My Healthy 2020

Believe it or Not, Counting Calories Helps Me Feel My Best

updated Apr 14, 2020
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Credit: Design: Kitchn; Photo: Kim Peterson

“Every day you get to decide what that day is going to be like for you. If you eat jelly beans, log it and move on. Do not beat yourself up.” Kim Peterson, an accountant in Illinois, has used meal prepping and calorie counting to lose and maintain her weight for more than five years. Her healthy is about finding balance and not denying herself anything. “I’ve been known to beat myself up for not being perfect on my endeavors. After a bad stint, I have learned to pick myself back up and get at it again.” She shares her approach to balance and how she meal preps to maintain that balance.

20 people, 20 stories of what healthy means for them in 2020.

My Healthy: Tracking Calories

  • Name: Kim Peterson
  • Location & Occupation: Accountant in Illinois
  • How Long Tracking Calories: 5.5  years

What does “healthy” mean to you?
Balance. I believe in the 80/20 principle. 80% of the time I eat healthily while the other 20% may consist of a cocktail and potato chips. It’s about not denying anything.

So health for you is defined in relation to finding the right balance for you? How do you find that balance? 
I generally know what I’m going to eat 80% of my week. I make sure my protein is where it should be and that I’m not overdoing it on carbohydrates. I always like to leave 20% open for an after work cocktail or I might start the day with a tiny bag of potato chips.

Talk to me about why you don’t deny yourself anything.
I start to feel anger about denying myself and I don’t think anger and healthy should be in the same sentence. When I start denying myself certain foods, then I may decide to go bonzo when I do have them, like I may get the largest meal possible because I have denied myself. You can fit in fast food; you just have to make choices. I don’t deny myself; I just know what those things will do to my day overall. 

What eating style helps you feel your healthiest?
I meal prep. I prepare five breakfasts, five lunches, and five snacks for the entire week. Everything is very regimented and I count a specific number of calories for my day. When I meal prep, I put together a dummy meal plan into an app I use, so I can learn what I need more or less of. I weigh everything on my scales at home and at work. I have a tiny scale I carry with me when I travel. I also connect my FitBit to my calorie counting app. The more activity I do, the more I get to eat. Once all of the cooking is complete, I individually package the meals so, during the week, it is a grab-and-go situation. It makes my life easier.

What were your goals when you made that change?
Meal prepping allows me to create healthy, fulfilling meals while also giving me the opportunity to tweak my calorie intake, which was my goal. It also allows me to mess up and clean the kitchen one time a week allowing for more free time. I do all my cooking on Sundays. It takes anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn
How I Prep a Week of 1,800-Calorie Days in Under 2 Hours

How did you make this change? What motivation pushed you on?
When I started calorie counting it was to support a friend who was trying to lose weight. I gained tons of knowledge during this process and decided I had a weight problem, too. Sometimes when you look at yourself in the mirror, you really don’t see what you look like; you see yourself through a filtered vision. When I started calorie counting with my friend, the blinders came off and I took it more seriously. After two weeks of losing five pounds or more, I kept it up. My friend and I supported each other to keep going, asking each other, “What are you going to learn from this today?”

What are you most proud of?
I lost 60 pounds. I then purposely gained 10 pounds back, since I was struggling with losing some of my feminine curves. I also gave myself a little break recently as I became the sole caregiver to my mother who was diagnosed with Alzheimers. But I’ve started to strictly calorie count again. 

I’m proud to know that I’m in control. The decision is mine. This is not a race but rather a long term thing. It’s okay to take a break. It’s okay to have a bad day but you can always turn that around. This situation is not about failure but improvement.

I am proud of learning how to be kinder to myself and more patient because what I am doing is a marathon, not a sprint. Also, I’m proud of realizing that I will not let one negative action define me. I need to remember that tomorrow is another day to start fresh while learning from what didn’t go well in the past.

So what does keep you going? Lifestyle and habit changes are famously hard to make and keep. Do you have a secret?
I am a very routine-driven person so having certain schedules really helps. I meal plan on Fridays; I jot down a couple of ideas for the food I already have at home. On Saturday, I pick up items I may need. And I do the actual meal prep on Sundays. This routine is just part of my normal; it’s an every weekend thing. It helps me stay in control but also leaves some flexibility with my food intake. 

What’s the one food you love the most?
Burgers and pizza.

If you were to recommend meal prepping and calorie counting to someone else, what is the most important piece of advice you would give them?
Take things slow. Do not try to change too much at one time because it gets overwhelming. I often read the community forums on My Fitness Pal [a calorie counting app] when people first start to count calories. They get overwhelmed by trying to take on too much. They struggle with trying to count calories; worrying about macros; trying to decide the type of diet they want to do; and working out. My advice is to just do one thing at a time to gain knowledge and get comfortable with creating a solid foundation from which to build.    

Thank you, Kim! Follow her at @kpeterson539 on Twitter.

Some Resources to Help You If You’re Tracking Calories

My Healthy 2020: 20 People, 20 Healthy Choices

Every January people make changes to improve their health. But which ones actually make a difference? We’re sharing the stories of 20 people who changed their lives for the better and stuck — thanks to choices that are individual, diverse, and sometimes wildly different from each other. Read their stories here throughout January. We hope they inspire your own journey to finding your own, unique, individual healthiest 2020.