Does calorie counting work? Is it a viable method of weight loss – and can it help to keep the pounds off? The answer has to be a resounding yes!
Personally speaking, I love calorie counting. It is the only method of weight control that has ever worked for me. And, even now, despite the fact that I am no longer trying to shed the pounds, I count my calories every single day. Which probably sounds like a lot of boring, time-consuming work. However, it actually isn’t! Over time, it becomes easier and part of our everyday routine. The need to look things up reduces, especially where the food and drink items we regularly consume are concerned.
Nevertheless, calorie counting is not for everyone, so we will consider the plus points and the negatives. First, though, here is some useful info about what calories actually are and why we might want to keep track of them (info courtesy of the NHS):
The amount of energy in an item of food or drink is measured in calories.
When we eat and drink more calories than we use up, our bodies store the excess as body fat. If this continues, over time we may put on weight.
As a guide, an average man needs around 2,500 kcal (10,500 kJ) a day to maintain a healthy body weight.
For an average woman, that figure is around 2,000kcal (8,400kJ) a day.
These values can vary depending on age, size, and levels of physical activity, among other factors.
When we eat and drink, we put energy into our bodies. Our bodies use up that energy through everyday movement, which includes everything from breathing to running.
To maintain a stable weight, the energy we put into our bodies must be the same as the energy we use through normal bodily functions and physical activity.
How many calories do I need?
Although the above is a fairly good guide where calories are concerned, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. I personally maintain my weight of 8 stone (112 lb) by consistently consuming between 1,700 and 1,900 calories per day (I’m 5 ft 2). If I consistently reduce my daily calorie intake to 1,500, my weight drops by around 4 lb. I am fairly active and attend kickboxing classes 2 to 3 times per week. If I eat more than say 2,200 calories per day over a couple of weeks, my weight increases by a pound or so. I know this through experience, and I prefer not to end up undoing all of the work that I put in two years ago, to lose almost 3 stone. By sticking to this ‘regime’, it means that I can afford to eat and drink more on special occasions – which means that I enjoy them all the more! The bottom line is, if the number of calories going in consistently exceeds the number of calories being utilised by the body, the eventual result will be weight gain. You might want to run a little experiment to gauge how many calories you tend to eat on a daily basis – making sure to include everything you eat and drink! If you are a woman who is regularly eating more than 2,000 calories a day, or a man who is regularly eating more than 2,500 calories a day – and you feel that you want to lose weight – maybe start by trimming your weekly total intake by 3,500, and see how you get on (a reduction of 3,500 calories is reported to result in a weight loss of 1 lb). Or, you could decide upon a sensible and healthy daily calorie limit for a set period of time and then assess how it worked for you. Do NOT consistently undereat, and DO consult your doctor before embarking upon any weight loss programme if you have health problems or concerns. My advice is not to think of calorie counting as a ‘diet’. Instead, see it as a healthier, lifelong way of eating! This post will explain the most productive approach to excess weight loss, and why we don’t need to adopt a dieting mindset: DON’T DIET – CHANGE YOUR WAYS! CUMULATIVE EFFECT AND WEIGHT LOSS
My own invention! A very mild chicken curry, containing chicken breast, red and green peppers, a red onion, a small apple, grapes, sweet chilli sauce, a chicken stock pot, and mild curry powder. Provided two portions at 495 calories each.
Now, let’s consider the pluses and negatives of calorie counting:
Calorie counting plus points:
You aren’t restricted in what you are allowed to eat – only in the portion sizes.
Most edible items, including from fast food outlets, display the number of calories on the packaging. So, even if caught on the hop without a planned meal, it is possible to find something that you can eat and still be aware of the calorie content.
No one needs to know that you are watching or maintaining your weight (for some reason, people can feel challenged by weight watchers and say things like “Oh go on, one piece of cake won’t hurt you!”).
You don’t feel cheated because if you really have a craving for something you can have it – though usually in exchange for another item on your daily menu!
You don’t buy foods that you won’t be able to eat because you can see that the calorie content is ridiculously high and not worth it!
You learn to reduce your portion sizes, rather than do without entirely. For example, I love avocados and can easily scoff a large one with ease – but because they are high in calories (approximately 160 per 100 grams) I limit my intake to 50 grams at a time. Usually in a salad, or spread across two wholegrain rice cakes, topped with two thin slices of ham each (approximately 192 calories in total).
