept going up and my clothes were very tight. I finally caved and started tracking calories as well as macronutrients and that’s when I realized how off I was. I’m finally back at a better weight and size for my body and still eat mostly real food but I do have to eat some low fat or processes products at times to be able to stay within my caloric range and still enjoy my food. Some of us just need that type of system and hearing advice to the contrary…e.g. “You don’t need to count calories” is not helpful. I hope to someday be able to just wing it and not have to count anymore but just know how much my body needs….but for now this is what is helping me learn proper portions.

  27. Lisa,

    I agree with the other comments about the use of the term “self control.” I mean no offense to you personally, but whenever I hear someone use this term, I know immediately that the speaker/author has not had a weight problem of significance. It is an innocent mistake, but that is why you are getting comments on it.

    The reasons for weight gain and obesity are complicated. If there were one solution and one reason, none of us would have to struggle with this. There are heavy people in my family who were heavy well before processed foods were in the majority of households. There are also thyroid issues in my family, and there is a definite hormonal component for me.

    I have had “self control” in the past, and in my 20s, I could lose weight fairly easily (although it always came back – and if an overweight person can figure out the key to weight loss success and maintenance in his/her 20s, that is definitely the best time to find what works and stick with it!!). That is not true now that I am older and a mother. Those who have struggled with weight all their lives often find that age, motherhood, and stress only make what was difficult before feel insurmountable later, regardless of self-control.

    I have followed Weight Watchers (several times) along with many, many other diets. Frankly, for me there is only about a twenty pound difference between my eating well and my not eating well (and I have much, much more than twenty pounds to lose). I use “self control” and I can only get so far because of my hormones, genetics, etc. And, yes, there is a component of eating for self-medication. I do not deny that, but part of that stems from the fact that trying to be under control has lead to failure or very little success over and over and over again. Why keep trying if failure is the ultimate end result? It is a vicious cycle that is both biological and psychological.

    So, yes, self control is a factor for SOME weight loss for SOME people SOMEtimes. But it is not the complete picture for most who are more than just a little overweight.

    I am not angry with you for using the term. I am simply pointing out that the use of it indicates a lack of actual, personal understanding of the struggles truly overweight people face. I agree with the previous comment that using the term “self control” is misleading and perpetuates a stereotype.

    I love your book and your blog, and I love that you are encouraging a movement to real food. It is sorely needed! I just wanted to clarify on behalf of those of us who have been fighting the weight battle our entire lives, the use of that term is overly simplistic and can cut a bit deep because of the message it sends that we are out of control and can fix ourselves if we could only find some level of self-control and discipline. It’s not always that easy or that simple. Many of us have been depressed over the cycle of failure. It is not fun to feel as though society disapproves of you because there is some sort of lack of character that you possess that thin people do not. To say that we lack self-control only makes most of us feel worse.

    Thank you for allowing me to voice my feelings on this. I do love your blog and respect your commitment to helping everyone realize that we need to eat real food. I also appreciate what you were trying to say in this blog, and I do not mean to offend you. I just thought you should know why people may be focusing on the one term.

    1. Thank you Joy for taking the time to explain this in detail (and in a friendly manner as well). I guess Andie (the author of the book I read) is different because in the end for her a lot of it was about self-control, and she is now her goal weight. But I appreciate you explaining how that alone does not work for everyone. And yes, as I said in my post I have not had a weight struggle myself so I don’t have any first-hand experience to add here, but I did appreciate seeing things from a different perspective in Andie’s story. I should also add that even though self-control did play a role in her personal weight loss story it was never easy – she struggled a lot until she found her happy place in the end. I will add a little modification to the post where I said “self-control” so people know I am talking about her and not necessarily everyone with a weight issue. I most certainly meant no harm.

  28. I have been a reader of this blog for several years and have enjoyed some valuable information posted here. However, this post is extremely disappointing.”I now fully understand how some don’t have the tools and self-control”- you really don’t fully understand because 1) you’ve never lived with this type of challenge and 2) if you understood, you would not be framing this as merely a “self-control” issue. A self-control issue implies that if people would try a little harder, they would not struggle with food, weight, body image, etc. This is simply not the case for all. Please consider editing this post and how those who struggle might feel while reading it.

    1. As I stated to the commenter above, I appreciate everyone’s insight and have slightly modified the end to indicate that while learning self-control was part of Andie’s story it may not be the answer for everyone. As I said in my post being overweight is not something I’ve struggled with myself and (while it was never easy for her) practicing self-control did help Andie in the end. I certainly meant no harm with my words.

  29. Hi Lisa,
    Thanks so much for your perspective. I am intrigued by your review of the book and I am putting it on my reading list.
    Thanks also to Heather for her ‘closer to home’ perspective. Reading other people’s struggles and strengths helps me to understand my son.
    Let me start by saying that I grew up on a farm eating real food. People my age ate real food because that’s what we had. Processed, packaged foods were expensive and not readily available and there were very few restaurants.
    I cook. We eat healthy foods, but we are not obsessive. We eat real meat, veggies, fruits, whole grains, eggs, cheese, etc. We are not picky eaters. We also eat chocolate chip cookies and ice cream.
    My first 2 sons are very much like me in that they eat a balanced diet and they move – a lot. We are always doing something. Running, basketball, soccer, working, cleaning- something. Both of these boys maintain a healthy weight. None of us are particularly thin, but we are well within the recommended weight limits.
    Then there is my baby boy. When he started school, he became sedentary. He truly enjoys sitting and he loves to eat. Anytime we had leftover food he would finish it off. He once ate 33 slices of pizza when he was on a basketball trip with the school.
    In first grade he hit 100 pounds. By middle school he weighed 275. At the end of his freshman year he hit 333.
    I made him play sports. I took all the ‘junk’ food out of the house. We all encouraged him to portion out his food. He just took the food to his room so we would not see him eat.
    Then something happened. He turned 15 this summer and asked me to purchase a book for him about weight training and diet. Now he has begun a weight loss journey. He only eats the foods that are on his diet and he performs the weight-lifting exercises. In other words, he has a plan and he is sticking to it. He has lost 87 pounds so far. He is 6’3″ and he weighed in at 246 this morning.
    It took a book for him. All the nagging and structure I tried to provide for him did not work. He needed to control his own journey. He needed explicit instructions in black and white from someone to which he has no emotional attachment.
    He could not have come this far without counting.
    As he matures, I sincerely hope that he will be able to recognize reasonable portions, make good food choices, and exercise enough to be strong. I suspect that he will always need to count. I do not understand whatever it is that makes him struggle so much with food. What I do understand is that some people truly do need to count in order to be healthy.

