“Doesn’t this have too many calories?”
My husband asked me that question a hundred times while we completed the trials of the most popular diets around in search of the “perfect diet”. He just couldn’t wrap his head around ditching calorie counting and actually losing weight.
Is that true for you? You are not alone.
For years, counting calories was king for weight loss. And for some, simply counting your calories may be just the right diet.
What is a Calorie Anyway?
That’s the strange part. A calorie is the amount of ENERGY needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 degrees C. It is simply a measurement of energy.
What that means for humans trying to lose weight is not as simple. Our bodies are complex systems full of hormones that do affect our weight loss. And, because of the debate of the hormonal theory of obesity, calorie-counting as a means to lose weight has become less popular. Check out this post if you would like to read more on the hormonal theory.
Don’t be disheartened if you are a calorie counter – calorie-counting DOES work for weight loss. And it allows individuals who want to maintain the variety of all food groups to lose weight without the elimination of any specific food type. Sounds great but it can get tricky.
Doctor Mom E’s Diet Scale
What I LOVE About Counting Calories for Weight Loss
- Nothing is truly off the table – If you can make it fit into your calories for the day, you can have it. You will need to cutback in other places if you overindulge on brunch but that is completely up to your plan. And you will want a plan.
- You don’t have to eliminate whole food groups – That may especially appeal to women who travel frequently or have less control over the food options available for their consumption.
- Calorie counting apps have made life much easier – I joke about the calculator. There are good apps that will let your brain rest a bit. It’s not just pen and paper anymore. Myfitnesspal has been my go to when counting calories for years now – I think I started using it about 10 years ago and it just keeps getting easier.
- The calories are posted on many fast food chains and restaurants now – leaving you no excuse to not know your calories when eating out. The same does not apply to carb counting.
- You can lose weight with calorie counting – Contrary to popular opinion these days, weight loss is the result of creating a calorie deficit in your body no matter how you do it. If you do that, no one can argue that you will lose weight. It will come off.
What I DON’T LOVE About Counting Calories for Weight Loss
- Nothing is truly off the table – That doesn’t really mean you should eat your daily allowance in cheeseburgers from McDonalds for weight loss. You can, but should you? Does that really make you healthier? Believe me, if it worked my husband would be the first in line.
- Just cutting back is difficult for many – There is no doubt that some foods are more addictive than others. No one craves an onion like they do sweets and chips. So, saying that you can continue to have those foods can be a slippery slope. One piece of candy leads to two and then you forget how many you had. And your counting accuracy suffers.
- Calorie counting accuracy is questionable – See above. People notoriously underestimate their portion sizes and overestimate their exercise with calorie counting apps. When they stop losing weight, they have no idea why. I do – they weren’t accurate on their consumption.
- You have to stick with the work – When you eliminate food groups for weight loss, most people get used to the mental transition with time and know what to avoid. Unless you stick with the same foods daily, you will need to continue calorie counting for weight loss.
- Some studies do support food elimination diets for greater weight loss – There are studies to support greater weight loss with the elimination of carbohydrates and studies to show better health outcomes with healthy fats. That being said, what study shows improvement in obesity in America today? None. Do the right diet for you.
What the Experts Say About Calorie Counting
- Harvard Nutrition Source: “The results from these three studies suggest that there may be some benefits to a macronutrient-based dietary approach, but research also shows that while a particular diet may result in weight loss for one person, it may not be effective for another person due to individual differences in genes and lifestyle. For those seeking the “perfect” one-size-fits-all diet, then, there isn’t one!” (https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/best-diet-quality-counts/)
- Mayo Clinic: “Replacing high-calorie foods with lower calorie alternatives and reducing portion sizes can help you cut calories and improve weight control.” (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/calories/art-20048065)
Tips for Losing Weight with Calorie Counting
Most adults should set themselves at 1200 calories per day for Women and 1500 calories per day for Men
Based off The Obesity Society/ACC/AHA 2013 guidelines, most adults will lose weight most effectively with these guidelines. Apps will tell you different calorie goals and those can vary drastically. Just use the app for counting, not the goal guidance. (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/toc/1930739x/2014/22/S2)
Harvard Nutrition Source has a technique for calculating your calorie needs as well. If you are interested, check it out: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/calorie-counting-made-easy
Or create a 500 calorie deficit from your current diet
Another option is to determine your current dietary calorie intake and decrease that by 500 calories a day for weight loss.
