This post was updated on October 2nd, 2018
Counting calories simply isn’t necessary for most people
Let me tell you why
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. So you’ve either given up because it’s not working, or you’ve decided you need to cut your calories further to see continued progress.
Now I’m going to say something controversial: stop it! Seriously, just stop now – don’t waste any more of your time. Why do I say this? Because most people don’t need to count calories to lose weight.
Yep, that’s right! Now let me explain a bit more, and by the time you’ve finished reading this post, you shouldn’t feel the need to count calories ever again.
Counting calories simply 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. The machines can only make estimates, so they’re not entirely accurate. They’re great for giving you a ball park idea of what you’ve done. They’re also a great motivational tool, but don’t rely on them for precise information.
Counting food calories
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 Some of those are: outdated/inaccurate data, product variety between batches, soil and growing conditions, ripeness at time of harvest, animals diets, length of storage, preparation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.
Finally, 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 did know 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 calorie count could be off by around 20%.
Don’t forget about natural activity
The last factor to take into consideration here is your daily non-exercise, or natural activity. Activities like walking around at work, going shopping, climbing stairs, gardening, washing the car, housework, etc. Natural activity 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 or 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 exercise or increasing your amount of exercise will assist with weight loss.
The most important thing tho, is the food you eat. No doubt you’ve heard of 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.
Processed foods vs. real foods
The type of foods you consume will ultimately control the amount of food you consume. Unfortunately our Western diet, which is 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 may 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, you’re not only starving your cells of proper nutrition, you’re also likely to overeat, leading to weight gain.
As long you continue to eat these kinds of foods, this cycle will continue and you really can’t hope to control your weight.
So what’s the answer?
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. Eat slowly so that you’ll have time to feel full after your meals and then 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 factor.
Just making one small change can make a big difference. I know very few people who eat enough fruit and veggies every day; why not start there? Are you ready to quit counting calories and start planning healthier meals instead?
Use my helpful free printable fact sheets. Start with the one below.
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