When many people go on a diet, they’re really counting calories. As you already know, to lose weight, you need a calorie deficit that allows you to eat fewer calories than you burn through your regular daily activities. If you’ve been on a diet where you had to count calories and track everything you ate or drank, you’re probably wondering if it’s really necessary.
While counting calories can be an effective way to lose weight, it can also be problematic by causing people to eat diets that aren’t sustainable or maintainable over time. Calorie counting is usually reserved for those who need to lose weight, but it has nothing to do with nutrition. Therefore, if you’re trying to use a diet to boost your immunity or reduce issues associated with health conditions, you’re likely less worried about calories and more concerned with nutrients. So, should you count calories? Experts say no.
Ultimately, counting calories can work well short term, allowing you to lose weight fairly quickly. However, if you’re not losing weight in a way that’s maintainable, you can easily gain it back as soon as you stop counting calories. Here are a few reasons why you shouldn’t count calories when dieting for weight loss:
It’s not practical
There are several apps you can use to track your calorie intake, but even though these apps make it easier to track everything, counting calories isn’t practical for everyday life. For example, if you cook for yourself, you don’t want to have to track every ingredient and use measuring cups. Meanwhile, if you eat out a lot, you can’t necessarily trust the calories listed on menus, and some menus may not even tell you how many calories are in each dish.
Tracking calories in everyday situations is cumbersome and time-consuming, and eventually, it will become just another burden. Most people who lose weight calorie counting eventually stop counting their calories because the process takes time.
Does not consider nutritional value
Different foods are healthier than others, and when dieters focus on calories, they’re missing the big picture. You need certain nutrients to thrive. So while you can lose weight by eating junk food, if you’re counting calories, you’re not necessarily getting any health benefits from it. Calories don’t tell you what vitamins and nutrients are in food, allowing you to eat 1500 calories of anything, including sweets, chips, and junk food, so you’re not necessarily consuming healthy calories.
Many foods can have the same calories. For example, 200 calories of carrots is the same as 200 calories of chocolate cake, but obviously, one is more nutrient-dense than the other. Only focusing on calories excludes the need to think about what foods can improve your health.
Counting calories can cause unhealthy food and weight obsession. When you force yourself to track every food and drink item, you can start to develop an unhealthy relationship with food. Many people experience disordered eating behaviors because they’re focusing too much on calories and not enough on nutrients and healthy ways to lose weight. For example, someone counting calories may consume too many calories in a day and work out excessively to burn them. Others may yo-yo diet while others feel guilt or shame after eating because a simple snack, even if it’s nutritious carrots, will put them over the allotted calories for the day.
When counting calories, it’s easy to develop unhealthy behaviors and feelings towards food because you’re too focused on the number of calories.
Doesn’t consider your needs
Everyone is different. Everyone has a different metabolism and health and diet needs. For example, a senior suffering from Essential Tremor will have a different diet than a young athlete. Your body tells you exactly what you need, but most of us don’t know how to listen. When you’re hungry, your body is telling you it needs to eat to keep everything from your organs to your brain functioning properly. Feeling hungry isn’t a bad thing; it means your body needs more energy. Meanwhile, when you’re too full, your body is telling you that you ate too much and should try to eat less next time. If you’re not listening to your body, it’s easy to over and undereat, no matter how many calories you count.
Counting calories doesn’t let you listen to your body. Instead, you’re tracking numbers on an app or notepad without considering how your body is feeling and what it’s telling you. For example, maybe you spent one day running errands and burned more calories than you normally would. Your body may feel hungrier because it needs more calories. If you don’t listen to it, it could quickly become dangerous because you’re not giving it the nutrients it needs.
Makes food less enjoyable
Calorie counting makes food less enjoyable, and food is meant to be enjoyed. While you should know your limits and try not to overeat regularly, you want to enjoy your food, and you can’t do that if you’re constantly worried about how many calories are in it. You should eat food that nourishes your body and mind and allows you to enjoy life; focusing only on the calories in the food may force you to miss out on the experience of cooking and eating meals.
May hinder muscle growth
Building muscle is important whether or not you want to lose weight or bulk up because it can help you burn more calories at rest. However, counting calories can prevent muscle growth because you’re focusing on calories, not the important macro and micronutrients your body needs to build muscle and strengthen your body. For example, you need protein to build muscle, but if you’re only counting calories, you might be lacking in several key nutrients.
Calorie counters regain weight
For many of the reasons we’ve just discussed, individuals who strictly count calories are prone to gaining that weight back because they don’t have a positive relationship with food or their bodies. If you only focus on counting calories, you’ll soon find the process is daunting, leading you to stop doing it and gain the weight back because you don’t know how much you should eat.
In addition, counting calories can make you sick if you don’t listen to your body. If you eat nothing but junk food while counting calories, you’re losing out on valuable nutrients your body needs to function properly.
Ashley Nielsen earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration Marketing at Point Loma Nazarene University. She is a freelance writer who loves to share knowledge about general business, marketing, lifestyle, wellness, and financial tips. During her free time, she enjoys being outside, staying active, reading a book, or diving deep into her favorite music.