One of the questions I get asked all the time as a health coach is whether or not I agree with calorie counting as a way to support weight loss. This is such a juicy topic I thought I’d cover my answer in a blog post because, as with most things weight loss related, the answer isn’t always black and white!
I’ve dabbled with calorie counting a couple of times, most successfully back when I was trying to gain weight without bingeing. I was delighted with how much I could eat! When I’ve tried it for weight loss, it’s personally never worked for me for many of the reasons I’ll give you below.
Calorie counting is still a fairly popular way for people to try and lose weight. Apps like MyFitnessPal are used by probably millions of people daily to track the calories they eat, as well as for some people, their macro nutrient ratios too.
My issues with calorie counting start with the same issue I have with diets that count points etc. They aren’t sustainable in the long term, at least I don’t think they are for most people. I personally wouldn’t want to have to count calories for the rest of my life, and as calorie counting alone doesn’t teach us about nutrition, forming habits or lifestyle changes, the likelihood is that once you stop, you’ll gain back any weight you’ve lost.
Another issue I have is that calorie counting doesn’t take into consideration the nutritional value of food. It’s very easy for the focus to be on low calorie ‘fake’ foods than higher calorie nutrient dense foods like coconut oil and avocado. As foods containing fat are generally higher calorie, calorie counting can push you towards a low fat diet when no other nutritional guidelines are in place.
If you’re calorie counting you most likely will also need to be measuring your food in some way. Again this might not be very sustainable and really doesn’t encourage connection to your natural levels of hunger and fullness.
As with all ‘diets’ the danger with calorie counting is the effect it can have on your mindset. What happens when you have a slip up and go over your calories? For a lot of people they’ll fall into an all-or-nothing diet mentality and will say f*ck it and overeat, writing that day off altogether and in doing so, doing more damage than they would have if they’d just accepted the slip up!
There have also been various studies that demonstrate how different each of our individual caloric needs are. We aren’t machines and you can’t treat your body like an equation where calories in – calories out will automatically guarantee weight loss. There’s so much more to nutrition and weight loss than that.
Although I generally wouldn’t advocate calorie counting, it can be helpful for some people when it’s done fully consciously of the cons above and for a shorter period of time and with the right support
For many of us, myself included, it’s hard to trust our natural hunger levels after years of dieting. A short period of calorie counting with some support from someone knowledgeable in nutrition and mindset could be helpful in reconnecting a person to how much is the right amount of food for them to eat.
Calorie counting can also offer a form of ‘control’ but in a way that could be potentially less damaging than going on a full on traditional diet.
Another benefit of an app like MyFitnessPal is that it enables you to track macros. Macros are your macro nutrients: protein, carbohydrate and fat. For me, this is actually a much more useful measurement to be aware of as a lot of us don’t eat enough fat or protein. Beware though, the standard MyFitnessPal settings for suggested macros aren’t something I’d recommend sticking to.
If you really wanted to try calorie counting, this would be my advice:
- ♥ Don’t use the suggested calorie allowance or macros that MyFitnessPal spits out, do some research first and maybe try a calculator like this one.
- ♥ Never ever go below 1500 calories unless you’re very short. Even then, 1200 calories is a really small amount of food and could cause your body to hang on to fat rather than burn it.
- ♥ Have a flexible calorie goal – rather than give yourself an allowance of 1500 calories, go for an allowance of 1500 – 1700. This enables you to eat more on some days and less on others as is normal!
- ♥ Have a 500 calorie treat allowance – perfect for being treat smart, rather than calorie counting out the treat, just pop a 500 calorie entry in and enjoy it!
- ♥ Get some professional support from a coach.
- ♥ Rethink your decision and make sure it’s right for you!
As much as I’ve given you that advice, I’d still encourage you to try a different approach rather than calorie counting! My Fabulous YOU Collection gives you a range of resources packed with ways to manage portion sizes and lose weight without having to count anything. Check it out here >>>
For me, the bottom line is that calorie counting reduces food down to a number. It takes much of the joy out of food and doesn’t really help you become healthy and happy in the long term.
What’s your experience of calorie counting?