  30. Sorry, but this “review” comes off sounding a wee bit naïve and a tad pompous. You should probably learn more about disordered eating before you review books on the subject. People who have been raised on so-called “real food” are not completely immune either; Orthorexia comes to mind. I was eating lunch at an art fair in Miami and watched a woman obsess and drive herself half nuts for 40 minutes trying to find something “proper” to eat. She settled for bottled water in, omg, plastic. There’s a seemingly thin line between just eating healthy and going completely off the rails in a full blown panic attack about only eating “real food” these days. Just saying.

    1. These are my thoughts on one particular book that I happened to find interesting. I am by no means trying to be a weight loss or disordered eating expert. My focus will continue to be on cutting out processed food (as the name of my blog implies). And if you find me saying that I’ve not personally struggled with my weight “pompous” – that was nothing more than me sharing my background to give more context to the story. I’m not quite sure there’s any other way to say it. It sound to me like you’re trying to “read between the lines” for something that’s just not there.

  31. While I don’t disagree with your general direction, I agree with the other commenter that using Food Addiction and Self Control together gives the wrong impression of the physical aspects of food related additions. For many, Compulsive Eating is a disease and includes anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and other similar disorders. Its much more than self-control, in fact most suffering from these disorders have amazing “self-control” when it comes to dieting, but that’s not the long term fix. Food can be addictive like any other substance, not that different than drugs or alcohol except that we must eat something ever day. A twelve step approach to changing the mind and the way we use food substances as a drug has been very effective for many addicts.

    Eating real food is a part of the solution, in that its hard to reach “normal” eating while eating processed stuff. But there’s a bigger mental and physical aspect to it that many, many people suffer from and its underacknowledged in our society.

  32. Lisa, THANK YOU. This review touches me in such a new and beautiful way — a way that others haven’t yet. I’m so grateful that it meant something to you, and that you chose to share it. You inspire me every day.


  33. On the flip side anorexics need similar help. After being anorexic for almost 8 years I found recovery through getting educated on eating real food. Food generally terrified me because of how much fat and calories are in store bought food. As I slowly increased my calorie intake in my final recovery attempt (the only recovery attempt that has lasted for now more than four years!!!) I began to study eating for health…at the beginning I needed to count calories and fat to make sure I was getting enough. But now I do t struggle with anorexia and I cab honestly attributenthe change to eating real food which I don’t need to be afraid of because I known its all good for me and I don’t need to count calories anymore. :)

  34. Hi Lisa,

    I enjoy your blog. I was given Andie Mitchell’s memoir for my birthday last month. I am only a few chapters into the book. I have struggled with disordered eating for most of my life. Unlike Andie, I grew up in a home where we ate “real food” long before anyone needed to use the words “real food.” My parents were very educated about nutrition. My mother, like her mother and her mother’s mother cooked everything from scratch and fresh produce was an every day and almost every meal occurrence. The roots of my unhealthy relationship with food, like many of us who eat compulsively or binge, were complicated – more complicated than a lack of self control. I just wanted to comment on your use of “lack of self control” in the same sentence as “food addiction.” Many argue that one cannot be addicted to food the way one can be addicted to drugs or alcohol because there is no chemical dependence on food. They believe food addiction to be a “process addiction” where the process of self-medicating with food is the addiction. Personally, I think that all of the highly processed hyper-palatable junk out there probably does have a chemically addicting component. In any case, when I read “those lacking self control” in your post it stung.

    Addiction of course is not about a lack of self control. Addiction is an illness. A lack of self control conjures up all of the stereotypes of overweight people living in an unhealthy body because they lack will power or persistence. Disordered eating is so much more complex. I know that your post was intended to highlight the connection between real, whole food and maintaining a healthy weight – without needing to be miserably restrictive. I believe that eating real food is a primary way to care for yourself and your family. I just wanted to share my feelings about what is really at the heart of food addiction and eating disorders and to remind those out there who are struggling that self control and will power are not the cause nor the way out. Self love and patience are.

    1. I have never had a struggle in regards to food/body issues, but I have to agree that the “self-control” statement struck me the wrong way too. It perpetuates the thought that if you wanted to change bad enough, then you would. It’s just not the at easy for some. Perhaps “guidance” might have been a better term to use. I do appreicate Lisa for delving into different aspects of food and health and allowing open discuss and education for all.

    2. I appreciate your insight – I have modified the end to indicate that while learning self-control was part of Andie’s story it may not be the answer for everyone. As I said in my post being overweight is not something I’ve struggled with myself and (while it was never easy for her) practicing self-control did help Andie in the end. I certainly meant no harm with my words.

  35. Great post! Thank you! While I find eating real food helps me with portion control to some degree (I, for one, have a hard time overdoing it on most real food), it’s the sugar addiction that kills me. Thanks Lisa!