Should you count calories for weight loss?


The argument of “calories in, calories out” has been drilled into our heads forever. Its easy to say, well “its only thermodynamics!” Sure, you can be one of those people who track every single thing you eat and figure out the exact number of calories you should eat vs. how much you are supposed to eat on a given day. Is this sustainable though? Also, doesn’t this take away the joy from eating? Yes, we need food to live, but that doesn’t mean we also shouldn’t be able to enjoy it either. Took me years to figure this out. Literally years. I wasted so much time. But hindsight is 20/20 right?

Right after college, I looked down at my thighs one day and realized, “Omg, I have stretch marks!” I also started to look at pictures of myself and saw that in a span of about one year, I had looked a lot bigger. From someone, who had never had to worry about weight (thanks to teenage metabolism), I didn’t know what to do. So, I did what I thought was best and what I thought I was supposed to do. I thought if I tracked my diet and ate under a certain amount of calories, I would lose the weight and be fine. After lots of spreadsheets … I realized that not only did this not work, but I felt very restricted and deprived. Which of course, backfired. I actually kept gaining weight.

It wasn’t until I learned about nutrients and how each nutrient was processed in your body (especially carbs and fats) that I switched my approach, and it actually worked! I also felt better. I focused more on increasing fats into my diet, focused on eating real foods and things started to actually improve. I lost weight, gained muscle and also my face cleared up after having struggled with acne literally since I was in middle school. I also think my mood improved. I felt just calmer and more at peace than I could remember from before.

So, to tell people “its just math” and to focus on not eating too much, is incredibly misleading. Your body is not a calculator. Its very complex, with lots of complex chemical reactions happening. Its just not that black and white to focus on just a number attached to a food. Focus on eating real food again. Ignore the number. Eat good fats. Cook more. Eat less processed (or boxed, already prepared) food. Your body wants nutrients. If you are constantly starving yourself, you are literally starving your body of what it needs. You are hungry for a reason, right? (that’s your brain telling you to supply it with nutrients and energy!…aka FOOD).

Let’s break it down….

There are three nutrients that have Calories associated with them: Carbohydrates, Fats and Proteins. We can really eliminate protein because unless you are starving yourself, fasting, or trapped on a desert island..your body will mostly use carbs and fats for energy, so their calories matter the most. (However, when food companies calculate Calorie content, they include all three…so again, I feel this misleads people too).

For every 1 gram of a carbohydrate, your body will get 4 Calories of energy.

For every 1 gram of fat, your body will get 9 Calories of energy.

By this math alone, you can see how fat is a much more efficient energy source. You are literally getting more bang for buck here. It also takes longer for our body to process fat, so we stay satiated (aka “full”) longer. Carbs get converted to energy at a much faster rate, so your literally burn through them faster (hence, blood sugar dips and you get hungry (or even “hangry”) faster). This generally leads to people eating more frequently, because they are just hungry faster. 

Now after we eat, carbs and fats are digested completely differently, processed differently, and turned into energy differently. Different hormonal responses for each, different ways of digestion, entering the body, storage..etc. This is where things get complicated. If your body treats carbs and fats differently, how can we just focus on the calorie content alone when dealing with food?! It just doesn’t make sense. Which is why it usually doesn’t work. You need to instead focus on which foods make you feel your best. This is different for everybody. I personally do better on a more high fat, low carb approach. But that’s me. A 34, moderately active, woman.

(Side note: I have had to increase my carb intake due to current breastfeeding demands. Feeding another human takes so much more energy! I am starving all.the.time).

Experiment with different foods. Try adding in new foods to see how you feel. Need help figuring out what to do? Let me know!  I can help you figure out what foods work best for you individually, to make you feel your best.