Do You Need to Calorie Count to Lose Weight?
A highly debated subject within the fitness industry. Some swear by it, some detest it! Let me give you my point of view as a personal trainer and nutritionist. I will help you decide which way may suit you best, by explaining the varying options you have and the approach I take with my clients.
What We Know
If there is one thing that just about everyone agrees within the fitness industry; it’s that in order to lose weight you must be in a calorie deficit. This means eating fewer calories than you are burning. That is simple thermodynamics.
We also know that, as individuals, we all have a certain number of calories that keeps us at our current weight; known as our maintenance calories. This is worked out by our height, weight, age, sex, activity level etc. Eating less than our maintenance calories would put us in a calorie deficit, therefore eliciting weight loss.
Finally, we must be aware of our BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate). This is the number of calories our bodies require in order to function. These are made up through body temperature, organ function, breathing and digestion. Between 70-80% of our maintenance calories make up our BMR. Chronically eating below this can have long-term health implications.
Real World ‘Dieting’
Often, people will just try to eat healthily when trying to lose weight. They remove the processed high sugar foods they enjoy from their diet and replace them with whole foods like fruit, vegetables, nuts etc. Therefore assuming that the ‘bad’ foods are the reason they are overweight.
Most people who take this approach view what they eat as ‘a means to an end’ and don’t enjoy what they are actually eating; generally salads and smoothies. This means adherence is low, inevitably leading to the individual eating the ‘bad’ food they had removed from their diet.
By doing so they think they have ruined all their hard work, so give up and return to their normal eating habits. This wicked cycle can occur repeatedly throughout a person’s life, with them never actually losing weight and keeping it off.
This method can work initially, especially if someone has a lot of weight to lose. However, it’s a gamble because you literally have no idea of the calories you are consuming on a day to day level.
Eating whole foods is great from a health perspective but from a weight loss point of view, as explained above, being in a calorie deficit is key. What is also important is ensuring you’re not chronically eating below your BMR. Hence why the ‘remove all bad foods and eat healthy’ method is flawed.
Obsessive Calorie Counting
Some people do take the calorie counting approach far too literally. They try to hit their goal calorie number dead on every single day. It becomes of such importance that it affects their social life and can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. This is something I do NOT recommend.
When you know the science you realise this approach is actually quite silly. Most people use food tracking apps that require you to scan the barcode of your food. What many don’t realise is the calories per serving on food packets is an average; one that can be up to 15% off what it states.
Additionally, the calorie number the food tracking app has worked out for them is nearly always incorrect. After all, it is a computer that is processing your details and pushing out an answer to what it sees as an equation. It isn’t viewing your body on a human level.
Finally, you must realise that day-to-day you will never burn the same amount of calories. Unless the number of steps you take, the food you eat, and your temperature etc. are all identical every day!
My clients do calorie count but in a much more relaxed way. I work out a calorie (and protein) number for them depending on their body and goal. They are told to see it as a target and not a number to hit perfectly.
No food or drink is off the menu. As long as they get close to their calorie number by the end of the day then I am not bothered and actually push them to consume the ‘bad’ foods they enjoy. Why? Because this makes it sustainable. And as long as it logged within their calorie numbers it doesn’t negatively affect their journey.
The great thing with food tracking apps like My Fitness Pal is that just about every food known to man is on there, from supermarkets to chain restaurants, in its calorie and macronutrient breakdown. This makes logging food super easily.
When a client goes on holiday they are advised not to log and just enjoy their time away. There is no obsessive relationship here. Instead, there are boundaries that they can work around. Think of it as a fuel gauge for your own body.
Clients find this approach easy and sustainable. The calorie boundaries mean that they can still eat and drink the things they enjoy without feeling bad.
Calorie counting isn’t for everyone but it does give people the boundaries they need when wanting to lose weight. It can be very educational as they start to learn what is actually in the foods they enjoy.
I have come to realise that you must take each person on their own merit. Those who decide not to calorie count can take other approaches like consuming more protein, drinking more water, eating more filling nutrient dense foods. However, be aware that these methods are obviously less accurate.
If you would like to become an online or gym floor client, or find out more about my approach, then visit the membership area of my website!
All the love,
Sam Jones Fitness