How To Stop Counting Calories - For Good!

I hope after last week’s post you’re recognizing the limitations in counting calories.  But, you can’t just DO NOTHING.  So, let’s talk about what you should do instead.

Just Eat Real Food

You want to know the real secret to not counting calories from food labels?  Eat food WITHOUT labels.  Fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, grains (think quinoa, steel cut oatmeal, rice), and healthy fats all fit the bill.  Ditch packaged and processed foods - anything with more than 5 ingredients in the label.

If most of your food is packaged, start by replacing just one item a day with something natural.  Ultimately, aim for 80%-90% whole foods in your diet.

Restructure Your Plate

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that growing up you were probably familiar with the food pyramid as a guide to what you should eat.  No wonder everyone started counting calories - the pyramid did a poor job of helping people identify real food portions! 

Did you know that in 2011 a new food icon was introduced in the US?  The MyPlate icon was rolled out in early summer of 2011 (shown below) and has since been improved upon by Harvard School of Public Health with the replacement of milk with a glass of water, incorporation of more vegetables, and the inclusion of a healthy fat.  The new plate icons make food portioning much more accessible by showing you what your plate should look like at every meal.

US GOV MyPlate
US GOV MyPlate

When planning a meal, use the Harvard School of Public Health graphic as a guideline.  I personally advocate making half of your plate vegetables, adding a lean protein roughly the size and thickness of your palm (approximately 3 ounces for women and 4 ounces for men), incorporating a healthy grain for no more than a quarter of your plate, and adding in a small amount of healthy fat such as olive oil, nuts, or avocado.

Be Mindful

In this day and age, we’re all guilty of it.  Whether it’s eating in front of the computer or TV or incessantly checking your phone at meal time, you’re probably distracted when you eat. 

Research suggests that people eat less at any given meal when they are focused on the meal in front of them (and conversely eat MORE when they are distracted).  Disconnect from electronic devices, focus on chewing each bite fully, and engage your senses to notice the smell, taste, texture and color of your food.

Reflect On Your Previous Meals

A report published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that we draw on memories about the satisfaction of our most recent meal when we make decisions about what and how much to eat next.

Simply taking a moment before each meal to acknowledge what was eaten that day is enough. Alternatively, consider photo documenting each meal with a quick cell phone snap shot and glancing through your photo roll before you sit down to eat.

As you can see here, healthy eating is as much about eating real, whole foods as it is being conscious of what you’re putting into your body.  Consistently focusing on both these practices will ultimately lead to health gains and weight loss without ever having to counting calories again. 

In the comments, tell me what practice above you struggle with and what step you’re going to take towards correcting it.  I’ll go first – I am always distracted when I eat. I need to stop that.  I know better!

6 Reasons To Stop Counting Calories

Last week, I alluded to the fact that I don’t think you should focus on counting calories.  Despite all my research and the conversations I’ve had recently about this, my belief holds true.  Here, I’m providing you with the 6 top reasons why you should stop counting calories.

1. Reported Calories are Inaccurate

Did you know that the USDA allows some variation in the reported calorie counts on nutrition labels?  According to the FDA, actual calorie counts can be as much as 20% higher than what is printed on the label. Further, in 2011, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article that stated that “19% of individually tested [restaurant] foods contained... at least 100 calories more than the stated energy contents, an amount that could cause [11-15 pounds] of weight gain per year if consumed daily.”

The other side of the equation – calories out – is equally difficult to track.  Each person has a unique base metabolic rate (BMR) or resting burn rate, as well as unique aerobic and strength training burn rates based on sex, age, exercise intensity, duration, body mass index, genetics, etc.  Although these numbers can be estimated, their accuracy is questionable.  For better results, a personal heart rate monitor can be used, however, this reading is really only accurate for determining the aerobic burn rate, not a strength training burn rate.

2. Calories were not Created Equal

In theory, a calorie of protein should be equal to a calorie of carbohydrates should be equal to a calorie of fat, but research suggestions that the energy required to digest the three different macro groups varies.  Protein requires more energy to digest than carbs, while carbs require more than fats.

