Should you count calories to lose weight? For some people it’s a definite yes, and for some others it’s not ideal. In this article we’ll discuss 3 persistent myths behind counting calories and also the 3 reasons that would make counting calories the right choice for you.
First off: Why bother with calories in the first place?
Because to lose fat, you need to be on a calorie deficit
Let me get started by saying that in order to lose fat, you need to be on a calorie deficit, that means you need to be consuming fewer calories than your body needs for maintenance.
Maintenance is the state where you neither lose weight, nor gain weight. You need to be consuming fewer calories than that if you want your body to turn into its fat stores and for you to burn more fat for energy, to make up for that missing piece that you are not getting through your eating.
Do you need to count calories to lose weight? What are some ways to lose fat without counting calories?
That said, just because you need to be on a deficit doesn’t mean you actually need to count your calorie intake, OK, because you can be on a calorie deficit without actually tracking how many calories you’re eating.
Many people have done that and there are many different strategies to lose fat without being meticulous about tracking. A low carb or ketogenic diet or vegan diet for example could potentially help you lose fat by excluding foods and assuming you don’t compensate for that with the rest of your eating, then that would put you on a calorie deficit.
But excluding foods is just one possible way to lose fat and that can lead to calorie restriction. Another way is the plain old “eating less” strategy. The best example I’ve heard was about a really big person who used to eat two burritos for dinner and then he just started eating one burrito for dinner and guess what? He lost fat. Why? Because that put him on a calorie deficit.
Overall, whenever you actually lose fat, irrespective of whether you were tracking calories or not, you lost fat because you were on a calorie deficit, OK? That’s how you lose fat. And people with a higher current weight will find it easier to lose weight by eating less or excluding food groups than smaller folks.
If you’re losing fat, it’s because you’re on a calorie deficit. And if you’re not losing fat, it’s because you’re not on a calorie deficit. But that said you do not need to track your calories to be on a deficit. Now, if you have tried different strategies to put yourself on a calorie deficit, yet you’re not losing any fat, actually, tracking your food intake will help you get a better perspective on how much you’re really consuming.
Fitness Reloaded is a program that allows you to eat anything you want – there are no food group restrictions. Pasta, pizza, dairy, alcohol, meat, seafood, you can eat or drink anything you want, as long as it’s your decision.
In fact, when you do “Calorie Investing” well, then you can eat even MORE of the foods that we all know are delicious yet not good for weight loss: cookies, ice-cream, brownies you name it, and not gain weight, or even lose weight if that’s your goal.
So given that you can lose fat with or without counting calories, what is right for you? Before we get started, let’s start out by busting 3 common calorie counting myths.
3 Persistent Myths about Counting Calories
1. Counting calories causes an unhealthy relationship with food and promotes disordered eating
Clients bring this question up to me often: “Is counting calories unhealthy?” There’s this notion that if you track what you’re eating, or being meticulous about it, then you’re on your way to an eating disorder.
In fact, it’s when you have an aversion to tracking when your relationship with food is unhealthy. Here’s what this means.
Let’s use a speedometer as an example. If you were to drive around with your eyes fixed on the speedometer, then you’re on your way to a crashing or having accident. The speedometer is something you’re supposed to check only for a second, and then your eyes should be on the road.
So if you’re obsessed with your calorie count and every tiny detail, and use tracking to police your eating, then that’s unhealthy.
But now imagine the opposite.
Imagine having an aversion to checking the speedometer! Imagine not wanting to check your speed.
Now that’s unhealthy too. I wouldn’t want to find out what would happen in the streets if people had an inherent aversion to checking their speed!
So if you have an inherent aversion to calorie counting, tracking your eating habits, and learning more about food, then you likely already have an unhealthy relationship with food.
Tracking is only a tool, and as a tool, it’s neutral. If you overly depend on it, or if you’re obsessed, then that’s not a healthy place to be, but complete aversion or even thinking it’d be unhealthy to track, then that’s not healthy for sure.