It encourages you to experiment and create your own recipes. I love sweet and savoury food together, and hot and cold food together, which means that my diet tends to be pretty varied!
It allows for flexibility. If you eat more calories than you intended to on one day, you can reduce your intake over the following days to even it out. I prefer to tally my calories on a daily basis, but some choose to do it over a 7-day period.
There is no need to feel genuine hunger (as opposed to boredom eating). I have a big appetite but I fill up on lower-calorie items and make sure that the food I eat is tasty.
If properly and truthfully adhered to, it works!
My lunch salad! I have a healthy appetite and can easily put away a large plate of food. I added 30 grams of grated, mature cheddar cheese and two free-range hard-boiled eggs. Total calories: 340.
Calorie counting negatives
It requires a bit of effort, at least until it becomes second nature. For example, keeping a daily calorie diary is the only way to ensure accuracy… which is not everyone’s idea of fun. However, the list-maker within me loves it!
Fresh food needs to be weighed unless the packaging specifies how many calories are contained in the whole item, as opposed to in 100 grams of the product. Guessing can’t always be relied upon, I’m afraid!
Compromise is necessary, as in choosing to eat more of that and less of this, in order to stay within the daily or weekly allocation.
You need to think ahead about what you’re going to eat, rather than just winging it.
You need to be honest with yourself and include everything you eat and drink. Those tidbits you pop into your mouth throughout the day all contain calories!
Being lazy won’t cut it! We need to use our imagination and not just stick to the same old foods because it’s easier, or because we don’t like to try anything that isn’t familiar to us. It isn’t only about calories-in-versus-calories-out – it’s about the quality of those calories!
It can feel like a ‘diet’ at first, even though it is really the development of a lifelong, healthier way of eating.
My favourite sweet treat! These are delicious… and only 236 calories each!
Of course, there are many popular methods of reducing and maintaining a healthy weight, and we need to find the one that works for us. I have tried high-fat, high-protein, and high-fibre diets (much loved in the 1980s!), but always yearned for variety. I like knowing that I can eat anything I fancy, within reason, rather than being restricted. Organisations such as Weight Watchers seem to work well for a lot of people because, according to satisfied attendees, they can eat well and not feel hungry. And that’s the secret to successful weight loss and maintenance – to not feel deprived!
Of course, there are many popular methods of reducing and maintaining a healthy weight, and we need to find the one that works for us. I have tried high-fat, high-protein, and high-fibre diets (much loved in the 1980s!), but always yearned for variety. I like knowing that I can eat anything I fancy, within reason, rather than being restricted. Organisations such as Weight Watchers seem to work well for a lot of people because, according to satisfied attendees, they can eat well and not feel hungry. And that’s the secret – to not feel deprived!
So, if you feel that you want to lose weight, or simply prevent your weight from increasing, calorie counting might just be for you! Oh, and do not buy into the myth that states that if you exercise, you can eat as much as you want. It isn’t true – for most people at least! Exercise is a great thing for the body and the mind, and is, in my opinion, something we should all be engaging in regularly, in one form or another. However, it doesn’t award us with the freedom to blitz the fridge when we’ve finished a session! I tend to exercise in the evenings and I prefer to eat late (a time when I might be tempted to overeat), so I arrange my calories accordingly. There are those who have all kinds of rules about how we ‘should’ be eating, and who strongly advise not to eat after this or that time of day; my only rule is, if it works for you personally, then it is no one else’s business! If you create a routine that becomes too challenging or complicated, you won’t stick with it… and sticking with it is the only way in which you’ll reach your intended goal!
Important note: When embarking upon a new diet or fitness programme, it might be advisable to check in with your doctor first, especially if you have health issues.
2 thoughts on “Calorie Counting: Does it Work for Losing Weight and Keeping it Off?”
I’ve been watching Secret Eaters too! As someone who’s always changing their diet, I’ve always been interested in shows about eating. I even watch My 600lbs Life just to see how eating evolves for those with addiction.
Anyhoo, it’s super important to know what’s on your plate, and I think after you count for a while, there’s no need to weigh everything because you start to get an idea of what you’re eating. It’s a great way to stay empowered for sure. Thanks for this post!
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Thank you, pleased you enjoyed it!