3. Counting is not Sustainable

The act of calorie counting is incredibly tedious.  At a basic level, focus needs to consistently be placed on both reported calories and portion size, but the puzzle is much more complex than that.  As an example, your body doesn’t absorb all the calories that are ingested – how do you account for that?

4. Focuses on Quantity, Not Quality

As I mentioned in #2 above, all calories are not created equal.  In that case, I was talking about macros (whole foods), but let’s take it a step further.  100 calories of Twinkies is NOT the same as 100 calories of kale – can we all agree on that?  But, in your calorie counter they are the same!  When solely considering calorie counts, the concept of eating a balanced, whole foods based diet is completely overlooked.

5. Food is More Than Energy

Thinking of food solely as an energy source is a limiting belief.  As I’ve stated here before, I believe that food is medicine and that we can heal many of the ailments of our modern society simply through changes to our diets.  Your diet also provides the necessary vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to aid in processes such as cell growth, muscle repair, and bone strengthening.

6. Counting Calories Removes Intuition

Meticulously counting calories masks a piece of the puzzle that logic can’t replace: your body’s natural intuition.  Your body is very good at sending signals regarding the food and hydration it needs.  Unfortunately, when you’re focused on 100 calories this and 200 calories that, it can be hard to hear the message. 


Now, it’s time for you to weigh in (see what I did there?)... are your thoughts on calorie counting changing?  Leave an insight in the comments.

Introducing Lifestyle Design - One on One Coaching

one on one coaching

This day has been a long time coming for me and I’m beyond excited that it’s here!  Today, I’m releasing my signature one on one coaching Lifestyle Design packages.

In talking with women, there were two comments I heard over and over again: “I don’t have time!” and “I know what I need to do to be healthier, I just don’t do it.”  If this resonates with you, realize YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  Again, I heard this REPEATEDLY (and I fall victim to these things too!  Hey – I’m human afterall.) 

I created the Lifestyle Design programs to tackle these problems head on.  Starting with a heavy focus on goal setting, priorities and time and stress management, together we’ll gradually transition into incorporating healthier habits into your life – from eating healthy on the go to savoring time for self care and feeding your soul to maintaining this way of life long term.

Here’s the quick and dirty breakdown of the three options I’m offering.  To dig right in, visit the Lifestyle Design page.  Still have questions about coaching, check out Coaching 101 or contact me directly.


Four-Week Intensive Lifestyle Design Crash Course

This is a super aggressive program – 9 one on one sessions in 4 weeks and daily email check-ins.  Not for the weak of heart, if you have a clear vision of where you want to go and need a serious kick in the ass to get you there, this one’s for you.


Three-Month Slow-and-Steady Lifestyle Design Program

I’m not going to lie… this one’s my favorite.  We’ll work one on one for six sessions with weekly email check-ins.  This program’s perfect for working at your own pace, finding some clarity, and really savoring the coaching process.


No-Strings Attached Lifestyle Design Strategy Session

This one’s for the freedom-seeking types.  It’s a pay-as-you-go option and gives you the liberty to create your own schedule and customize your own program.


Each package comes with a FREE 50 minute consultation.  This is a great opportunity for us to get to know each other and decide if we’ll be successful working together.  Email me to schedule your FREE consultation today!

For more info, read the official Lifestyle Design Press Release.

Lifestyle Design - Official Press Release

Philadelphia, PA – April 18, 2013 — Stephanie Cook Wellness, a personal health and fitness coaching provider, unveiled a suite of Lifestyle Design one on one coaching packages today.  Designed for the busy professional superwoman, Lifestyle Design empowers women to take charge of their health and wellbeing through a holistic approach to achieve personalized goals. These packages are customized to address the specific needs of each client and are held via phone or Skype, to transition flawlessly into busy schedules.  The series includes multiple options including the Four-Week (9 session) Intensive Lifestyle Design Crash Course, the Three-Month (6 session) Slow-and-Steady Lifestyle Design Program, and the No-Strings Attached Lifestyle Design Strategy Session (1 session).  Working with Stephanie Cook, the company’s founder and certified Health Coach, clients learn strategies to attack the sources of derailment for the do-it-all woman, such as professional pressures, stress, and lack of time, and pinpointing areas of focus, including meal planning and prep, exercise, self-care, and scheduling.  The creation of this series was informed through surveys of professional women and their needs, plus the personal experience and expertise of Ms. Cook. 