One exception could be people with a history of disordered eating. For those folks tracking can be triggering. Just like former alcoholics are better off not having a single drink, same with former eating disorder folks, they might be better off staying away from tracking.
2. “Counting calories does not work because I was on a 1200 kcal diet and didn’t lose any fat.”
Counting calories is a skill.
Many people think that they are doing it right when in reality they’re miscalculate their caloric intake or their caloric expenditure.
And it’s not just the things they don’t add. It’s also the food intake they miscalculate; things that they don’t measure well enough and wrongly estimate their calorie content. Obviously, food intake they forget, like licks, bites, tastes here and there. All those things add up and they might give you a completely different picture once you actually start being meticulous with your tracking.
Another way you may misue counting calories is when you have the “equation” wrong. For example, it’s really common for people to overestimate their energy expenditure. If you overestimate how many calories you’re burning with your physical activity, you’ll be losing less fat, or even no fat.
But as you get into food tracking, you’ll start getting better at the art of tracking, and not only that, eventually, your eyeballing skills will grealy improve and you don’t need to measure everything to get accurate results. You will develop “intuition” and become a “natural” at grasping the energy content and the nutrition quality of each food, just because you’re an experienced tracker.
So food tracking or checking your daily calories is a tool. It’s like you’re on the road, you’re driving, do you know if you’re at 40 mph or 45 mph or even 55?
How many times you suddenly realize you’re speeding or you’re maybe driving too slow? You check the speedometer and adjust. Same thing with food. Food tracking is the equivalent of the speedometer.
3. “Counting calories tells you nothing about the quality of food. Being healthy is not about calories but about WHAT you eat.”
Quantity Vs Quality: So can you eat anything you want, including junk, as long it’s within your calorie goals?
This is a highly contested subject that I think many people do not understand the nuances around it. Let’s say you’re in San Francisco and you want to go to Los Angeles. Let’s say that is four hundred miles. So you need to do that four hundred mileage, and if you don’t do that, you will not reach your destination.
Similarly, if you want to lose weight, you need to be on a calorie deficit. Let’s say if you want to lose 10 pounds, because one pound of fat is roughly equivalent to 3500 calories, that will mean that you need 35000 calories, on a deficit, for you to lose those 10 pounds. This is the quantity of calories, just like the quantity of miles.
That said, let’s go back to the S.F. To L.A. example.
If you choose to go by car, it’s going to be very different than choosing to fly, which is going to be very different than, say, choosing to go by swimming. It’ll be completely different in the time that it’s going to take you to get there, you might not even get there if you choose to swim, OK? And even if we were to think about just taking your car, if you were, you know, you could go and just go if there’s no traffic, but imagine if you had to deal with a lot of traffic!
Same thing with fat loss. So you have those 35000 calories in our 10 pound, “I want to lose 10 pounds” example, that you want to be on a a deficit, but how you do that will completely change your experience: the speed that it will take for you to get there, whether you enjoy the ride or not enjoy the ride at all, whether it’ll be a struggle or a breeze.
Maybe with the traffic example, if you start out from San Francisco and there is all this traffic in your first hour, you might be like, “I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to go to L.A. anymore, I might as well go back to San Francisco,” which is actually something that happens very commonly with people who start diets: They don’t like what it is they’re doing and they go back to where they were and they regain the weight.
This is where the sources of calories actually do matter because they change your weight loss journey.
The 3 Steps To Discover If Counting Calories Is Right For You.
1. If you’re not losing any weight, while you’re trying to lose weight.
When you think you should be losing fat but don’t actually lose any, then it might be time for you to check your “speedometer.” Yes, I’m referring to using a calorie tracker and to being meticulous with tracking your food.
Like I mentioned earlier, too many people think they’re on a deficit when in reality they’re not.
You can be on a deficit all week but get on a surplus every weekend. This is a very commom scenario with any folks who do great when they have control over their envionrments but once they get social calories creep in.
You can have half the deficit of what you think you have and get immensely frustrated. Let me paint this picture for you.
