Why Counting Calories is Pointless & What to Do Instead

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Are you frustrated with dieting and trying to lose weight? Learn why counting calories is pointless and what you should do instead!

Everyone talks about it. Like EVERYONE.

I can’t tell you how many women I talk to who think that in order to lose weight, you have to count calories. Way back in the day, I believed it too.

Unfortunately for a lot of us, not only is it frustrating and kind of miserable, it doesn’t even work! I’d even go on record as saying it’s one of my least favorite ways I tried to lose weight.

In this article, I’m going to explain why, for a lot of women, counting calories is pointless and what you should do instead.

Ready to get started?

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Why Counting Calories is Pointless

Let’s dive right in with why counting calories is pointless. Because I know there are a LOT of people out there who think this is the only way to lose weight.

Technically, counting calories should work for weight loss. There are studies that have shown if you burn more calories than you consume, your body will start to lose weight.

The problem is, that most people suck at counting calories.

They either underestimate how many they’re eating or overestimate how many they’re burning. And even if you are good at it, it’s really easy to get off track.

I remember when I was trying to count calories, I would have a plan for the day, and if I went over my calorie limit, I would feel like I had failed.

I would beat myself up and then end up overeating because I was so frustrated. It was a never-ending cycle that left me feeling terrible about myself.

It’s one of those things that sounds good in theory, but when it comes to actually apply it to your life, it never goes well.

Let’s dive into some other really good reasons why counting calories is pointless.

It’s not a long term solution

The biggest reason why counting calories is pointless is that it’s not a long-term weight loss solution. Calorie counting can be very effective in the short term.

A simple equation of calories in vs. calories out will cause your weight to go down. With that being said, do you know anyone who wants to count calories for the rest of their life??

The simple fact is, whatever method you use to lose weight is the method that you will need to use to maintain your weight loss. You can’t simply do whatever you want with your diet once you lose weight. Otherwise, you will just gain it all back.

Counting Calories and Human Behavior

One of the reasons calorie counting doesn’t work long term (or doesn’t work at all for some people) is that it can cause a lot of feelings of restriction and deprivation. When you are used to eating a certain amount of food, it can be really hard to be suddenly restricted to eating a predetermined amount.

It’s human nature to want what you know you can’t have. I know that I personally struggled to make any headway with my weight when I counted calories.

Not only did it seem like all of my calories disappeared by midafternoon, but realizing I couldn’t eat as much food as I felt like I needed really bothered me.

Instead of focusing less on my food when counting calories, I spent all of my time thinking about the food I couldn’t eat. Just knowing I couldn’t have it, made me want it even more than I normally would have.

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It can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food

Another reason why counting calories is pointless is that, when taken too far, it can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. There is a dark side to counting calories.

Some people become so obsessed with their food and their weight that they develop an eating disorder. They become fixated on the numbers and lose sight of why they’re counting calories in the first place.

I once knew a woman who would mentally calculate the calories of everything she ate. It made it very difficult for her to even enjoy her food.

Calorie counting can be a slippery slope that leads to unhealthy behaviors and thoughts about food. If you find yourself getting too obsessed with the numbers, it’s time to step away from calorie counting and reassess your relationship with food.

It doesn’t encourage a healthy diet

The next reason why counting calories is pointless is that it doesn’t encourage the dieter to eat a healthy or nutritious diet. Most of the people who count calories prefer it because it allows them to eat a lot of the unhealthy foods they are used to as long as they stay within their calorie limit.

The problem with this is the fact that not all calories are the same. I will give you an example.

1 Reese’s Peanut Butter cup package is 232 calories (My personal favorite). Which, by itself, doesn’t sound too bad. Maybe a reasonable snack depending on how many calories you are allotted each day.

Let’s see what else is 232 calories:

  • 4.7 cups of strawberries
  • 0.5 cups of almonds
  • 1 cup of chicken breast
  • 7.5 cups of broccoli

Do you see the problem yet? For 232 calories you could have a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup package that will taste amazing, but offer almost no nutritional value and be gone in the blink of an eye.

You aren’t even going to feel full when you finish eating it.

On the other hand, for 232 calories you could have 1/2 cup of chicken breast, 1 cup of strawberries, 1 cup of broccoli, and still have a few calories left over.

Plus, you will get all of the nutrients and vitamins that your body needs from the chicken, strawberries, and broccoli. You are also going to feel a lot fuller and more satisfied with eating the second option than you would from eating the first.

Now I’m not saying there isn’t room in your life for the occasional Reese’s but you can’t base your diet choices solely on the number of calories a food has.

Picture of a Printable 12 Month Weight Loss Tracker on a desk.

