Why You Should Stop Counting Calories to Lose Weight
Calorie counting is one of the most popular weight loss methods. It is championed for its simplicity and straightforward approach of "calories in, calories out," making it one of the go-to tools for beginners and even seasoned fitness coaches.
Calorie counting means keeping track of your food, consuming fewer calories, and increasing your physical activities to lose weight and body fat. It makes sense, right?
However, sometimes, this is not the case, and oversimplification can lead to fitness barriers and frustrations. This method's simplicity could also be why many people fail to achieve their weight loss targets.
This article will explore why calorie counting is not for everyone and why you should focus on getting the right nutrition in your diet instead of chasing numbers in your fitness goals.
The short answer is 'yes'.
Although many find success in calorie counting, it doesn't make the weight loss journey easier. Thousands of people would find it hard to track their calories consistently and keep the weight off in the long term if they relied solely on calorie counting.
Counting calories requires consistent effort and can be mentally taxing. If an activity requires more mental effort and is too challenging, it's naturally harder to incorporate it into our daily routine and make it a habit.
Calorie counting is harder, not smarter.
Calorie counting is inaccurate
Can you really 100% be able to track every calorie in every bite and sip you take daily?
The success of calorie counting depends on doing the math correctly. However, it is almost impossible to be 100% precise when tracking calories in and calories out, hence why thousands of people struggle to maintain their weight by counting calories alone.
Studies have shown that people struggling to lose weight are more likely to underrecord their actual food consumption by 47% and overreport the calories they burn from working out by 51%.
Research by UCSF's Human Performance Center found that machines often overestimate the calories users burn by an average of 19% and could go as high as 42% in errors.
Despite rigorously tracking the food you consume and calories you burn, it will just remain a gross estimate of your overall food intake and activities.
Inaccurate calorie counting can derail you from your weight loss goals.
Even if you use a tool to keep your calorie counting precise, you may still overlook crucial components of your fitness and nutrition. When calorie counting becomes the primary focus, there's a risk of neglecting the nutritional quality of the food consumed. You may lose weight, but inciting inflammation and other health problems in the process is not worth it.
For example, avocados and nuts are high in calories but packed with beneficial fats and nutrients; avoiding them solely based on their calorie count could deprive your body of these advantages.
Moreover, this approach can lead to an unhealthy psychological relationship with food. When the emphasis is solely on calories, food may no longer be seen as a source of enjoyment and nourishment but rather as a numerical value to be minimized. This mindset can lead to a restrictive and punitive attitude towards eating, which may spiral into a full-blown eating disorder.
Basing your fitness in mere numbers can harm your health.
Calorie counting fails to account for the complexity of many health factors, such as hormones and genetics and reduces the interplay of nutrition and metabolism to mere numbers.
As the body becomes leaner, it becomes more efficient at using energy. This means people with lower body fat percentages burn fewer calories than those with higher body fat. For example, a 150 lbs woman with 35% body fat will lose far more calories in an hour than a 150 lbs woman with 25% body fat, even running at the same pace on a treadmill.
It gets harder to lose fat as you get leaner.
When you are in a calorie deficit, you will experience several physiological and psychological responses. You will feel hungrier and less fuller after meals. In addition, you’ll be more prone to stress eating and consuming high-calorie food.
Your body perceives rapid weight loss as a threat to its survival, triggering a series of adaptations. Your metabolism slows down in an attempt to conserve energy, making further weight loss more challenging.
Many people power through these plateaus by staying true to calorie counting and further restricting calories to continue to chip off some weight.
However, studies have shown that this approach is ineffective, and people who subscribe to extremely restrictive diets and regimens are more likely to gain back their weight in 6 years or less.
The body hates losing weight. But do you know what it hates more? –losing weight super fast.
Calorie counting, especially when not mindful of the type of foods consumed, can contribute to insulin and hormonal spikes, which can complicate weight loss and body fat reduction. Often, to reduce calories, many will opt for low-fat or reduced-calorie versions of food, which can be high in refined carbs and sugars, leading to spikes in insulin.
The hormone insulin regulates sugar molecules in the blood. When insulin levels are consistently high due to frequent consumption of high-glycemic or sugary foods, the body is signaled to store more fat, particularly in the abdominal area.
Uncontrolled insulin levels can also hinder weight loss and can lead to metabolic issues in the long run.
Instead of obsessing over calories, a more balanced approach is to focus on key macronutrients: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
This method encourages a holistic view of food, emphasizing the quality and balance of nutrients. Proteins are critical for muscle repair and growth, fats are essential for hormonal balance and nutrient absorption, and carbohydrates are your main energy source to function effectively.
Shifting your focus to healthy, balanced meals can prevent monotony and nutrient deficiencies associated with restrictive calorie-counting diets. Furthermore, it allows you to naturally respond to your body's natural eating pattern.
Focusing on a balanced diet and macronutrients can help regulate appetite naturally.
Here’s a plan for women who want to lose weight:
And for men:
Clean eating or choosing whole foods is a more beneficial approach to weight loss. It highlights the need for high-quality, natural, whole foods that are minimally processed. These foods are inherently low in calories and provide the body with essential nutrients needed for optimal functioning, including metabolism.
Focusing on clean eating, which includes foods high in fiber, protein, and healthy fat, is more likely to be translated to sustainable eating habits that support long-term health and weight management rather than cycling through diets and unenjoyable food restrictions.
More importantly, clean eating leads to better satiety and blood sugar control, which are key to managing hunger and cravings. It naturally keeps you fuller for longer periods, which reduces your calorie intake without the need for meticulous counting.
Clean eating can help stabilize blood sugar levels and prevent overeating and energy crashes.
Although many people will find success in counting their daily calories, it is extremely challenging to determine the exact number of calories one consumes and burns each day.
Obsessing about calorie counting can lead to highly restrictive diets, which ultimately results in unsustainable weight changes and frustrations. It is crucial to realize that fitness is not a one-size-fits-all journey.
Everyone responds differently to diet, exercise, and even weight loss methods. The key to successful weight and fat loss is building sustainable habits and finding a weight loss routine that you will enjoy without sacrificing your health.