“About three years ago, I let my job and corporate success define who I was and occupy the bulk of my time and energy.  I neglected myself and many important relationships in my life.  At the point of burn out, I realized what a huge role self-care needs to play in life and I got serious about the food, people, and activities that were fueling me,” says Stephanie of her own health journey. “My experience has ultimately helped me to not only be a happier, healthier me, but it’s also helped me to be a better employee, wife, and friend.  Now, I want to use my experience to help other professionals design their ideal life and make it a reality.  That essence is infused in my health coaching models.”

Stephanie Cook Wellness was founded in 2013 to provide nutrition, fitness, and overall wellness advice and support to working women.  Stephanie understands the strains that a demanding career and lifestyle can put on an otherwise healthy and happy life and has designed her one-on-one coaching packages and personal coaching approach to meet the needs of the modern workforce.  She is a complex problem solver and designer using her background in engineering and technical data analysis to provide a systematic approach to solving wellness problems and constructing healthier lifestyles.  Stephanie is certified as a Health Coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.  She is married and lives in Philadelphia.

Visit for more information on Lifestyle Design coaching by Stephanie Cook Wellness and connect with Stephanie on Facebook for daily health and lifestyle tips and inspiration.

Six Tips for Creating a Fit Lifestyle

Wedding season and summer are just a few months away… it’s the time of year when I find women are scrambling to fit into that dress or cute little bikini.  The truth is, though, that if we start to look at fitness as a lifestyle choice, and not as a seasonal to-do, we won’t find ourselves struggling every spring.  Here are six tips to finding your fitness mojo and creating a fit lifestyle.

1. Small Goals = Big Rewards

I’ve seen it often… people set big, lofty goals for themselves and then get discouraged and derailed when they don’t see the progress they want.  For weight loss, shoot for no more than 1-2 pounds per week.  Or, better yet, set a goal to workout a certain number of times per week.  With each win, set the bar just a little higher.

 2. Start Before You’re Ready

You’ll never be “ready” to workout.  You won’t “have more time after [you] finish [your] current big project”.  It’s unlikely you’ll “have more free time next month”.  Start now, don’t wait!   (Bonus tip: If you have trouble finding time to workout, SCHEDULE your workouts ahead of time.)

3. Find an Activity You Like

If the idea of running makes you cringe, don’t do it!  No one says you have to be a runner!  Pick something that you love.  If you like dancing, check out Zumba or maybe even a cardio kickboxing class.  If you really need to relax and de-stress, try yoga.  If you crave variety and love a challenge, try a Bootcamp or Crossfit class.

4. Create Accountability

Let’s be serious, staying accountable to yourself is tough.  Join a training team, an online fitness group, or leverage social media to stay accountable and on track with your fitness goals.   I am running 30-day fitness challenge groups through Facebook – email me to get started with one.

 5. Track Your Progress

Knowing where you started and how you’re progressing is a huge motivator.  The engineer in me strongly believes that data tells the story, so be sure to take before and after photos (front, back, and side) and measurements (arms, chest, waist, hips, and thighs) and weigh-in weekly or monthly (ideally the same day and time).

 6. Celebrate Success

Celebrate each fitness win… but don’t use food as a reward.  Whether its weight loss, developing a consistent schedule, or finishing a big race, reward yourself for a job well done.  Splurge on some fun new workout clothes, get a massage, or relax in a soothing Epsom salt bath.

What’s been the biggest help for you in creating a fit lifestyle?  If you haven’t been successful yet, what tip above will you start with?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Pulling It All Together - The Keys to Brain Health

The last four weeks, I’ve been talking about brain health.  I think this topic is hugely important AND interesting and I hope you do, too.  In case you’ve missed out over the last couple weeks (or if you’re type A like me and just want everything in one neat place), here’s what you can do NOW to keep your mind young and spry.

