Does counting calories work for weight loss? This is a huge question in the weight loss community! If you ask anyone who has ever lost weight or ever even thought about losing weight, they usually have some sort of opinion on the subject.
No matter where you look, you will find people with strong opinions on counting calories. Tons of people swear by it. You will find endless success stories from people who have used this weight loss technique.
You will also find loads of people who hate counting calories! Plenty of people will tell you that counting calories is the worst way to lose weight, or that it doesn’t work at all.
So who to believe?? Read on for the answer! 😉
Does counting calories work??
Yes… and no!
The answer is yes… and no! Counting calories works… but only for the short term. If you make sure that the calories you consume are less than the calories you burn throughout the day, you will see your weight go down.
You can, theoretically, eat “anything” as long as you stay within your calorie allowance for the day and lose weight. This means if you wanted to eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and you stayed within your calorie allowance, you will still lose weight.
The problem with this weight loss technique isn’t about the principle behind it, the problem lies in the application.
What about long term weight loss?
Calorie counting can be very effective for 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 also doesn’t take into account human behavior, nutrition, or the original cause of the weight gain. Addressing all 3 of those subjects is the difference between losing weight for a little while and gaining it all back, or losing weight and keeping it off for the long term.
Calorie Counting 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.
Calorie Counting and Nutrition
Does counting calories work when it comes to nutrition? No, not really. Most of the people who use counting 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. (They are my 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 that a food has.
Counting Calories and the Cause of Weight Gain
One of the last reasons that counting calories doesn’t work for long term weight loss is because 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 1-on-1 coaching program.)
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 multitude of reasons that women gain weight.
Does counting calories work? The final verdict!
Does counting calories work? Not if you want to maintain your weight loss for the long term. Counting calories is good for a quick fix, but it’s not the answer for sustainable, long term weight loss.
For that, you need to learn proper nutrition, how to eat intuitively, and how to develop new habits and behaviors around food. If you want to learn more about how I teach other busy moms how to lose weight and keep it off for good, head over to my coaching page.
Comment below and tell me what you think about counting calories. You can also email me at Candice@littlestepsbighappy.com. Follow me on Pinterest for more weight loss tips and advice.
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I’m a busy mom of 3 turned Health and Fitness Coach and Self Defense Instructor. I help inspire other moms to reach their health, fitness, and weight loss goals. You can usually find me chasing my kiddos around, training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or sneaking away to read romance novels. About Me