Stop Calorie Counting: It’s Not Hard to Lose Weight!


If you’ve ever tried to lose weight and keep it off, you’ll probably have spent time counting calories. It’s a weight loss strategy that’s been touted by so-called experts, women’s magazines and everyone in between for decades. Major weight loss companies have even based their meal plans around the concept of assigning numerical values to what you eat.

So if calorie counting is so widely used, there must be something to it, right?


That’s not to say calorie counting doesn’t make sense on some level, because it does—if you burn off more than what you’re consuming, yes, of course you’ll lose weight. But it’s not that simple, and even the experts are realising this now—Weight Watchers have actually overhauled their points system, which was based on calories, in the face of this new evidence. When you consider that they used to give a banana the same number of points as a chocolate bar, this rethink isn’t so surprising—and it’s a great indication that if you’re a calorie counter, you should change your approach, too. Because it’s not so much the calories of what you eat but the nutritional value that really counts, so that’s what we’ll be exploring in this post.

What even is a calorie?

A calorie measures the heat needed to raise a kilo of water by a single degree. When it comes to food, calories are a lot more complicated—not all calories were created equal, you see. And that doesn’t just refer to the obvious nutritional differences between a banana and a chocolate bar, but to how your body digests the different calories from those foods. Your body can more easily get nutrients from processed or cooked foods than from raw foods, for example. Cooked food provides you with more energy than its raw equivalent.

Let’s take carbs as an example. Their energy is often contained in what’s called starch grains, which contains glucose that’s primarily digested in your small intestine. Eat a starchy food raw, and up to half those starch grains pass will travel through your small intestine without actually getting digested, which means you end up with two-thirds or less of the food’s calories.And even if you cook that starchy food, it’s difficult to ascertain how many calories you’ll end up digesting—when starch has been cooked and then is left to cool, it becomes more resistant to being digested. So those cold potato bake leftovers might give you fewer calories than if you’d eaten them warm.

How processed a food is affects its calorific value, too, which means that food labels (confusing enough already) are often inaccurate when it comes to calories. It’s like the difference between a raw potato and a big spoonful of mashed potato—the mash contains butter and milk, which obviously gives it a different nutritional profile. It’s not just a potato anymore!

food labels are what you think your getting on a first date

Similarly, different kinds of calories can affect how satisfied you feel after eating them—eat a white bread sandwich for lunch, and the simple carbs will make your blood sugar spike and leave you feeling hungrier sooner than you would if you’d made that sandwich with wholegrain bread.

So where you’re getting your calories from obviously makes a big difference to how your body reacts. If you eat a diet of mostly high GI foods like white bread and pasta, you might still lose weight if you eat less of these overall—i.e. cut your daily calorie intake so that you’re burning off more than you consume. But you’ll probably be left feeling much hungrier than if you got the same number of calories from healthier sources like wholegrains.

Then there’s the energy you use up when you’re actually eating food. Celery, for example, has so few calories that eating it burns more calories than it contains! And consider this: for every 100 calories of protein calories you eat, your body needs about 20–30 calories to digest them. Whereas for every 100 carbohydrate calories you eat, your body only needs 5 – 10 calories to digest them. What does this mean? More protein means you burn more calories.And while we’re used to hearing about the importance of a very high-fibre diet, eating lots of fibre-rich foods means that up to 20% of the calories you eat can end up undigested, because fibre can stop your body digesting other calories. Phew!

So if we can’t trust food labels and are inadvertently changing the nutritional profile of the food we eat by either cooking it, eating it or just eating it cold the next day, why on earth is calorie counting still such a popular method of weight control? Easy: the weight loss industry. Calorie counting is an easy strategy to give people that keeps them on that endless diet merry-go-round, which means more profits for the big business that is weight loss.Count calories, lose weight, stop counting, gain weight, pay more money for another diet, rinse and repeat.

This approach is reductive on two levels: physically and psychologically. Let’s examine why before we get stuck into some weight loss approaches that do work for long-term weight loss—and that don’t have you spending all your time doing mental arithmetic.

Fact you are much more likely to fail at weight loss following someone else's diet or exercise plan or program. Learn how to create your own.

