Should I Be Counting Calories?
Is Counting Calories Right for You?
If you’ve recently had a bit of trouble hitting your health goals and keeping a regular workout schedule because of the pandemic, then you’re not alone. Between the closing down of gyms, mobility restrictions, working from home, and the stress that came along with dealing with such extraordinary times, it’s no wonder many of us have put on a few extra kilos.
But now, restrictions are beginning to ease up, so people are starting to go back to their normal routines. Now, people can meet with friends whom they haven’t seen in months. This, however, is also making people conscious of the weight they’ve put on during quarantine. So, people are being mindful of their appearance and what they eat again.
One of the ways people are addressing their pandemic weight gain is through counting calories. But is this weight loss method worth it? Before we can answer that question, we’ll first need to learn about calories.
What Are Calories and Why Is It Important in Weight Loss?
A calorie is a unit of measurement typically defined as the amount of heat energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1°C. Typically, the “calorie” people refer to when talking about food is kilocalorie (kcal). Calories and kcal are used interchangeably but they refer to the same thing.
It can also be used to describe the energy we get from food as we digest and absorb it. Our bodies use this energy to keep us alive and to keep our organs functioning well. We need calories to support basic functions such as cognition, breathing, maintaining your heartbeat, and more.
The more calories a certain food has, the more energy it can provide for you. Different types of food can also provide different amounts of calories. Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram, protein provides 4 calories per gram, and fat provides 9 calories per gram.
When you eat excess calories, your body stores this energy as either glycogen or as fat to be used later. This gets stored in the liver, the muscles, and in the fat cells under your skin and surrounding your organs. Eating excess calories regularly causes your body’s fat stores to expand resulting in weight gain.
With this in mind, we can see that counting how many calories you’re consuming every day can be a useful tool for your weight loss journey. It can help ensure that you’re not consuming too much and storing the excess calories as fat.
How Do You Count Calories?
Calorie counting is the process of recording all the food and beverages you consume in a day, its portion sizes, and its corresponding calorie count. It can be done using a simple notebook or food journal or a calorie tracking app.
If you’re going to use the food journal method, you’ll need to know how to read food labels to know its caloric content per serving, a calorie content guide for non-packaged food, a weighing scale, and some measuring cups and spoons to get a more accurate measurement.
With the latter, you can log the food and drinks you consume quickly, and you’ll have access to an extensive nutrition information database that can provide the caloric content of your food and beverages as well as its macro nutrient content.
How Many Calories Do You Need Every Day?
Everyone’s caloric needs are different but on average, men need around 2,500 calories per day while women need about 2000 calories a day. These values can vary depending on different factors including but not limited to a person’s age, height, levels of daily physical activity, and metabolism.
To maintain your weight, the number of calories you consume must be roughly equal to the number of calories you burn. Meanwhile, to lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit by eating fewer calories than you burn.
Reducing your calorie intake by 500 calories per day is often recommended but again, everyone’s goals and needs are different. To get a clear picture of how much calories you need for weight loss, you may consult a registered dietitian, or you can use a calorie goal calculator.
Calorie counting allows you to stick to your target caloric intake by showing you how much food you consume every day. This allows you to make necessary changes either in your portions or the types of food you put in your body.
Furthermore, counting calories helps you understand the caloric content of certain food groups. In the long run, you can learn to make better food choices and include more whole, minimally processed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, nut/seeds, and beans/legumes in your diet.
What Are the Myths About Calorie Counting?
As with anything related to weight loss, there can be a lot of confusion about calorie counting. Furthermore, there’s new information that comes out every year that can change the way we approach weight management. Here are some common beliefs about calorie counting and calories itself that may be more myth than fact:
All Calories Are The Same
The thing about calorie counting is that the information it gives you about the food you eat is based on quantity and not on quality. But the truth is you can take the same number of calories from different foods, and your body will benefit differently from it.
For example, the same 100 calories from an apple are better from you than 100 calories from a doughnut. Sure, they’re identical in terms of calories, but they’re worlds apart in terms of nutrients. With an apple, you don’t only get 100 calories worth of energy, but you also get vitamins, minerals, and fibre whereas you won’t get much from the doughnut.
Even the calories found in fat can work differently in your body and can affect your weight loss goals down the line. A study found that unsaturated fats found in olive oil, avocado, and nuts, may enhance satiety. So even if these foods are calorie dense, they can still help you feel fuller for longer leading to consuming fewer calories throughout the day.
So apart from the number of calories of the food you eat, you should also look at the quality of the food you eat. If you want to get more out of your calorie counting diet, it’s best to fill your plate with whole foods, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
Calorie Labels on Food Packaging Are Accurate
Food labels are designed to guide consumers on their nutritional choices but they’re not always accurate. Manufacturers are given some leeway when it comes to the accuracy of the calories stated on their labels. Furthermore, in Europe, calorie counts are not based on serving size but rather on the weight of the entire food package. You may need to factor this in when tracking your caloric intake from packaged food.