Exercise becomes the cure for a bad diet

Another reason counting calories is pointless is that it encourages people to focus on exercising to lose weight instead of improving their diet. Instead of learning how to eat better, you’ll often hear people say “I’ll just work a little harder at the gym tomorrow.”

But here’s the truth: You can’t exercise your way out of a poor diet. Not only are you not going to lose weight by exercising alone, but it creates a negative association around fitness.

Exercise should be about getting stronger and seeing what your body can do. Not a punishment because you had too many slices of pizza the day before.

If you want to be healthy and lose weight, you need to focus on both diet and exercise. But when you count calories, it’s easy to end up putting all of your eggs in the exercise basket or let it be the scapegoat for your poor choices.

It doesn’t address why you gained weight in the first place

Another reason why counting calories is pointless is that it does absolutely nothing to address the original reason a person has gained weight in the first place. For example, counting calories doesn’t help my urge to emotionally overeat after a bad day. (One of the biggest reasons I gained weight in the past.)

In order to lose weight and keep it off for good, it’s necessary to address the habits and behaviors that caused you to gain weight in the first place. It’s one of the things that I help my clients work on in my coaching sessions.

If you don’t recognize the actions that caused you to start gaining weight, it really doesn’t matter what you do to lose weight. You are very likely to either stall out or simply gain all of the weight back when you slip back into old patterns.

Counting calories doesn’t help with issues like emotional overeating, binge eating, stress, poor nutrition, or any of the other reasons that women gain weight.

It’s time-consuming and tedious

Last but not least, counting calories is just plain old time-consuming and tedious. If you want to be successful at it, you need to be willing to put in the time to track everything you eat.

You also need to be prepared for when things don’t go as planned. What happens when you’re out to eat and don’t have the calorie information for the meal? What happens when you have a spontaneous night out with friends and can’t track your drinks?

Counting calories is a lot of work and, to be honest, most people just aren’t willing to do it long term. It’s why so many people give up on their diets after a few weeks or months.

Related Posts:

Can You Lose Weight Without Counting Calories?

Yes! I am happy to say that you can definitely lose weight without counting calories. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to lose weight and keep it off for good.

I’ve done it, I know lots of other women who’ve successfully done it, and I work with my coaching clients every day to help them do the same. If you’re curious about how, keep on reading. *wink*

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How to Lose Weight Without Counting Calories

Now that we know why counting calories is pointless, let’s dive into some tips and habits that can help you lose weight without ever having to count any calories.

Make a 24-hour meal plan

The first habit you want to start doing is to make a meal plan every day. Spend a few minutes writing down what you’re going to eat over the next 24 hours.

Being intentional about your diet and what you’re going to eat is the first step in eating a healthy diet and losing weight.

It’s one thing to say you want to start eating better, but without a plan, it’s really hard to follow through. A good daily meal plan not only sets you up with healthy eating choices for the whole day, but it gives you a solid plan to fall back on when you find yourself facing cravings or temptation.

Only eat when physically hungry

The next habit to work on is to only eat when physically hungry. This means not eating because you’re bored, stressed, tired, trying to stay awake on the drive home, so the food doesn’t get wasted, or any of the other reasons we convince ourselves to eat.

A big part of losing weight is making sure that we’re not eating more food than our bodies need for energy. And the only way to do that is by learning to listen to our hunger cues and eat only when we’re truly hungry.

This can be a hard habit to break if you’re used to eating for reasons other than hunger, but it’s definitely doable with a little bit of practice.

Start by checking in with yourself before every meal or snack and asking yourself if you’re actually hungry. If the answer is no, try to find something else to do instead of eating.

Picture of a Printable 12 Month Weight Loss Tracker on a desk.

Listen to your body’s satiation cues

On the flip side of waiting until you’re physically hungry to eat, you also need to stop when your body is satisfied. When our body is no longer hungry and we don’t need to eat anymore, it will send out satiation cues.

It’s our body’s way of saying we’re all done. The problem is, most of us don’t listen to them. We don’t even notice them anymore.

We’ve become so used to eating until we’re full, bloated, and uncomfortable that we end up eating way more than we need.

Start paying attention to the cues your body sends out when you’re eating. It’s different for everyone, but some common ones:

  • Sighing in between bites
  • Looking for your favorite bites to eat
  • Getting distracted from your meal

If you notice any of these cues, it’s time to stop eating.

Try to eat 3 main meals plus a snack

Another good tip for losing weight without having to count calories is to stick to 3 main meals a day plus a snack if needed. This helps to cut down on grazing and overeating.