Counting calories doesn’t work for your body

OK, so in a mathematical or logical sense, calorie counting does work—burn off more than you take in, and, barring things like certain medical conditions, you’ll lose weight. But as we’ve already ascertained, it’s not that straightforward.

Your body isn’t a machine. It’s incredibly complex, and relying on something as simple as a number to address your nutritional needs just isn’t going to cut the mustard, if you’ll excuse the pun. Everyone’s bodies are different, and recommended daily calorie intakes are just that—recommended. What fills you up might leave someone else feeling hungry or vice versa. And the bigger you are, the more calories your body needs to keep itself going, so drastically reducing them suddenly is only going to leave you miserable, starving and unhealthy—not to mention slowing your metabolism.

Although many diets still promote calorie counting, it can be really detrimental to your body. Eating too few calories on a plan or program that’s designed to give you a quick-fix solution isn’t doing you any favours—you’re probably not even losing fat, even if the number on the scale is dropping. Your body gets its energy from carbs, but many fad diets today suggest that you cut carbs and get most of your calories from other sources. Newsflash: for every gram of carbs your body stores, it needs three grams of water to store it. Cut those carbs, and of course your weight will drop—you’re losing water. You’re also really, really hungry and starting to mentally assign numbers to every food that passes your lips, and really, who wants to live that way? Not to mention the fact that so many foods have no label to tell you their calorific value, and even if they did, they’d probably be inaccurate!

Keep this up, and you’ll affect your lean muscle tissue and your metabolism. Eat too few calories, and your body thinks it’s experiencing a famine and starts desperately clinging to its fat supply. If your body doesn’t have carbs to use as fuel, it goes for your lean muscle instead. And the bad news is that one kilo of lean muscle burns twice as many calories as one kilo of fat. If you severely calorie-restrict or detox for just 24 hours, your metabolism slows by 5%. Embark on a low-calorie diet—or a pattern of yo-yo diets that sees you switching between eating too much and eating too little—and you can only imagine the damage that can be done.

Why it doesn’t work for your mind

But counting calories doesn’t just mess up your body—it can mess with your mind, too. We’re human—we don’t like being told what to do, particularly when that ‘to do’ leaves us feeling sad and hungry. Anything designed to control our behavior ultimately makes us want to rebel and do the very thing we’re not supposed to be doing. This means that any kind of controlled weight loss approach—any kind of diet, plan, program, 12-week challenge, you name it—eventually makes us throw in the towel. After days or week or months of being told what to do and not enjoying it one bit (because we’re restricting, depriving and denying), we finally snap, and then nothing in the world can stand between us and the 24-hour Macca’s down the road.

What’s the best way to break this cycle of rigid control followed by total abandon, then regret and self-hatred, then more rigid control in the shape of another diet? Don’t over-regulate in the first place. Don’t fixate on calories—counting them or cutting them.

Calorie-counting is just another form of weight loss control. It takes away our autonomy and our sense of mastery over our own healthy living destiny. Why should someone else put a number on how much we can eat? Why can’t we be trusted to regulate ourselves, to know our own bodies? Because even if you struggle, in the beginning, to figure out what’s healthy and how much of it is a sensible amount to eat, figuring that out for yourself—not just having some so-called expert who’s never even met you tell you what to do—is a key step in your healthy living journey.

So what should you do?

Losing weight isn’t as complicated, difficult or torturous as the weight loss industry would like you to believe. What healthy living boils down to is knowing your own body and heeding its needs: eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full (but not overstuffed), choose ‘good for you’ foods like salads and lean proteins, do regular exercise that you enjoy. You’ll notice that calorie counting is conspicuously absent from that list—you can’t stick a number on food.


Don’t make the common mistake of thinking that because you’re trying to lose weight, you need to eat much less. Sure, you’ll need to eat fewer calories, but it’s not so much about quantity as quality. You can eat a big block of chocolate, or—to get the same number of calories—you could eat all this:

two large boiled eggs,
one carton of low-fat yoghurt,
one medium banana,
four sushi rolls,
half a cup of blueberries,
25 almonds,
one lean chicken breast,
half a cup of mashed sweet potato,
half a cup of broccoli,
half a cup of carrots,
one scoop of regular ice-cream and
two olives!

So stop counting, start eating well—and start losing weight.

Grab yours here!!

About The Author

Sally Symonds

Employee account created by MemberMouse

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