You want to lose 1 lb a week. You think you should be losing 1 lb a week based on your eating. But what if you’re wrong? Let’s say you are indeed on a deficit but half the deficit of what you think you are.
That means it’ll take you 2 weeks just to lose 1 lb of fat. And if you’ve watched my water weight vs body fat video you know that 1 lb of fat is really difficult if not impossible to differentiate on the scale because any fluctuations you suee could just be water weight. You’d need a whole month just to lose 2 lbs. You’re losing, you just go so slowly you may want to pull your eyes out – unless of course you KNOW you are going slowly.
And you know how you’ll find that out? When you start tracking.
2. If you want to accurately know how much fat you’re losing each week.
How accurate do you want to be? One of the biggest benefits that comes with food tracking is that you can have firm expectations about how much fat you’re losing each week, meaning if you hit your calorie goal, then you know how much fat you’ve lost each week, period, irrespective of the number on the scale.
Even when the scale says you weight went up, or even if it shows no difference, the scale is simply not the right instrument to show you accurate fat loss results on a weekly basis. As we discussed in the water weight vs body fat article, the scale does not just measure your fat, it gets greatly affected by water fluctuations, so when the average fat loss is simply 0.15 lb a day, the scale might or might not pick that up on a weekly basis.
But if you stay within your weekly calorie goal, then you know for a fact, that you’ve lost the fat you were aiming to lose, and you’re hitting your weight loss goal, irrespective of what the scale says.
So you need to think about, if you like the privilege of knowing how much fat you lose each week, then you will be more likely to do that, when you’re counting calories, when you’re tracking what you’re eating, versus when you’re not tracking what you’re eating. When you don’t do that, you’re kind of like, yeah, I think I’m on a deficit, but we’ll kind of find out when we are actually tracking and then you’re much more likely to have a better grasp of what’s really happening. And that puts you on a guessing position which can be a negative experience compared to having the confidence of knowing what it is that really happened.
3. If you want to lose fat while developing a firm understanding about WHY you’re losing and HOW you should be eating to lose fat healthily and without risking weight regain.
When You Track Your Food, You Can Do Calorie Investing And Lose A Lot Of Weight! Calorie Investing is the method I have developed to help clients easily lose 50 lbs or more and never see weight as a struggle again.
Here’s how Calorie Investing works. Imagine the foods you eat as “investments”. You’re paying with calories for each item. E.g., an orange might cost 73 calories. A piece of dark chocolate might cost 60, a burger might cost 480 cal.
Every food has an ROI (return on investment.) So the question is what do you get for your investment?
Back to Calorie Investing, each food has a different “yield.” There’s the high-yield foods (e.g., eggplant, black-berries), the low yield (e.g., common carbohydrates like pasta, or non-lean protein sources like beef), and the ones with a negative return when it comes to satiety (e.g., wine or cheesecake.)
The more of your calories that you invest in the high-yield foods, the fuller you’ll feel in fewer calories.
For example, even though most female clients who have a starting weight of ~200 lbs start out at 1700-1900 calories to lose a pound a week, at the end of their journey and after they’ve already dropped 30 lbs, their calories may drop down to say 1300.
So I was talking with one such client recently, and I asked her if she’s hungry, and she said no. That’s the default for all my clients who have already lost 25 or 30 lbs and as a result drop at lower daily calories to lose the rest of the weight they want to lose.
It’s normal to feel this way because those clients have spent enough time with Calorie Investing to switch their pattern of eating in a way that allows them to eat delicious meals, that keep them full, in fewer calories, without sacrificing flavor!
And that’s how they get to drop their calories, and they don’t go hungry or feel deprived!
If you’ve ever tried a diet and you were having 1200 or 1300 daily calories, and felt deprived, that’s only because your eating plan, no matter how many vegetables it had, was not based on Calorie Investing principles!
When you drop your calories to go on a diet without also applying Calorie Investing, then the diet is either unsustainable or leads to weight regain!