When you let yourself nibble and snack throughout the day, it can easily lead to eating more than intended. It might feel like just a few bites here or there, but it quickly adds up.

I’m not saying deny yourself when you’re hungry, but make an effort to save your eating for your main meals.

If you’re hungry between meals, try to drink some water or tea first, and if you’re still hungry after that, then have a small healthy snack.

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Leave 2 bites behind

One of the important issues that counting calories does help with is portion sizes. Even if you’re not counting calories to lose weight, you do need to make an effort to eat less.

The amount that you’re currently eating helped to get you to the weight you’re at now. In order to lose weight, you do need to reduce your portion sizes.

A good way to do that without counting calories is by leaving 2 bites behind. This helps train your brain that it’s ok to leave food on your plate.

Most of us are trained to clear our plates at a meal. It’s something our parents encouraged when we were young and they were worried about us getting enough food to grow and develop.

But as adults, and with the portion sizes that are currently served at most restaurants and at home, we don’t need to worry about eating everything on our plates anymore.

If you can start to train your brain that it’s ok to leave food behind and not finish every last bit, then it will be much easier for you to reduce your portion sizes and tune into your body’s satiation cues.

Drink 64 oz of water a day

A good habit to practice when losing weight is to drink 64 oz of water a day. This helps to keep you hydrated and can also help reduce your hunger.

Many times when we think we’re hungry, we’re actually just thirsty. So before you reach for a snack, try drinking a glass of water first.

If you’re still hungry after that, then go ahead and have a healthy snack or meal.

If water isn’t your thing, you can add low-calorie flavor add-ins or read through this list of tips that I use to drink more water.

Picture of a Printable 12 Month Weight Loss Tracker on a desk.

Get 6-8 hours of sleep a night

Another good habit that helps with weight loss is making sure you get enough sleep at night. When we’re worn out and tired it makes it really hard to lose weight.

Not only are we more stressed and worn down but our bodies go into preservation mode and we’re more likely to gain weight than lose it. But it also makes it a lot harder to make healthy eating decisions throughout the day.

We’re so much more likely to go for that sugary drink at Starbucks or grab a quick snack for energy to help us get through our day.

A good practice is to aim for 6-8 hours of sleep each night. I understand that sometimes with kids and crazy work schedules we can’t always reach that goal.

But making an effort to get as much sleep as you can will help you reach your weight loss goals faster.

Eating slowly

The next tip for losing weight without having to count calories is to eat more slowly. This one definitely takes some practice, but it’s worth it.

When we eat quickly, we tend to eat more because our brain doesn’t have time to register that we’re full.

But when we eat slowly and take the time to really savor our food, our brain has a chance to catch up and tell us when we’re satisfied.

It takes about 20 minutes for the satiation signals to reach our brain, so if we eat too quickly, we’re likely to overeat.

There are a few different ways you can practice eating more slowly:

  • Put your fork down in between bites
  • Chew your food thoroughly before swallowing
  • Take small bites
  • Engage in conversation during meals

These things help slow down the eating process and give your brain time to catch up.

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Embrace the journey and learn to trust yourself

The last tip for losing weight without counting calories is to embrace the journey and trust yourself. I know counting calories feels like it gives you some measure of control over your eating.

A lot of people worry that without those strict guidelines to keep themselves in place, they won’t have enough self-control to change their diet.

But I’m here to tell you that you can do it! You have the power to make healthy choices for yourself, even when there aren’t any rules to follow.

It might take some time to learn how to trust yourself and your body again. But I promise it’s worth it.

Not only do following these tips work long term, but they help you lose weight while also building a healthy relationship with food. That’s pretty much the best of both worlds.

Conclusions to Why Counting Calories is Pointless & What to Do Instead

I hope this post has opened your eyes to why calorie counting is pointless. Not only is it restrictive, encourages an unhealthy relationship with food, and can lead to unhealthy behaviors. But it’s also time-consuming and tedious.

If you want to lose weight, focus on making healthy choices and eating intuitively. These tips will help get you started on your journey.

And remember, the journey is just as important as the destination. Trust yourself and enjoy the process!

What are your thoughts on why counting calories is pointless? Let us know in the comments or email me at Candice@littlestepsbighappy.com. Follow me on Pinterest for more weight loss tips and advice.

Looking for more healthy eating tips?

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2 thoughts on “Why Counting Calories is Pointless & What to Do Instead”

    • I’m glad it’s working for you. 👍 I definitely couldn’t stick to it for long and I don’t know too many other people who do it long term.

      I did eat vegan for a while and I enjoyed that. I got away from it though because my family wasn’t on board. I have been trying to ease back in lately.


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