Why You Need to Count Calories to Lose Weight
The one goal all of my clients have in common is that they want to lose weight, whether it is 5lbs or 50lbs. In my experience over the last 5 years as a trainer, the number one way to lose weight effectively is counting calories.
The simple calorie math is 3500 calories in 1lb of fat. According to this math, if you want to lose 1lb of fat a week you need to shave 500 calories off your diet a day, if you want to lose 2lbs of fat a week you need to shave 1000 calories of your diet a day, and so on.
Our bodies are dynamic and sometimes it is not as simple as the math makes it seem. Also, I 100% agree that not all calories are created equal, meaning 100 calories of vegetables is always better than 100 calories of candy, for many reasons. But at the end of the day, all my clients who have committed to counting calories and have stuck to an appropriate calorie count over a consistent amount of time have 100% lost weight. It is the closes thing to a guarantee that I can give clients.
Often times my clients will be frustrated when they are not losing weight even though they swear they are eating the “right” number of calories. The truth is if you are not losing weight you are eating too many calories than you think. The only people who can eat the correct number of calories over a period of time and not lose weight have serious metabolic conditions and need to seek medical care.
It is very easy to overeat and not even realize it. The common ways unexpected calories sneak into a diet unnoticed are the following:
- Calories in Drinks: You stop off for a quick afternoon pick me up of a Grande Vanilla Latte from Starbucks (250 calories).
- Calories in Condiments: You think you are using 2 tablespoons of salad dressing (180 calories) but you are really using 4 tablespoons of salad dressing (360 calories)
- Cooking Oil in Food: You are roasting some vegetables in a pan and you swirl some cooking oil in the pan (200 calories)
- Calories in Passing Snacks: You stop into your co-worker’s office for a quick chat and grab a handful of M&Ms (136 calories).
- Calories on the Weekend: You bust your butt all week dieting and you go into the weekend with a 3500 calorie deficit, but with dinner on Saturday and brunch on Sunday you overeat by 4000 calories so you end the week with a surplus of 500 calories. This is one of the most common cycles my clients get stuck in and it is one of the most frustrating ones because you spend most of your time dieting with no results.
You have to track everything that enters your mouth to really be counting calories and to have that guarantee of weight loss.
There are many different tools to use to help effectively count calories. Some of my favorites are Weight Watchers, Noom, and MyFitnessPal.
- Weight Watchers is a classic and there is a reason why it has been around for over 50 years, it works. It gamified weight loss before that concept was even invented. The points system is just a simplified way to track calories. In the last several years the program has changed to encourage healthy eating, by increasing the points of unhealthy food and reducing the points of healthy food. There are a lot of 0-point foods to get you through the day if you accidentally eat all your points by noon…it happens to the best of us. Bonus, clients who actually go to meetings tend to see better results, the power of community.
- Noom is a relatively new concept. Although Noom focuses on behavior change, at the root of its successful weight loss is having members track their food every day. Noom’s food tracking focuses on calorie density. Calorie density is a measure of the calorie content of food relative to its weight or volume. For example, lettuce has a low-calorie density because you can eat 2lbs of lettuce and be very full and have only consumed 126 calories. On the flip side, you can eat 1 tablespoon of peanut butter for the same 126 calories and still feel just as hungry, that’s why peanut butter has a high-calorie density.
- MyFitnessPal has no gimmicks; it is strictly calorie counting. The best part of their tracking system is there database, which is huge. You literally can type in anything, from obscure brands to independent restaurants, and most likely they will have it in their system. If you are using an online recipe it is very easy to upload the recipe from the URL and they will calculate all the nutrition facts. It is also easy to input your own homemade meals into their system. As a trainer, this is one of my favorites because I can become friends with my clients and be able to view their food trackers. This is a great way for me to provide my clients with extra accountability and more insight.
If you absolutely hate counting calories every day there are two ways to lose weight that can still work for you.
- When you meal plan, you eat the same food every day for a week. Since your daily intake is the same you only need to count calories on the day you plan your meal plan. This is the method that works best for me. If I am craving a little variety in my day, I will save 500 calories for dinner and allow myself to change my dinner every day. This way I only have to calorie count my dinner.
- In an elimination diet, you completely cut out certain food groups from your diet. I have had some clients who have been successful with this method. An example of an elimination would be cutting out alcohol or dairy. Elimination diets work if the item you are cutting out is something that adds excess calories to your diet. Where I have seen elimination diets fail is when the selected time frame is over, and clients add back the selected item the weight tends to creep back on.
The clients that I have had who instantly submit to counting calories are the ones who reach their goal weights quickly. As long as they keep counting for some maintenance time, they have managed to keep the weight off. Most of these dedicated clients will lose 5-10lbs every month until they reach their goal weights.
The guarantee of losing 30lbs in 3 months is an enticing offer to track your food.