Healthy Sandwich With Measuring Tape

How effective is calorie counting? It’s a question I get asked a lot. This article will be discussing the pros and cons of calorie counting.

Let’s start things off by talking about our bodies’ energy balance.


Energy Balance

Everything you consume, will be broken down into fuel for your body and its everyday processes. Consuming more than you use, will result in an increase in weight, whereas the opposite results in weight loss.

This ratio is called the energy balance.

Usually, you would want your energy intake and usage to be about the same. This will make sure your weight will remain stable. The amount of energy that your body uses can be estimated through several calculations. The next step would be to create a food plan for yourself.

Following such a plan will allow you to actively be involved in controlling your food intake, because it allows you to count your calories.

Did you eat too much? Haven’t you moved quite enough? It will easily become clear to you. Sure, you can cheat if you like! But that is completely on you, so I recommend not to do so.


The Pros of Calorie Counting

  • Calorie counting gives you insight on your food intake. This can be useful for the evaluation of your eating pattern. Do you need more or less or certain nutrients.
  • Knowing your regular intake might prevent unforeseen calorie intakes.
  • Counting your calories might serve as a motivational instrument that prevents overeating. If you can clearly see that you’ve reached your daily intake limit, you might not take that lovely chocolate chip cookie late in the evening.

As with all things, calorie counting does have a few downsides.


The Cons of Calorie Counting

  • Writing down your food intake can serve as a motivational instrument, like I mentioned before. However, it does not teach you to listen to your body. How do you know if you have eaten quite enough if you haven’t logged your food intake? Are you sure you’re maintaining a healthy balance?
  • Counting calories can be an obsession to some. Think of that one party pooper that never wants to hang out for a beer, for example. It can make life stale if you take things too far.
  • Calories are just one thing. What do these calories consist of? Fat, carbs, or protein? Blindly following the one number that represents calories is not enough.
  • Even though this concerns your own health (which is invaluable if you ask me), it takes time. Not everyone can be bothered with spending some extra time on their nutrition.
  • You will not always have the ability to accurately count your calories. Estimating would then be your best bet.


Should You Count Every Single Calorie?

An important question I get asked a lot, is whether you should count every single calorie.

My answer is as follows.

Calorie counting is a fantastic tool that can give you a lot of insight in your eating pattern. Unfortunately, this isn’t the key to successfully losing weight.

And what about completely cutting carbs? They contain calories, right?

Well yes, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s effective if you quickly want to lose a few pounds in order to fit in your old jeans, but the long run often proves otherwise.

Click here if you want to learn more about low carb dieting.


So How Should You Do it?

Blindly counting calories should never be an obsession. Back when I started working out to gain some weight, I made this mistake. I doubled my calorie intake overnight and ingesting X amount of calories had a very high priority. Sure, I wanted to gain weight rather than lose it, but the same principle counts.

Living like this might result in thinking “oh well, I will eat a piece of pie this afternoon and then skip my rice tonight”. As you might suspect, this does not cut it in the long run.

Luckily, there’s a solution. Intuitive eating allows you to eat whenever you are hungry or unsatisfied. It does not exclude any foods. Studies have shown that intuitive eating can result in self compassion, joy in eating, accepting your body, life satisfaction and positive feelings overall.

  • Don’t exclude any foods! Don’t pig out, either. Moderation is key.
  • Choose what to eat while thinking about your own health as well as your enjoyment.
  • Don’t classify foods as ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’. The world isn’t black and white, either. Rather, look at the nutritional value of foods (‘nutritious’ and ‘less nutritious’), as well as whether you like it (‘tasty’ or ‘less tasty’).
  • Don’t just eat because you’re in a bad place. Suppressing feelings with food should never be an option.
  • Have some respect for your body. It’s your temple. Accept it, no matter how it looks or how much it weighs.
  • Exercise because you want to, not because you have to.
  • If you’re hungry, have some food.
  • If you’ve eaten a lot during meal #1, have a little less food during meal #2. It makes you flexible and it allows you to adapt to your circumstances.
  • Choose foods that satisfy the most, i.e. foods that are rich in proteins or fibers.

Click here if you want to learn more about losing weight naturally.


How Does Intuitive Eating Work?

Lots of people tend to either underestimate or overestimate their calorie intake. Therefore, intuitive eating is not automated as much. Leaning to eat based on hunger or satisfaction can take some time.

Here are a couple of tips.

