Indeed, calories are king when it comes to weight loss or weight gain.
To lose weight, you MUST consume less calories than you are expending. To gain weight, you MUST each more than you are expending. So, it makes sense to track your calorie intake then, right?
Err, yes and no.
Counting calories has been successfully used for millions of people-- no doubt that it works. But it is important to learn more about before determining if it is what you need right now.
The PROS of calorie counting
It teaches you about portion sizes (you’ll learn how to eyeball more appropriate servings)
It objectively shows you how much you’re actually consuming (many people are shocked by how much they eat when they start tracking their food or counting calories)
It keeps you accountable to the daily choices you make for food and exercise that can help modify lifestyle behaviour (ex: it teaches you that you need more calories on workout days
It can provide structure and routine, which can take the guesswork out of eating
It can help make you realize that eating certain “taboo” foods (like desserts, processed foods, etc) can be a part of your weight-loss journey.
The CONS of calorie counting:
It can be an extra burden and stress to constantly weigh, measure, track and calculate your food-- especially if you’re not the one cooking! I mean who wants to lug around a food scale?
If you find it tedious, it will be unsustainable
It can create an unhealthy relationship with food (ex: constantly thinking about your next meal, feelings of guilt/ stress/ anxiety if you overeat, fear of certain food groups)
It can be a justification for choosing lower nutrient dense foods (ex: desserts, chips, processed foods, etc) which can impact overall health
It can be wildly inaccurate*
*See here for an infographic on how inaccurate calorie counting is (up to 25% off!) and here on how inaccurate calculating your calorie needs can be (another 25% off!).
All in all, counting calories may be for you if:
You’re new to healthy eating and are just learning about appropriate portion sizes
You’re already at a healthy weight and want to lean out more
You’re a competitive athlete and looking to take your performance to the next level
You’re a figure competitor or a bodybuilder
You have a healthy relationship with food and already prioritize whole foods for the bulk of your food intake but have plateaued
Counting calories may NOT be for you if:
You don’t currently prioritize nutrient-dense whole foods for the bulk of your intake
You feel strapped for time or live a high-stress lifestyle
You already feel guilty about eating “bad” foods or have a history of dieting
You are looking to make a long-term lifestyle change
Bottom line, counting calories is just another tool in the toolbox. Depending on a variety of lifestyle factors, it may or may not be for you.
In either case, stay tuned for the next “The Perfect Diet” series installment on how to create a caloric deficit-- via counting calories or not!