Some diets will tell you to restrict further – you can do that later if needed
There are diets that will have you go lower calories (think 500 per day). Studies do show faster weight loss with those diets initially. But, they are difficult to maintain and show greater regain. You can restrict further if and/or when you hit a weight loss plateau.
Set a goal of about 2 pounds weight loss per week
That is considered a safe and reasonable goal for weight loss in the long term. You may lose more initially due to water shifts in the body. When you start struggling with reaching this goal, then it is time to further restrict.
Eating a varied diet with healthy options is best
I love the Harvard Nutrition Source Health Eating Plate for an example of a health varied diet:
Consider cutting out snacks while calorie counting
Snacks are typically wasted calories full of high-carb low nutrient foods. They are typically eaten on the go and unlikely to be accurately documented in your daily calories. Plus, snacking all day maintains higher insulin levels contributing to the hormonal obesity theory. You can cut out snack with calorie counting, too.
Don’t subtract exercise from your calories
When your app subtracts the exercise you do from your calorie intake, ignore it. You don’t need to eat that many extra calories. The only time when subtracting exercise is necessary is if you have severely restricted calories and we are not doing that. Exercise is a bonus to weight loss. Don’t risk overestimating and not losing the weight.
Use your App scanner to scan bar codes
Most apps will actually scan the bar codes of the items you are eating – making calorie counting even easier.
If you add in intermittent fasting, subtract that those meals from the daily calories
Please don’t eat a 1200 calorie dinner after fasting all day. I would recommend a 300-400 calorie dinner. If you choose 2 meals a day and are doing that most days, go with 800 – 900 calories.
Calorie Counting Meal Plan Favorites
Unlimited options here. Just make sure that you keep your portion sizes accurately. You can check out my Pinterest board for SO many options for meals at 400 calories or less per serving.
5 Low Calorie Breakfast Favorites
Thomas Bagel Thins – less than 1/2 the calories of a full bagel
Double Foods Kolaches – for a quick breakfast – from Costco
Jimmy Dean Delights – most grocery stores
5 Low Calorie Lunch Favorites
Turkey Pesto Pinwheels – I use Carb Balance or low carb tortillas
Real Good Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas – most grocery stores
Chicken Tikka Masala – one of the highest rates meals from Trader Joes – and low calorie. Double win if you ask me!
5 Low Calorie Dinner Favorites
Salmon on the grill with grilled veggies
Eating Out While Counting Calories
This has never been easier as many food establishments have posted calories AND your app will likely have them as well.
As an example, I chose a few of the Under 400 Calorie options from the most popular food chains in America:
- Subway – nearly every 6 inch sandwich is under 400 calories (pending your add ons) except Spicy Italian, Meatball Marinara, and Tune. Foot long sandwiches are NOT.
- McDonalds – Breakfast: Yogurt parfait, sausage burrito, egg mcmuffin, chicken mcgriddle. Lunch and dinner: hamburger, cheeseburger, mcdouble, fillet of fish, 4 piece nugget
- Dunkin – stick to 1 donut, not the sticks
- Burger King – hamburger, cheeseburger, double hamburger, double cheeseburger, bacon cheeseburger, spicy crispy chicken jr, 6 piece chicken nugget, 9 piece chicken fries
- Wendy’s – any junior cheeseburger and double stack, 6 piece nuggets, grilled chicken sandwich, crispy chicken sandwich, grilled chicken wrap, small size of salads (except taco and spicy buffalo chicken), chili
Highest Rated Calorie Counting Apps
To check out the highest rated apps in multiple areas, check out these list.
Simple Solution: Counting calories is still an excellent tool for weight loss. Use the new apps to give your brain a rest. Make sure to get your portion sizes right and drop the forgotten about snacks altogether for accuracy.