As we all know, when it comes to losing weight, everyone has their own opinion of what works, what doesn’t work, what diet is best, etc. At the end of it all though, the simple explanation of weight loss is calories in vs calories out. But are all calories created equal? This is where calorie counting can get confusing.
Calorie counting is tracking the calories of everything you eat throughout the day. You have a set daily calorie goal, usually calculated for you according to your current weight and your target weight, and you base what you eat according to that number. You also log your exercise and your calories are adjusted accordingly. There are a lot of free apps out there for calorie counting. One that I have experience with (I do not calorie count but have tried it in the past), is My Fitness Pal. I actually think it is a great app and I would recommend it to anyone interested in calorie counting. I have also heard that LiveStrong is another good app.
All that being said, I think it is important to look at both sides of everything, so I want to give some pros and cons about calorie counting. As always, please consult with a doctor before starting any new program.
*Calorie counting can be great for people that are just starting to learn about nutrition and are unaware of portion sizes. If you do not know what typical serving sizes for food looks like, calorie counting helps make you aware of that since you have to measure everything to log your calories correctly. It is pretty shocking how small serving sizes are compared to what is “normal.”
*It makes you aware of how many calories you take in when eating out. Pull up nutrition facts for your favorite restaurants online. Some things we eat at restaurants have the same amount of calories for one meal (not including appetizers and desserts) as we should be eating in an entire day! When I tried calorie counting, this is one thing that really stuck with me. Since then, I have really tried to only eat out once a week and share with someone when possible. Calorie counting helps make you aware of things like this.
*It can help keep you accountable. If you know you have to write down that candy bar after you eat it, you will be far less likely to indulge in it. It is a good idea to share your log with someone who is supportive of your goals so that they can help you stay accountable.
*Calorie counting can help motivate you to exercise. Since you log your exercise and it adjusts your calories accordingly, this can give you that extra push to get up and get going.
*With all the free apps readily available, calorie counting is an easy way to monitor what you are eating.
*To answer my first question, no, every calorie is not created equal. A good example of this is to compare these energy bites that we posted a few weeks ago with tortilla chips. I calculated that each energy bite is approximately 115 calories. In most tortilla chips, a serving size is 9-12 chips (depending on the brand), and that gives you around 120 calories. The energy bites are dense and give you important nutrients like carbs, protein, and fiber. All of these nutrients will help keep you full and will fuel your body. On the other hand, 9 tortilla chips is not going to do much of anything for you. With calorie counting, all that matters is the number, not the nutrients in food. There is way more to making healthy changes than just calories alone when it comes to losing weight.
*Calorie counting can make you ignore your bodies natural hunger cues. Since you are always just focusing on reaching that number, it is easy to ignore your body telling you if you are hungry or not. Listening to your body is a learned skill, but it is important to develop it and start giving your body what it needs instead of just what it wants.
*It is easy to get obsessive over it. I have talked to many people that are so obsessed with counting calories that they think about what they are going to eat all day long. I think this is a form of disordered eating and do not think it is healthy.
*It can make you replace healthy, higher calorie foods with unhealthy lower calorie foods. I hear this all the time and it can even go as far as making people scared of certain healthy foods because they view them as being high in calories. An example of this is whole wheat. Whole wheat bread is often higher in calories than white bread but is much healthier. It is not just about the calories. If you are listening to your body and not overeating, healthy foods will be so much more beneficial to you, even if they are higher in calories.
To sum it all up:
I think that calorie counting can be a good thing for some people to help cut down on portion sizes and start getting on the right track when losing weight. However, I do not think that it is the best long term solution. I think that listening to your body and learning about what foods are best and why those foods are best, is the best thing you can do for your health. Whether you calorie count or not, it is important to look at the serving size and nutrition facts in your food to make you aware of what you are putting into your body.
Have you ever counted calories? If so, what was your experience with it?