To count calories or not is the question you battle every time you want to lose weight. Of course, you have little voices in your head, and on your social media pages, telling you that the key to weight loss is actually some crazy new trend.
Pseudo fitness experts think losing weight is a matter of cutting out practically everything you enjoy on a daily basis – bread, milk, meat, and fruit. Who cuts out fruit? Perhaps the problem here is that people focus so much on “losing weight” that they forget about health.
Counting calories can be healthy. Calorie deficits are not. Read on to know more.
What’s A Calorie?
A dietary calorie refers to the amount of energy needed to increase the temperature of 1-kilogram water by 1°C.
Calories are usually used to describe the amount of energy you get from foods and beverages. You use them to perform basic body functions like breathing and thinking, as well as daily physical activities like walking, talking, and eating. The amount of energy provided by food is recorded in kilocalories (kcal), but people prefer to simplify it to just “calories.”
Any excess will be stored as fat, and consistently eating more calories than you burn will cause you to gain weight over time.
Why Do You Need Calories?
If you are thinking why calories are important, here’s a quick overview of how the body uses them. It starts with what you eat. Food is where the body gets the calories it needs to function properly. After digestion, these subunits can either be used to build tissues or to provide your body with enough energy for its immediate needs.
The amount of energy your body gets would greatly depend on its source:
- Carbohydrates and proteins contain 4 calories each per gram
- Alcohol has 7 calories per gram
- Fat provides 9 calories per gram
Metabolizing these nutrients will produce calories that can be used to power three main processes (1, 2):
1. Basic Metabolism
The body will use most calories to provide energy to your brain, heart, lungs, and kidneys. The amount needed to support these basic functions is referred to as your basic metabolic rate (BMR). This makes up the biggest proportion of your total daily requirements (1).
The body will use part of the calories to help you digest and metabolize foods. This is called the thermic effect of food (TEF), which may vary depending on what you eat. Protein, for example, requires more energy to be digested, while fat demands the least. Approximately 10-15% of the calories you get from food will be used to support the TEF (3).
3. Physical Activity
The rest of the remaining calories will fuel your physical activity. This includes your daily tasks and exercises. The count of calories needed to cover this category may vary on a daily basis and from one person to another.
How Many Calories Do You Need On Average?
An average woman needs approximately 2000 calories daily to maintain, and 1500 calories to lose one pound of weight weekly. An average man requires 2500 calories to maintain, and 2000 to lose one pound of weight weekly.
However, this may vary depending on several factors. Age, height, current weight, activities, and metabolic health should all be considered.
How Does Calorie Counting Work For Weight Loss?
It is quite common to hear that calories do not really matter and counting them is just a waste of time. However, when it comes to weight, calories do count. This fact has been proven through several overfeeding studies.
As soon as your body’s needs are met, any excess energy is stored as glycogen in muscles or fat, for future use. So, if you consume more calories than your body needs, you will gain extra weight, mostly from fat. On the other hand, if you lack calories from your diet, your body will be forced to draw on its energy stores to compensate.
All studies have found that consuming more calories than what you can burn may cause weight gain (4, 5, 6). You certainly need a calorie deficit to lose weight. So, counting calories and restricting your intake can effectively help you prevent weight gain or lose weight. One review proved that weight loss programs, which included calorie counting led to approximately 7 pounds more weight loss than those that didn’t (7).
Tracking your calories can help you identify which eating patterns or behaviors you need to modify to lose weight. Though not very precise, tracking what you eat can give you a good baseline to work from and compare to when you are trying to decrease the number of calories you consume daily. Also, monitoring what you eat can help keep you accountable for the choices you make regularly and motivate you to continue progressing toward your goals.
5 Reasons to Count Your Calories
1. You Make Better Choices!
When you keep a keep journal or track your meals on your smartphone, you make better choices. You become accountable to yourself, and you can track your progress better. Within the first couple days of tracking your meals and their calories, you will be shocked.
There is no more fooling yourself about how much you are or are not consuming when you write it down. Journaling and logging your food choices leads to making better choices. It is better to eat a healthy and filling salad than to waste your calories first thing in the morning on a donut in the coffee line.
2. You Learn How Many You Can Consume
Have you wondered how many calories you can actually eat? Here’s a hint: it’s not what everyone thinks. Your ideal calorie intake depends on a number of factors: activity level, age, weight, body type, and macronutrient percentages. Calculate your recommended calorie goal. Once you see how much you can actually consumer, you will begin to reassess what goes in and what should be left out. If you are counting calories, count them correctly for your needs.
3. You Eat Smaller Portions
Calorie control is not so much about restricting your diet as it is about eating the right amount of good foods. It’s not easy to eat healthy all the time, but portion control is possible when good eating is not. Counting calories helps you eat the right amount of better foods.
Pay attention to serving sizes on food labels, carry a portion chart with you in your wallet or purse, and learn how to visualize what a healthy portion looks like. Healthy portions and calories are easier when you limit processed foods and take-out. Again, when you log your food and calories, you will be inspired to limit your portion sizes, and you will eat different foods on the menus at your favorite restaurants.
4. Visualizing is Good!
Most of the benefits lists come down to one key factor for success – visualizing. When you see, you really see it. You see your goals, you see your food, you see the calories, and you begin to consciously make better decisions. When your calorie intake is in your face, reality sets in. There is no running from it. If you are honest with yourself and your food journal, success will follow if you take the cues to make healthier decisions about your calories.
5. It’s FREE!
Yes, it’s free to count calories. No, you don’t need to sign up for an expensive weight-loss plan, you don’t need a 300-page book, and you don’t need a monthly subscription. You need an app, you need nutrition labels, and you need to count everything that goes in.
