The Pros and Cons of Calorie Counting

Calorie counting can be complicated and exhausting. It works for some people, but its hard to stay consistent. Let's look at some of the pros and cons of calorie counting.

Going on a diet of 1200 calories a day (or less) has long been regarded as the only way to lose weight. But is counting calories a safe, healthy, guaranteed method to pare off the pounds, or is there another way?

You need to be more mindful of what you’re eating and how much of it, whether you’re adding up calories or not. Eating a few handfuls of unsalted peanuts is good for you (unless you’re allergic), even though you may have dipped into the container a few more times than planned, since peanuts have Vitamin E and dietary protein. Snacking on potato chips, candy or other junk food will tack on many more calories to your daily total and leave you feeling sluggish instead of energized.

We’ve also been lead to believe that 3500 calories will equal one pound of body weight, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Calories are only one part of the diet and nutrition equation. You also need to balance the types of foods you eat, and the portions, to lose or maintain your weight.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of calorie counting.

Pros of Counting Calories

Some experts believe counting calories provides structure and discipline for the dieter.

Keeping track of everything you eat, and its calorie content forces you to think about what you eat, how much you eat, and how often you eat it.

Counting calories, or keeping a food journal listing when and where you eat, can make you more aware of high-calorie foods and train you to swap them for more nutritious items. You’ll learn to trade one scoop of Rocky Road ice cream (290 calories) for a cup of raspberry yogurt (70 calories) and trade a 290 calorie Starbucks Caffe Mocha for a cup of home brewed coffee with milk and sugar (45 calories).

Counting Calories and Restaurant Meals

You don’t have to give up eating in restaurants or grabbing a cup of coffee on the go, but eating at home and bringing your lunch to work will save you money as well as calories. (If it costs you $6 a day to buy lunch, you’ll save $30 a week by brown bagging it.)

Depending on where you usually eat lunch and what you order, you can save hundreds of calories and avoid extra fat and salt. A Tufts University study showed that only 32% of fast-food meals and 22% of sit-down restaurant meals were within the recommended guidelines for salt, fat and saturated fat. Research also showed that 92% of restaurants meals exceeded calorie guidelines for one meal.

When you know how many calories you’re consuming, you’ll be better able to eat a cheat meal or snack once in a while without doing real damage to your diet.

Discovering Why You Overeat

Counting calories or keeping a food journal can help you understand when you binge due to stress, anger, boredom or depression. If you discover you order pizza or Chinese take-out when you’re at home alone and bored, you should become more disciplined when you’re in those situations. Read a book or watch an exciting movie instead of eating, or text a friend.

You Don’t Need to Eat “Boring” Food to Count Calories

You may envision tracking the calories in every carrot, apple or cup of plain oatmeal if it’s been a long time since you’ve dieted. There are plenty of great-tasting, low-calorie foods, and dishes, so you’ll never get bored on a restricted calorie diet.

Tasty foods under 50 calories include grapefruit, strawberries, broccoli, apricots, egg whites, cantaloupes, and olives. Combine these ingredients with other low-calorie, vitamin-packed foods, to make simple, nutritious meals.

Cons of Counting Calories

Continually tracking calories can be tedious, especially if you have a busy lifestyle or eat on the run. Restricting calories may also make some people feel anxious and even neurotic about consuming too much. Calorie counting may result in abandoning the diet or developing an eating disorder due to being excessively careful about the number of calories consumed.

How do you lose weight and then maintain your ideal weight if you don’t count calories? Learn how to eat the right amount of healthy, whole foods, and combine it with exercise and stress reduction.

The calories from the foods you eat are processed differently, depending on the foods you eat. Calories from nutrient-dense foods like spinach, chicken, eggs, fresh fruit and grass-fed beef fill you up and keep you full for a long time, making you eat less. Fiber from vegetables, nuts, whole grains and other healthy foods are harder for your body to break down and digest. Eating these types of foods force your body to burn fat.

You’re more likely to overeat candy, fast-food burgers, cake, fries and other processed food since they don’t fill you up as fast. Instead of making your body burn fat, these foods encourage your body to store fat.

A Restricted Calorie Diet Will Not Always Help You Lose Weight

Counting calories rarely leads to weight loss, and may make you gain weight due to frustration. When you starve yourself or severely restrict calories, your metabolism slows down and taking in fewer calories will burn muscle instead of fat. When you begin eating a diet containing the right number of calories for your sex and age after a diet, you’ll gain weight immediately because you have a sluggish metabolism.

Create a Master Grocery List of Healthy Foods

The types of food you eat are much more important than the number of calories you consume. Concentrate on eating whole, healthy foods to lose weight and then maintain your ideal weight.

Eat moderate amounts of high-quality foods, including leafy greens, carrots and other vegetables, eggs, yogurt, grass-fed beef and other protein-rich foods, healthy fats like avocados and salmon, plus fruits and nuts. Create a master list of foods to choose from at the supermarket every week.

Focus on nutritious foods and prepare dishes at home so you can keep track of what goes into every meal you eat. Using fresh ingredients means you’ll have to learn more about the nutrient content of food and cook instead of ordering out, but you’ll reap the rewards when you step and the scale – and you’ll feel healthier and more energetic, too.

TFT Team

Our team at The Fitness Tribe often collaborates together to produce content. When you see “TFT Team” this is because the content was not written by a single author, but rather a team effort.

Calorie counting can be complicated and exhausting. It works for some people, but its hard to stay consistent. Let's look at some of the pros and cons of calorie counting.​