Counting Calories Isn’t Necessary for Most People
If you’re trying to lose weight, chances are you’re counting calories every day, right? I would also guess that you’re probably using one of the many available phone apps to calculate everything for you. The app works out your daily allowance, based on your current weight, height, age, daily exercise, etc and you simply input your food and exercise each day – seems pretty good, yeah?
So let me ask you this: how’s it working for you?
If you’ve only been doing it for a short time and you’ve managed to consume fewer calories than you were previously, then your answer is probably: great!
If you’ve been at it for longer tho, chances are you’ve plateaued and either given up because it’s not working or decided you need to cut your calories further to see continued progress.
Now I’m going to say something controversial: stop it! Don’t waste your time. Why? Because most people don’t need to count calories to lose weight. Let me explain further and by the time you’ve finished reading this post, you shouldn’t feel the need to count calories ever again.
Calorie Counting Really Isn’t Very Accurate
Calorie counting is very difficult, nigh impossible to get right simply because there are a lot of factors involved.
Let’s start with exercise. You know the cardio machines at the gym that tell you how many calories you’ve burned? They can have an error margin of + or – 25%! It doesn’t matter whether you enter your age and weight information or not – they can only estimate, so they’re not entirely accurate. They are great for giving you a ball park idea of what you’ve done and that will keep you motivated, but don’t rely on them for precise information.
Now let’s look at food. The nutrient and calorie values on food labels are only approximations due to many factors. Some of those are: outdated/inaccurate data, product variety between batches, soil and growing conditions, ripeness at time of harvest, animals diets, length of storage, preparation methods and cooking times: to name just a few!
Some frozen foods can contain more calories than are listed on the package and some restaurant meals can have a lot more calories than they actually disclose.
Add to this the variable that our digestion and excretion rates affect the amount of potential energy available once the food has been eaten. Are you beginning to see the inaccuracy of it all? Even if you knew the exact calorie content of the food you’re eating, you can’t know exactly how much of that energy will become usable energy, so your count could be off by about 20% (or even more).
The last factor to take into consideration is your daily non-exercise, or natural activity – walking around at work, going shopping, climbing stairs, gardening, washing the car, housework, etc. It is the smallest daily contributor to your energy expenditure, but it’s been found to be an important indicator in weight loss or weight gain.
You may be a fan of wearing a tracking device like a Fitbit, but again accuracy is pretty much impossible. Things like your size and whether you’re walking/running on a flat surface or a hill will affect the calculations. Again, I’m not saying don’t use these devices as they can be fantastic motivational tools, just don’t depend on them for an exact calorie count.
You Can’t Out Exercise a Bad Diet
Now let’s talk about the energy balance equation, or energy in versus energy out. This equation is very important when it comes to weight loss, weight gain and weight maintenance. You need a negative energy balance in order to lose weight, a positive energy balance to gain weight and a neutral energy balance to maintain a stable weight.
Exercise makes up anywhere from 15-30% of daily energy demand, so it is a big and controllable factor in the equation.That’s why adding or increasing exercise will assist with weight loss.
The most important thing tho, is the food you eat. No doubt you’ve seen the 80/20 equation relating to diet and exercise? Or you’ve heard the saying ‘you can’t out exercise a bad diet.’ At the end of the day, it’s the quality of the food you put into your body that matters most.
The quality of the food you consume will ultimately control the amount of food you consume. And unfortunately our Western diet, high in processed, sugary foods is a huge contributor to disease, health problems and weight gain.
We’re now learning that foods that are highly processed (and high in salt and sugar) don’t properly trigger our appetite hormones to let our brain know when we’re full.
So even though you may have eaten a meal and you should be full, you remain hungry or you become hungry again very quickly. This means you consume even more ’empty’ calories in an effort to satisfy that hunger.
To put it simply, these foods are high in calories, but low in nutrients. If you’re eating mostly processed foods, as well as starving your cells of proper nutrition, you’re also likely to overeat, leading to weight gain.
And as long you continue to eat these kinds of foods, this cycle will continue and you really can’t hope to control your weight.
Eating mostly real, whole foods is the simple answer – fruit & vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and healthy fats. These foods are nutrient dense and generally low in calories. They will fill you up and satisfy your hunger because they provide your body with the daily nutrients it needs. Providing you eat slowly, you’ll feel full after your meals and you won’t over eat.
In summary: eating real, whole foods every day (in the right amounts) is the easiest way to control your calorie intake without counting calories. Exercise is also an important factor in managing your overall health – but it’s not magic! What you eat everyday really is the most important thing.
Have a look at the graphic below and pick one thing you can start working on right now.