By Betty Murray
Calorie counting has been the standard formula for weight loss for years. Calories in < calories out = weight loss. But is there more too it than simply counting calories? Is calorie counting a waste of energy?
Lets take a look at the pros and cons of calorie counting.
Calorie Counting: Pros
Counting calories allows you to better track what’s going into your body and can provide some structure to help you stick to your weight loss goals. If you hit a plateau in your weight loss, counting calories can help you find out why, and help get you back on track.
Calorie counting may help you learn to identify—and seek out—lower calorie options. For example, it may give you the information you need to choose a non-fat latte over a full fat one for your morning coffee.
Keeping track of your calories is also a way to see if you’re eating to much…or too little. If your body is not getting the fuel it needs, it will go into survival mode and your metabolism will slow down, making it even more difficult to burn calories.
If mindless eating or emotional eating is your struggle, counting calories forces you to be more mindful of what you’re putting in your mouth and help you regain some control in order to change your behavior.
Calorie Counting: Cons
There are cons to everything, and calorie counting is not exempt from this rule. Counting calories can certainly give you a general idea of the amount of calories you consume on a daily basis, but I cannot give you exact information. It’s nearly impossible to count every calorie that goes into your mouth, in part because most food labels are not always accurate.
Calorie counting means you stop listening to your body and simply rely on the numbers to decide what to eat. Losing weight and staying healthy is all about listening to the cues your body is giving you. Eat when you’re truly hungry, don’t eat when you’re not. Pay attention to how different foods make you feel. Many people react to foods in different ways. Learn to pay attention to what your body is telling you about the foods you eat, and stick to the foods that make you feel great.
For some people, calorie counting is a slippery slope on the way to disordered eating. If you only allow yourself a set number of calories every day, you may not be giving your body the nutrients it needs to thrive.
Tips for Safe Calorie Counting
1. Focus on nutrition. Rather than strictly counting calories, focus on getting the right amounts of nutrients—healthy fats, protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals—you need to really be healthy. It’s also important to learn to recognize portion sizes so you do not eat too much.
2. Listen to your body. Pay attention to those cues your body is giving you. Eat when you’re hungry, and stop eating when you are satisfied.
3. Pay more attention to inches than pounds. Take your measurements once a week and pay attention to how your clothes fit. The number on a scale isn’t always an accurate depiction of whether you are getting healthier or not—and that is the ultimate goal.
4. Put technology to use. There are some apps available that can help you track not only your calories, but your nutrition as well. MyFitnessPal is just one of the many available for iPhone and Android.
Betty Murray, CN, IFMCP, CHC is a Certified Nutritionist & Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner with the Institute for Functional Medicine and founder of the Dallas-based integrative medical center, Living Well Dallas and she is the Executive Director of the the Functional Medicine Association of North Texas. A master of the biochemistry of the body, Betty teaches her clients how to utilize nutritional interventions to improve their health. She specializes in autoimmune conditions, MTHFR, digestive disorders and complex health issues. Betty is a member of the Institute of Functional Medicine and the National Association of Nutrition Professionals.