The Pros and Cons of Calorie Counting
As a diet-obsessed society, we’re all familiar with the concept of counting calories to lose weight. Because we’ve heard it so many times before, we’re conditioned to believe that calorie counting (or cutting) is synonymous with being healthier, leaner versions of ourselves. The truth is, there’s a lot more to a healthy diet than keeping track of calories.
What exactly is a calorie?
A calorie is simply a unit of energy. We use calories to quantify how much energy we take in (food and drinks) and how much energy we use up each day (basal metabolic rate and activity). At the end of any given time period, if we consume more calories that we use up then we will gain weight.
Are there different types of calories?
Not all calories are created equal. A calorie is always the same unit of energy, but different foods have varying amounts of calories per gram. For example, carbs and protein have 4 calories/gram, fats have 9 calories/gram and alcohol has 7 calories/gram.
Is calorie counting accurate?
It is very challenging to get a completely accurate calorie count, but there are tools that can help you get a fairly accurate estimate- I like myfitnesspal.com which also has a free app.
What are the benefits of calorie counting?
Calorie counting can act as an aid to help us learn how to manage our weight (whether you need to gain or lose). It can be helpful to figure out which foods are more satisfying to our bodies for varying amounts of calories. For example, a 400 calorie donut might only satisfy someone for 45 minutes while 200 calories of oatmeal might keep that same person full for 3 hours. When someone has a weight change goal, calorie counting can sometimes expedite the weight change process- it’s like keeping a budget- consume more calories than you use up and you will gain weight.
What are the disadvantages of calorie counting?
It is unfortunate when calorie counting takes away from our ability to naturally tell when we are hungry and full and what we are hungry for. Most people can maintain a healthy weight by choosing whole, nourishing foods and healthy beverages without worrying about counting calories. Eating more mindfully can help us truly enjoy our food and to recognize our body’s signals that we have had enough food.
Is calorie counting the best way to lose weight?
I prefer the focus on whole, nourishing foods approach whenever possible. People don’t tend to over-eat carrots or apples. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans are satisfying for very few calories. No one has ever gained weight from eating too many vegetables. For most of us it’s the very high calorie processed foods that get us- chips, cookies, pastries, etc., so finding healthy, lower calorie, more filling versions of your favorite treats might be helpful.
The moral of the story is, yes, calories are a great metric to utilize if we need help keeping track of what we’re eating. But, choosing the right foods (and drinks!) is more important. Being mindful of what we’re putting in our bodies on a daily basis, choosing satisfying foods instead of processed junk, and learning to gauge when we’re hungry or craving empty calories is all part of the bigger picture.
Rebecca Henson is a licensed medical Dietitian & Physical Therapist who is one of the most highly acclaimed health & weight management specialists in Sarasota, FL. She has acquired a reputation for her sound, straightforward educational and supportive counseling in clean-eating and health management as a total lifestyle.