  • The less distraction, the more you can focus on your nutrition.
    Focus on your food. Don’t scroll your Facebook timeline or watch a television show. This will allow you to actually register your food intake, which in turn makes you aware of when you are full.
  • Serve your food in the kitchen.
    Not putting all sorts of pans on the dinner table decreases chances of taking an extra serving. Therefore, I would serve food in the kitchen.
  • Chew more often and eat slowly.
    The body needs about 20 minutes to register the amount of saturation. Eating large servings of food in a short amount of time drastically increases chances of overeating. Put down your cutlery once in a while. Have yourself a sip of water. Chew more often. It will help!
  • Examine your needs.
    You should examine what feelings, situations and thoughts determine your need eat. What is it that you crave? Do you really need your candy? Do you need company? Are you truly hungry or is it merely a habit to have a snack at a certain time?
  • Accept your feelings.
    You can maintain control over certain situations by accepting whatever it is that you feel. If you’re craving the taste of chocolate, just accept it like you would when it rains outside. Allow yourself to have these feelings and continue on your merry way with whatever it was that you were doing.
  • Postpone your desires.
    If you notice that you want to have something to eat, don’t immediately grab the first box of cookies you can find. Wait a bit before eating and ask yourself whether you’re hungry 30 minutes later. Often times it is found that these cravings will subside. Are you still hungry? Have yourself a small bite and put the rest away. You’re strong, so be strong!
  • Don’t wait too long when you’re hungry
    If you really need to eat, just do it. Listen to your body. Not giving in to hunger for longer periods of time can increase chances of overeating.

Click here to learn more about dealing with unhealthy eating.

In Conclusion

Improvement starts with mindset. Counting your calories can prove to be quite a useful tool of motivation. However, solely counting calories does not give a good insight as to how your macronutrient intake is distributed. Also, it can turn out to be an obsession.

Therefore, I would say that just counting calories is ineffective when it comes to losing (or gaining) weight. Nutrition is a mindset. You can still eat whatever you like and lose weight. It all comes down to moderation.

Today marks the last day of 2019. I hope this article provided some inspiration and/or motivation for the next year. Changing your weight can be quite difficult. I believe in you though, and so should you.

Please, leave your thoughts and questions in the comment section below. Have yourself a wonderful new year!


Frequently Asked Questions

What is calorie counting?

Calorie counting gives you an insight on your food intake by keeping track of whatever it is that you eat and drink.

Is calorie counting effective?

Calories are just a number. What’s more important, is to note what those calories are made up of. Therefore, solely counting calories is by no means the be-all and end-all.

I want to lose weight. How many calories should I consume?

In order to make your weight loss process as pleasant as possible, it is recommended to drop your calorie intake to +/- 300 calories below maintenance.

10 thoughts on “How Effective is Calorie Counting?

  1. Thanks for this instructive article. I did a few months of counting calories and taking off a few pounds. However, I did not feel well. It took me too long to bring in all the individual foods, I kept wondering if I was calculating well, and I always felt like I wasn’t eating what I loved. That’s why I like your suggestion for Intuitive Eating. From now on, I will apply some of the things I have not done so far. Want to pay more attention to food, no eating in front of the TV, but only in the kitchen.

    1. Hi there,

      Thank you for dropping by! It’s true that calorie counting can take up a lot of time, and it may be confusing to some. Nonetheless, I’m glad you learned a thing or two from this article. 

      Good luck!

  2. Oh thank you so much for answering this question! I also one of those people who keeps asking myself whether calorie counting is worth it or not. I’m not really a meticulous person, so it made feel demotivated to count every calorie intake and outtake. The intuitive eating method seems a good way to know what and when should I eat. I’ll try that. Thank you again

    1. Hi there,

      Calorie counting can be worth it if you have a lot of knowledge on food and your own needs. Intuitive eating requires less knowledge and can, if performed properly, lead to good results.

      Good luck!

  3. Wow, an interesting article on counting calories. I think there is a global realisation around nutrition and many people will surely find this well presented article a great place to start. Me particularly, I am no fan of diets but I certainly acknowledge that they‘re there for a specific purpose in mind (not just to lose weight). As you have mentioned, honesty to yourself and your purpose for watching and noting what you eat is key. Calorie counting may be a way to monitor and motivate your purpose for healthier nutrition, and again as you suggest, is not just for weight loss. Thank you for the insights, very helpful.

    1. Hi Rudi,

      Thanks you for leaving your thoughts. Looks like you got the point. Diets are but one thing, but eventually it all comes down to your mindset. Counting calories may lead to the right mindset.

      Have a great day! 

  4. Thank you for an informative article. As I’m aging my health and physical conditioning becomes more of a concern and something I know that cannot be neglected. I’m relieved that you place a balance on calorie counting in the pros and cons. The other question that I have and issue that I struggled with is when you are serious about your diet, but getting your whole family to buy into the idea. Thinking about little children and balancing their diets as well. There were times when I almost had to prepare totally separate meals for myself and then for my family. I agree that discipline is needed and knowing when to say no to your desires. Thank you for a very good article. Regards Randal

    1. Hi there,

      It can be very difficult to gather support for your endeavour towards weight loss. Some people will for example still pressure you to drink that cold beer, or they will give you very large servings of food. This is when it comes down to your own discipline. Can you say no? The people around you will deal with your choices, even if it may take a while.

      Good luck!

  5. Hey Kevin, Thank you for writing on How Effective is Calorie Counting? I enjoyed while reading and find it very useful for everyone. Calorie counting gives us insight on our food intake. This can be useful for the evaluation of our eating pattern. Do we need more or less or certain nutrients. Now I am focusing on my daily diet to reduce weight and I understand one more thing only Improvement starts with mindset. Thank you for your perfect guide.


    1. Hi Parveen, 

      Thank you for dropping by. I’m glad you learned something!

      Have a great day!

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