Your Body Absorbs All the Calories of Food
Your digestive tract does a good job of breaking down the food you eat and absorbing the nutrients from it. However, it doesn’t absorb all the calories from the food you eat. In fact, your body absorbs calories from each macronutrient differently. According to studies, your body absorbs only 98 percent of calories in carbohydrates, 95 percent of calories from fat, and 92 percent from protein.
Furthermore, many fruits, vegetables, and nuts have hardy cell walls that can be difficult to break down. So, these can pass through the digestive tract without being absorbed.
There’s also the case of resistant starch, a type of starch that the body can’t break down and absorb. This includes green bananas, barley, brown rice, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
Cut Out 3500 Of Calories and You'll Lose One Pound
While it’s true that a pound of body fat may contain anywhere between 3,436 and 3,752 calories, eating 500 fewer calories per day to lose a pound of fat per week isn’t always guaranteed.
This “rule” overestimates the body’s potential for weight loss, and it does not consider the body’s response to the changes in body composition and diet.
Weight loss is not a linear process, and it slows down overtime as your body adapts to the reduction in the calories you consume. So, while you may lose a few pounds easily in the first few weeks of being in a calorie deficit, this will slow down and even plateau as your body adjusts.
There are also other factors that can affect your body’s capacity to shed excess pounds including stress and sleep quality. So, relying on a calorie deficit alone may not be the optimal way to go for sustainable weight management.
Awful Tasting Food Usually Have Fewer Calories
Hyper-palatable food like pizza, burgers, cakes, and pastries are often calorically dense and are usually loaded with fat, sugar, carbohydrates, and sodium. So, does it stand to reason that awful tasting food has fewer calories? Not necessarily.
Healthy food doesn’t have to be inferior in terms of taste and flavour. Fruits like mango, strawberries, watermelon, and cherries are brimming with sweet fruitiness that can rival any ice cream or smoothie. Lean meat, fish, and seafood can be cooked in a wide variety of ways for a filling and healthy lunch or dinner. Furthermore, nuts, beans, grains, and legumes can be loaded with nutrients, dietary fibre, and protein that can help you lose weight.
What are good alternatives to high calorie meals?
One of the simplest ways to make your calorie counting journey easier is to choose lower calorie alternatives to calorie-loaded meals and snacks. This way, you can still enjoy filling meals and tasty treats without going over your daily calorie goals.
For example, if you’re a fan of the traditional full breakfast, you can swap out some of the ingredients to make it lighter on calories. You can replace streaky bacon or rashers for turkey bacon, sausages for veggie sausages, and beans and toast for some extra tomatoes and mushrooms. You can also choose to grill your breakfast meats instead of frying them to help cut back on oils.
For lunch, if you want something more filling than just a veggie salad, try making some grilled shrimp skewers. This protein-rich lunch idea is packed with flavour and will only set you back 155 calories. Plus, it only takes 15 minutes to make! If you want to make it a bit more filling and satisfying, pairing your protein with some healthy carbs will do the trick like this broad beans and rice salad that takes absolutely no time to prepare. You can even replace the rice with some grated cauliflower to keep the calories down further!calri
If you’re looking for an afternoon pick-me-up, go for a handful of blueberries! These are full of vitamins and antioxidants that can keep your heart healthy and keep your waistline in check. One serving or 148 grams of blueberries will only have only 80 calories!
Come dinnertime, you can tuck in a bowl of low-calorie beef stew. Traditional recipes for beef stew can be loaded with calories because of the cut of meat used. But you can replace it with a leaner cut like beef stir-fry strips. This Italian beef stew recipe only has 200 calories, perfect for calorie counters like you!
Finally for dessert, there’s still room for some ice cream! You don’t have to cut out treats out of your diet just because you’re watching your calorie intake. For example, a Mini Magnum Classic only has 144 calories but it’s still as satisfying as its full-sized brother. Who can resist this velvety chocolate and creamy vanilla combo?
Don’t forget that counting calories isn’t the only thing you should keep in mind when working on your weight goals. Think of it this way: counting calories may be king, but diet composition is queen. If you drink beer everyday, you’ll take in just the calories for that, but you’ll die of starvation.
Counting calories doesn’t have to be as restrictive as it sounds. By understanding how the process works, you can jump start your weight loss journey and get back on track.
But if you need a little extra help, you can also check out some of the awesome programmes we have at BodySlims! We’re here to guide you through your weight loss journey so you can get back in control of how you look and feel!
Check out our programmes here!