There are two camps of people when it comes to calorie counting. Both of them have an obvious degree of emotional investment in their opinions.
Here is the discussion I imagine would happen between two:
The other would be like:
Then a few polite words would be exchanged:
Everything would end up in dragon punches being thrown in each other’s motherfucking necks.
So, who is right? Should you count calories if you wish to lose fat or should you not?
Well, I’m this wishy-washy folk who thinks “it depends”. I’m not a militant dietary fucknut running around telling people counting calories is capital-A Awesome or it’s a steamy load of you know what. So, hear me out.
P.S. I’ll make the educated guess most of you know that calorie deficit is the key driver for fat loss. If not, what’s wrong with you? Go read the part about calorie deficit here and come back once that message sinks in.
Why You Should Count Calories
- It keeps you focused and responsible for what goes into your mouth
Let’s face it, when you know you have 1,600 kcal for a day, you’re most likely going to use them wisely. You’re going to eat highly satiating foods most of the time. You’re going to stay away from “naughty” foods like Macca’s (yeah, that’s Australian slang for McDonald’s).
- It gives you an accurate picture of what you’re eating
Like I said in why you aren’t losing weight article, people are absolute failures at estimating their food intake. Something on the order of twenty-eleven gajillion studies supports the fact that people have no freakn’ idea how much they’re eating1,2,3,4,5.
Calorie counting can give you an accurate picture of how much food goes into your mouth. If you don’t lose weight, you have no excuses. You know you’re eating too much and you should sort that shit out.
- It helps to understand how easy it is to consume lots of calories quickly
Have you ever seen these peanut butter photos on Instagram? Have you noticed how many calories are in a serving of peanut butter? A teaspoon (30g) contains ~200 kcal.
An avocado has ~250 kcal. Homemade granola can be up to 600 kcal per cup.
Once you start counting calories, you are slapped in the face with the truth. You start pondering the possibility your metabolism isn’t the reason you can’t lose weight and you’ve been eating too much all along.
- It leads to a better understanding of food. It gives you experience so you can eventually stop counting and eat intuitively
You will never learn more about nutrition than you do by tracking and understanding what’s in your food. Keto teaches you nothing. Calorie counting teaches you a lot.
You learn what proteins, carbohydrates, fats are and what foods contain most of them. You learn proper portions and how your body responds to different ratios of fats and carbs.
All these give you the experience that you need to start eating intuitively (if you want).
- It makes you realize how much of your progress could be compromised by a few extra nuts or beers
It’s very common for individuals to graze on bites, licks, and tastes of food throughout the day, underestimate portion sizes. You have a handful of nuts here and there and you just wasted half of your calorie deficit for the day (two handfuls are ~300 kcal).
Once you start logging food, you learn calorie contents of various foods. You then realize that 20 nuts are going to add ~150 kcal to your daily budget. A helluva lot.
- You don’t have to restrict foods or food groups (fuck you keto & fuck you low-carb), therefore, you can eat foods you love
Like I wrote in my book when the diet is overly-restrictive and based on food elimination/restriction, you will fail at it6.
It’s not the question of “if” you fail but rather “when”. When you fail, you feel guilty of having failed again. This can lead to disordered eating. The more times you fail at a new diet, the more desperate you become. Your life turns into a cycle of deprive and binge, deprive and binge.
- Unlike keto or every other rigid dieting method, counting calories gets easier as you go
Counting calories has a learning curve but once you get a grip, logging food takes less time and willpower. When you are on keto or any other rigid diet, it’s as hard to not eat foods you love on month two (if you even get there) as it was on day five.
Why Counting Calories Might Drive You Bugshit Bonkers
- It can lead to overeating
“Wait, whuuut? I count calories exactly because I don’t want to overeat…” Rarely but it can happen.
If you’ve ever counted calories and gone over your budget, it’s easy to feel like you’ve failed. You might also become sick of being restricted by your calorie targets that overeating is almost like saying “got to hell” to your diet.
That’s why I don’t like giving specific calorie targets for clients. Instead, they have a range. Instead of having them hit 1,600 kcal, I have them to be anywhere in the range of 1,500-1,700 kcal. Less stress, better adherence.