6. It Decreases Your Risks of Chronic Diseases
Experts say that people who are overweight or obese are at more risk of developing chronic diseases problems. Counting calories will you keep health problems at bay.
7. It Can Improve Your Personality
Calorie-conscious people are more fit, lean, and healthy. Someone who is conscious of his or her caloric intake is more likely to look younger too.
Are There Any Disadvantages?
1. It Can be Nutritionally Incomplete
You may be tempted to skimp on necessary fats and proteins to eat fewer calories. However, this can cause you to miss out on important phytonutrients, vitamins and micronutrients that are necessary for a healthy body.
2. It Can Lead to Obsessive Behavior
Constantly thinking about calories and exercise can lead to eating disorders. It’s important to focusing on how you feel, in addition to your calorie count, to sustain a healthy lifestyle.
3. It May Cause A Disconnect
You may ignore or misunderstand your body’s cues and signals for whether you’re hungry or not. Always listen to your body; it will tell you which foods make you feel great and which don’t.
4. It’s Time Consuming and A Bit Tiring
Counting calories for every snack and meal can feel like a second job. It can also put a crimp in your social life since it’s difficult to accurately count calories at restaurants.
How to Effectively Weight and Measure Your Portion Sizes?
Portion sizes have increased, and in some restaurants, one meal can double or triple what an average person needs in one sitting. When you view large servings of foods as the norm, you can easily gain weight. This is often referred to as portion distortion.
Generally, we aren’t good at estimating how much we eat. Calorie counting can help you prevent overeating by giving you a clear understanding of how much you are really consuming. However, for it to work, you have to record your portion sizes correctly. Here are some tips on how you can do it effectively:
- Scales: The most accurate way to know how much you are eating is to weigh your food. However, this isn’t always practical and is time-consuming.
- Measuring Cups: Standard volume measures are easier to use than scales, but still time-consuming.
- Comparisons: Using comparisons to common items is relatively fast and easy, especially if you are not at home. However, this is less accurate.
Calorie counting is not an exact science, even when you weigh and measure portion sizes. You just have to record your intake as accurately as possible.
You should be more careful in recording items that are high in fat or sugar like ice cream, pizza, and oils. Under-recording these foods can cause a huge difference between your recorded and actual intake. To improve your estimations, use scales, in the beginning, to give you a better idea of what portion looks like. This can help you be more accurate, even after you stop using them.
Can You Reduce Calorie Intake Without Starving Yourself?
Cutting calories without considering the foods you eat is usually not a healthy and sustainable weight to lose weight. Though it may work for some people, most will end up starving and eventually give up on their diet.
For this reason, you must make a few other permanent changes to help you keep a calorie deficit long-term, without feeling hungry.
1. Eat More Protein
When it comes to weight loss, protein is the king of nutrients. Adding protein to your regular diet is the easiest, most effective, and most delicious way to shed pounds with less effort.
Protein can help curb your appetite and increase your metabolic rate. Protein also requires energy to metabolize. Therefore, eating a high-protein diet can increase calories burned by as much as 80-100 daily (8, 9). Not only will protein helps you lose weight, it will also prevent or at least reduce weight regain.
2. Avoid Sugar Drinks
Another relatively easy and effective change you can make is to eliminate liquid sugar calories, which are present in sodas, fruit juices, and chocolate milk.
The brain does not register liquid calories in the same way as solid calories. It does not make you eat less. Sugary drinks are also strongly associated with obesity (10).
3. Drink More Water
Did you know that drinking more water can help increase the number of calories you burn for up to 90 minutes (11, 12). However, the timing of when you drink water is important. Drink it before meals to help reduce hunger and make you eat fewer calories.
Caffeinated drinks are also good options. Coffee and green tea can help boost metabolism (13).
4. Eat Balanced Meals
Make sure you are eating nutritious, balanced meals that contain foods from all of the basic food groups.
5. Don’t Wait Too Long to Eat Between Meals
When you are very hungry, you’re more likely to make poor choices or overeat.
More Tips to Succeed With Calorie Counting
- Be Ready: Before starting, get a calorie counting app or an online tool. Decide how you will measure or estimate your portion sizes and make a meal plan.
- Check Food Labels: Food labels can offer you a lot of information useful for calorie counting. Be sure to check the recommended portion size on the package.
- Avoid Temptations: Get rid of junk foods. This will help you choose healthier snacks and make it easier to hit your targets.
- Take It Slow: Don’t’ cut calories too low. Although you will lose weight faster, it can make you feel upset and you’ll be less likely to stick to your weight loss plan.
- Fuel Your Workout: Most successful weight loss programs would include both diet and exercise. Make sure to eat enough to give you energy for exercise.
- Write Down Everything: If it goes in your mouth, it should be written down. Make this habit your rule for calorie counting.
- Get A Tool That Fits Your Lifestyle: While online tools work for most people who are always on the go, other dieters who are not tech savvy prefer to use pens and papers. Do whatever is easier for you.
DON’T IGNORE THESE CALORIES!
Finally, don’t ignore all of the calories you consume. You only cheat yourself. Every calorie counts when counting calories. Many people tend to leave out extra calories from the following:
- Condiments and dressings
- Coffee creamer
- Dried fruits and nuts
- Butter and spreads
- Shredded and grated cheese
- Whipped cream
- Beer, wine, and other alcoholic drinks
When you learn how to count your own calories, you won’t need to rely on expensive plans that promise big results when you can actually do it yourself. If you use an app to track your calories, choose one that allows you to scan nutrition labels. Be honest with yourself, eat the right portions, and make small calorie swaps every day to cut out hundreds of calories without starving yourself.
Nutrition is the first step to a wholesome life!