  1. Eat your Vitamins: Eat foods rich in Vitamin E, folate, B6, and B12
  2. Focus on Metals: Ensure you’re in the metals sweet-spot by limiting excess iron, copper, and aluminum
  3. Ditch Bad Fats: Steer clear of hydrogenated oils and trans fats
  4. Hit the Hay: Get 6-8 hours of sleep EVERY night
  5. Get Moving: Get 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days a week.


And, since you’ve paying such good attention to your brain and keeping it healthy, here’s one last FUN tip to protect your mental capacities.

Studies suggest that anthocyanins, the dark pigments in grapes and some berries, have protective effects.  You can get your fill of anthocyanins from modest amounts of red wine or from grape or blueberry juice.  Cheers!


Red Light, Green Light

Why You Need Both Sleep and Exercise for Optimal Brain Health Opposites attract.  And in this case increased sleep and increased exercise, seeming polar opposites, can help keep you in your cognitive prime.

8 hrs Sleep + 30 min Exercise = A Sharp, Young Brain


Catching Zzzz’s

Ever wake up from a great night of sleep and feel on top of the world?  There’s a reason for that. 

During sleep, neurons in your brain regenerate and help to keep your brain functioning optimally.  Too little or too much sleep and signs of cognitive decline can be exhibited – you can notice this immediately day-to-day but this also effects you long term.  So what's optimal? Six to eight hours… and here’s the important part: Consistently.  (aka every night, even weekends!)

Make it a habit.  Unplug (the internet will be there tomorrow, I promise!) and get to bed on time.  It’ll not only keep you alert and engaged now, but will keep your brain functioning at a high level for years to come.

Feeling the Burn

Several recent studies indicate that increased physical activity also plays a role in supporting optimal brain function as we age.  Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days a week was enough to shave off years of cognitive decline in test subjects.  Further, the activities and intensity seemed to matter less than the total calories burned.  So, get moving!

The reason for the linkage between brain health and exercise is still unknown, but don’t let that stop you.  Walk instead of drive, make a point to get up from your desk every hour, join a challenge group, or go to the gym.


What keeps you more focused - sleep or exercise?

Meet My New Business Partner.

While I'm really interested in providing one-on-one coaching to clients, I recently decided to bring another dimension to my coaching practice - another "tool in my toolbox" so to speak.  It was a decision I didn't take lately, as I don't believe in endorsing anything I can't 100% get behind, but when I looked at the alignment between my goals for Stephanie Cook Wellness and Beachbody, as a company, and considered the benefits their products have for some of my clients, I decided to COMMIT to building the relationship.

Watch my video to find out the three reasons why I decided to partner with Beachbody.

Want more info on Beachbody?  Follow the links to learn about Team Beachbody and Shakeology.

100 Burpee & Sun Salutation Challenge

Today is DAY ONE of the 100 Burpee and Sun Salutation Challenge.   Yes - you read that right!Everyday for 100 days, increment each exercise by 1 over the day before; by day 100, we'll be completing 100 burpees and 100 sun salutations.

Not sure how to do a burpee or sun salute?  Watch my brief how-to video now:

Burpees and sun salutes are a great workout for your triceps, biceps, pecs, glutes, AND core!  And, as we get up in numbers, you'll be getting a great cardio workout too! 

To modify, complete burpee pushups on your knees instead of with legs extended straight out.  For sun salutations, step back and forward instead of jumping and release down to knees, chest, and chin instead of chaturanga (low plank).

Worried you won't be able to keep up?  Here are some tips for success with this challenge:

  • If you miss a day, just add your numbers to the following day.  No sweat!  As we get up in numbers, you can split missed days between multiple days if you need to.
  • Find a partner!
  • Do the exercises at the same time and place everyday - create a HABIT.
  • Follow me on Facebook so we can complete the challenge together!

100 days will be over before you know it!

Commit TODAY!