The more of your calories that you invest in the high-yield foods, the fuller you’ll feel in fewer calories. That’s how you get to lose weight faster than if you were to attempt to lose weight without Calorie Investing.
When you track your food intake, you get to know your macros, which make it easier to choose foods that help you lose weight
When it comes to losing weight what we actually care about is satiety. OK, so you want to keep yourself for full in fewer calories and you do this especially by eating foods that are very high in fiber. This is Calorie Investing 101.
While fiber is not the only metric, it is one of the most important metrics when it comes to optimizing for satiety.
If you use a calorie counter app like let’s say my fitnesspal, my fitnesspal allows you to track how many fiber grams you eat every day. So this way you get to see how you’re doing on the fiber front. Let’s say somebody who consumes 40 grams of fiber on a daily basis will have a completely different experience with weight loss than somebody who’s consuming just 10 g.
Sources of fiber
Sources of fiber are vegetables and fruits and legumes, whole grains as well.
If we were to rank them, then we’d have vegetables and then legumes and then fruits in that order. When you consume a lot of these foods, they take a lot of space in your stomach, you feel really full. Fiber also slows down digestion which makes you feel fuller for longer. Some of these are also high in their water content which promotes satiety even further
So if you’re someone who consumes 40 grams of fiber, you will be able to sustain a bigger deficit, which means you will be able to lose weight faster without feeling hungry.
Because you eating those foods allows you to be able to be on a bigger deficit.
Calorie Investing Allows You To Be Free While Losing Weight
People think that fat loss equals restriction. In reality, when you lose weight with Calorie Investing, you have more, not less freedom. Here’s how.
Now that you’re eating so well, you feel full in fewer calories, and hence have “extra calories” to spend on fun items, like, let’s say you might be eating some chocolate or you might be drinking some wine, guilt free.
With Investing that’s the equivalent of having some of your money in high yield investments, and because you make all this money, you now have money to spend on a Birkin bag or a ticket to Europe. Guilt-free, debt-free, you can buy stuff just because you can. You get the freedom to do the things you always wanted to do because more money means more freedom!
Similarly, when you make a lot of high-yield investments, then you’re already full and content but still have more calories for the day that you can either keep (and hence lose weight faster) or spend to optimize for other things that are not weight loss.
So when you know how to apply Calorie Investing well, then not only will you lose weight fast, but also you will get MORE, not less freedom.
This is the exact opposite of what people think about losing weight. I don’t blame them – they don’t know about Calorie Investing! And tracking will help do Calorie Investing right, because you need to know exactly how you’re investing your calories to make good returns and optimize your ROI.
Some people think that weight loss is all about limiting yourself. But those people think of weight loss as keeping up with low yield investments – just doing less of them. And even if they try to adjust their eating, they don’t know how to make the right adjustments, what the high yield investments are, and how to double down on them, making new go-to delicious meals that will help the actually move the needle.
So if I were to invest heavily in bonds that give 0.5% year over year, that’s less than inflation! I will be losing money.
What that means with weight loss is that you won’t be losing much weight, and even if you do, you’ll then likely regain it over the next few years, because your eating pattern is based on eating mostly a lot of low yield foods, with some high yield investments, and some negative return investments.
When we work together, we’ll address your individual eating pattern and change it into a high-yield, high performing “Calorie Investing” portfolio, so you can lose 30+ lbs as fast as you want, without suffering or eating bland foods or having food restrictions.
The best part? Calorie Investing takes up to 15 minutes a day, spread out throughout the day! This is it. 15 min a day to lose 30+ lbs!
I’m not kidding, I’m serious! If you want to learn more, complete the quiz and find out if Calorie Investing is for you.
For everyone else, the conclusion is simple: Calories are king but the sources of calories also matter and whether you choose to track or not depends on the method you’ve chosen to lose fat.
Is Counting Calories Right For You?
Now that you’ve read the article and have a better grasp on what food tracking can or cannot do for you, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below.