There are a lot of opinions out floating around about whether or not you should count calories. In this article I break down the pros and cons of tracking calories as well as why someone would want to track calories in the first place! So, should you track calories? Let’s get into it and you can decide for yourself!
In and Out Calories
The first thing you should know about tracking calories is that it is just a tool. Counting calories helps you stay within your weight goals (body composition is related more to macros).
What counting calories does is ensures that the calories you take IN are either: less than you put out for weight loss, more than you put out for weight gain, about the same as you put out for maintenance.
Calories in refers to the amount of calories you consume throughout the day.
Calories out refers to the calories you burn throughout the day.
By manipulating the balance of these two factors you are able to effectively determine whether you gain weight, lose weight, or maintain weight.
Lose Weight Counting Calories
In order to lose weight by counting calories your goal should be to put out more calories than you take in. Counting calories isn’t the only way to lose weight, but it is the most reliable way to do so. Any diet that can be followed leverages the calories in calories out principle if followed correctly.
For example: keto decreases calories by reducing carbs, thus putting you in a state where you are taking in less calories than you burn.
Calorie Counting for Weight Loss
In order for calorie tracking to work for weight loss you have to ensure that you know how many calories you burn throughout the day. Without this step you will be relying on arbitrary numbers which could be detrimental to your health and/or not produce the results you want.
How to Count Calories for Weight Loss
The good news is that it isn’t incredibly difficult to implement calorie counting for weight loss. Here is what you do:
- Determine your daily caloric needs
- Keep track of your caloric intake throughout the day
- This includes sauces, oils, drinks, etc.
- Ensure that your intake is at 500 less than your daily expenditure for 1 lb. loss per week
- For 2 lbs. you will need to be at about 1000 calories less
If the above steps require that you consume less than 1200 calories you should instead find ways to increase your daily expenditure. Most any exercise will do, even going for a walk.
How to Measure Calories
This part is usually pretty simple. Most foods that you purchase will come with a nutrition label that will tell you how many calories that food contains. For the ones that don’t, you can do a couple things: look them up online, or use a food tracking app.
Make sure you are counting servings correctly or measuring/weighing food so you are tracking the correct amount.
For tracking your calories there are really two simple methods. The first one, which I don’t recommend, is by keeping a journal or food diary. This takes a lot of time and gets annoying and tedious often. The second method is using a food tracking app. Any good one will tell you about how many calories you should be consuming to meet your goals.
If you want to try a food tracking app check out this article: What is the Best App for Counting Calories?
Regardless of how you count your calories you want to ensure you know what you are burning throughout the day. If you choose to use a food tracking app, they usually have a caloric needs calculator built right in. If you are wanting to keep track another way you can use our free calorie calculator here!
Weight Loss Without Calorie Counting
As I said above, calorie counting isn’t the only way to lose weight. It may not even be the best option for you! Here are some things to consider when picking a diet:
- Is it healthy?
- Can you maintain it long term?
- How flexible is it?
Also, be careful with any diet that massively restricts calories or forbids certain foods as these can cause additional health problems.
For more information on how to pick a healthy diet plan check out this Mayo Clinic article.
Probably the simplest way to lose weight without actually counting calories is to build a meal plan around how many calories you need to meet your weight loss goals. Then, as long as you stick to your meal plan, you know you are getting the calories you need. Make sure you keep the diet well rounded so as not to eliminate the macro and micronutrients your body needs. Lean meats, lots of green veggies, and healthy fats are always a safe bet! That will also usually leave room for you to include some of the foods that you love!
Is Calorie Counting an Eating Disorder
On its own, calorie counting is not an eating disorder. However, if you become obsessive over tracking calories or if you are too invested in calorie counting that could be the signs of an eating disorder.
Counting calories should be used as a tool, not a way of life.
This is just one of the reasons that counting calories isn’t for everyone.
Calorie counting has the potential to help individuals with specific health-related goals, however it also has the potential to trigger, maintain, or worsen disordered eating symptoms. Dieting, in general, has been identified as a potential risk factor for developing eating disorders.
Weight Gain Counting Calories
As much as weight loss can be attributed to being in a caloric deficit from counting calories, weight gain can be attributed to being in a caloric surplus. If you are trying to gain weight you can increase calories by anywhere from 500-2000 a day in order to increase bodyweight.
You can learn more about gaining weight through counting calories here: How Many Calories Should I Eat in a Day to Gain Weight?
Should You Track Calories: Pros and Cons
- Counting calories encourages better food choices
- It helps you learn how much you should be eating
- It helps you reach your goals faster
- It provides structure and accountability
- Counting calories, like any diet can increase disordered eating behaviors
- It takes more effort than some other diets
- Not everyone can maintain it
- It can be nutritionally incomplete
If you decide that counting calories is the weight loss (or gain) method that you want to use just make sure you eat balanced meals, eat enough food, and don’t become obsessive!
Counting calories is a great tool to help you reach your goals. I hope this article left you feeling more informed and provided you with the answers you need to decide whether you should track your calories or not!