- It can be inconvenient and stressful
Say you’re at a friend’s house or on a camping trip. Your precious, safe place you call “THE kitchen“ and food scale is gone. You get heart palpitations. How do you count your calories and macros now?
Or if you’re out with friends and they decide to have dinner. You already have a meal logged. It’s waiting for you at your place. You also don‘t want to seem like an epic douchebag who says “Sorry, folks. I have to get up early, enjoy your dinner without me.“
Yes, once you get more experienced with tracking calories, you can eyeball your portions and estimate calories while eating out.
However, if you’re kind of obsessive, eating out can still be like engaging in sandpaper masturbating.
Also, logging food in an app might take 5-15 minutes per day but you might spend a lot of time thinking about food throughout a day. Instead of enjoying food and celebrating it you end up thinking about how many grams of protein and calories you‘ve got left.
- It can be difficult while traveling
Again, it can be.
I‘ve spent a year in Australia, about 8 months in Southeast Asia, and a whole lot longer in Europe. I had no problems with counting calories.
You know why? Because I never counted them. Duh…
But that‘s because I‘ve been doing it for so long that I‘m aware of portion sizes, calories, and macros. Not everyone has this ability, though.
How the hell do you know how many calories Sri Lankan Kottu or Filipino Lechon has?
So, Should You Count These Motherfucking Calories?
Here’s the super-secret of the stinking fat loss industry that’s not really a super-secret:
The number one priority of any diet approach should be adherence & sustainability. You can have the best goddamn diet plan on the planet, but if you can’t stick to it, it doesn’t mean jack for fat loss.
Counting calories is a cakewalk for some people. I have clients who have been doing it with no problems for months. I also have clients who have tried it and got sick of it. They run into all of the problems I just talked about.
The key is, you shouldn’t adjust your life to the dieting method. You should adjust the dieting method to your life. That’s where keto diet fails, okay?
You might suck ballZ (yeah, with Z at the end because fuck it. I do what I like) at calorie tracking. Or you might enjoy it. You’ll never know unless you try it. It’s much better than stuffing your face with 70% of your calories coming from fat, pissing on a stick to find ketone levels, and having a miserable social life (yes, it’s keto again).
With that said, here’s what I want you to ingrain into your synapses:
You don’t have to count calories but you have to be aware of your food intake because not doing so is what got you gain weight in the first place. Guestimating doesn’t work, m’kay?
You don’t have to count calories if it fucking sucks. But this doesn’t excuse you from being aware of how much food you’re putting in your mouth. Some of my clients love counting calories, some don’t but all of them are aware of how much they’re eating.
If you decide to give calorie counting a go, here are three ways my clients track food intake:
- Food diary
As simple as taking candy from a grandpa who has diabetes and no longer wants candy. Write down what you eat, when you eat it, and how full you feel. When fat loss is the goal, you want to feel just a bit hungry after every meal.
- Taking pictures
Unless you lived in a cave for the past 10 years, you have a smartphone. Take a picture of what you eat. After that, make changes based on what you see. If at the end of the week you see the lack of vegetables and fruits or you see cupcakes in every photo, you know what you need to change.
- Calorie counting with an app
I love the Myfitnesspal app as it gives the best accuracy of all the tracking options. Also, it allows me to log in using clients’ accounts so I could see how they’re doing and what we need to change.
You don’t have to neurotically weigh food each day. Here’s how my morning “brekky” looks like:
Two whole eggs & 3 egg whites; 50g of low-fat cottage cheese; 2 medium bananas; 30g of ground flaxseed. All blended together and then scrambled. I weighed out ingredients once and logged into Myfitnesspal.
Bananas and eggs will always contain the same amounts of calories so it’s pointless weighing them again and again. I found that 30g of flaxseed are 3 spoons and 50g of cottage cheese is one-third of the package. Since my breakfast is the same most of the time, I don’t even bother using a food scale.
You don’t have to be perfect. You have to be CONSISTENT.
There is no one way to lose weight just as there is no one way to parent a child or roast a turkey. Not to go all cliche in your ass, but the best diet is the one you’ll still be on months later.
I found what works best for me. If I can lose weight eating whatever foods I want, and the cost is spending an extra 5-15 minutes a day weighing out portions and logging my food, so be it.
If you are about to enthusiastically embark on your fat loss journey and want me to free you from fad diets, consider hiring me to coach you, maybe?