Should you count calories to lose weight?
My answer to almost all nutrition questions is the same as it is for this one. It depends in this video. I’m going to tell you what exactly it depends on and whether or not you personally should count calories to lose weight. And at the end, I’m going to tell you whether I personally count calories or not.
Hi, it’s Ivana. I’ve been a fitness and nutrition coach for over 20 years. I’ve helped people lose weight, put on muscle, and generally just get fitter healthier and stronger.
Now calorie counting is one of those things that seems a bit boring. It seems really tedious. And honestly it is a bit boring and tedious.
However, I do think it’s quite useful for some people and it’s a big problem for others.
Calories Matter, Even If You Don’t Count Them
The important thing to realize is that whether you’re counting calories or not, they still matter.
You might not actually be tracking your calories, but the amount of calories that you’re taking in and the amount of calories that you’re burning off are going to affect you anyway.
In order to lose weight, you want to produce a calorie deficit and burn off more calories than you’re taking in. Now, for someone who’s just starting off this process, it can be really helpful to actually just get an idea of how many calories particular things have.
Why Can’t I Just “Eat Clean”
And it’s not as simple as, “Oh, I’m just going to eat clean”. I’m going to use clean with air quotes because it’s a meaningless unscientific term.
Losing weight also doesn’t mean just eating “healthy” foods. And again, I’m going to use my air quotes.
It also doesn’t mean just eating whole foods because that again is a term that doesn’t have any scientific basis.
Why It Can Be Possible To Count Calories
It’s perfectly possible to not lose weight in fact, to put on weight while eating nothing but healthy whole foods.
Now, in my twenties, I did subscribe to this whole idea of like, “Oh, it’s healthy foods, so it’s fine.”
But there are a lot of foods that are quite high in calorie density. So think about nuts. For instance, once you start tracking calories, you’re going to see that even a small portion of nuts can have about 250 calories. And that’s quite a lot.
Not that I’m saying you shouldn’t have nuts, but if you have a large amount of nuts frequently every day, then you’re going to find that those calories are going to add up.
Why I Gained Weight When I Didn’t Count Calories
I’m going to give you a specific example of something that I used to eat that was considered super healthy. That didn’t help me lose weight. I used to be able to eat an entire loaf of this special whole grain soda bread. I think it was called. It was so delicious by the way. And I would have it with tons of extra virgin olive oil because we know that healthy, right?
I wasn’t able to lose weight that way. The breads that have more fiber and are considered more nutritious, also end up being a little bit more dense. So they have more calories for that amount.
Calorie Density & Oils
Olive oil, or any oil in general (I don’t want to be down on olive oil), is 120 calories per tablespoon. If you just pour oil all over everything, you’re going to find those calories add up quickly.
So again, whether or not you’re counting those calories or not, they’re going to be there. I recommend for beginners that they do take time.
Calories & Macros
For most of my clients, I have them counting their calories and actually macros as well initially for at least a week so that they can have a better awareness of what’s in their food. What kind of calorie, composition, everything has perhaps where to find fiber as well.
You’re trying to find out where you can get particular macro nutrients, protein, carbs, and fat. For me, it’s a nutrition education to be counting your calories or to track them. Counting calories gives you better awareness of what you’re eating.
It’s actually being shown that just writing down what you eat every day can help you reduce your calorie intake. And that means that you’re going to be heading towards losing weight just by writing it down. You may not even need to know the numbers, but you just need to commit to either paper or to an app. What you’re eating that brings more awareness and more awareness of what you’re taking in. It means that you’re going to be able to regulate it a little bit better.
Gaining & Losing Weight
Whether or not you decide to count calories or not, they’re still going to affect you.
If you’re eating excess calories, you’re going to put on weight. If you’re eating fewer calories, then you’re going to lose weight. Why not at least figure out where you’re at to begin with?
What I actually recommend is that people start to develop a nutrition plan for themselves based on the foods that they regularly eat.
Now, while it’s good to have a variety of nutrients coming from lots of different foods, you can do that just by mixing up your fruit and vegetable intake and then keeping your proteins fairly stable. So you’re relying on maybe only a few different types of protein sources.
I personally only have chicken and fish, dairy and eggs for my protein sources.
Who Shouldn’t Count Calories
Now here’s when you shouldn’t count calories. For some people, if they’ve suffered from eating disorders in the past (things like orthorexia, where it’s an abnormal obsession with healthy food) then tracking calories can also be in that range. It can be obsessive.
What To Remember When You Count Calories
Some people look a little bit too tightly on the numbers. It is really only an estimate when you’re counting calories with an app. There’s a slight variance in all foods. So you’re just getting a rough estimate. And that’s enough, in general.
If you’re the kind of person who always needs everything exactly in its place, counting calories over time may either work for you because you’re really good at it.
Or it can become an obsession that hinders your progress. So you need to know yourself in that respect.
Does it suit you?
Are you going to be the kind of person who can never give up calorie counting if you start it?
Why I Ask Most Of My Clients To Count Calories
I generally recommend that people take a couple of weeks to count calories and track macros, and then start establishing a daily meal plan. That makes sense.
Do I Count Calories?
And now my own confession, I do not count calories.
I’ve gone through periods of time where I’ve done ongoing tracking and monitoring of my calories and macros.
Primarily when I was preparing for fitness competitions, that was a time where I wanted to adjust it. As I came closer to the competition period, reducing the carb intake slightly, reducing the calories slightly to try to get leaner in time for the competition.
My Current Plan
Now I’ve been following a fairly consistent plan.
My weight has been pretty stable apart from my pregnancy. It’s pretty much been within a five pound range. And that for me is a big win because my weight used to fluctuate up and down. It used to be that 10, 15 pounds up and down all the time throughout my twenties.
And I finally got it to the point where it doesn’t vary that much.
I may try to put on muscle at certain points. Sometimes I may try to get leaner. I keep it within the range through a consistent nutrition plan. Now I don’t have to track and monitor it.
Occasionally I’ll put myself back on to make sure that I’m getting enough protein.
When You Should Count Calories
So there are two instances really, when I think you should be counting calories to lose weight.
1) One is at the very beginning when you’re just learning and you want to improve your nutrition plan.
2) When you’re close to your target weight.
If you want to fine-tune things and are close to your target, tracking and monitoring your calories can help. You can see where you might be slipping up. Perhaps you’re eating a little bit of extra stuff here and there that you didn’t think about. And that’s adding calories and then you’re putting on weight.
So in those two instances, I think it’s really important to count calories.
Some people like to do it all the time. And that’s fine too. If it’s something you enjoy and it helps you maintain your weight or lose weight, then I definitely recommend it.
One of the things I believe strongly in is that the same approach doesn’t work for everybody. So you need to do what works for you.
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If you want more specific guidelines for weight loss, I’ve got several videos here for you to check out.