Can Calorie Counting Help You Lose Weight?


Can Calorie Counting Help You Lose Weight?

If you’re unsure if calorie counting is effective, you’re not alone. Some people emphasize the value of counting calories because they believe weight loss is all about the concept of calories in and calories out.

Meanwhile, others think calorie counting is outdated, doesn’t work, and often leaves people heavier than when they started. Both sides claim their ideas are backed by science, which only makes things more confusing

What Is a Calorie?

A calorie is defined as the amount of heat energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1°C. Calories are normally used to describe the amount of energy your body gets from what you eat and drink. 

Calories can also be used to describe the amount of energy your body needs to perform physical activities, including: 

  • Breathing 
  • Thinking 
  • Maintaining Heart Rate 

The amount of energy provided by food is normally recorded in thousands of calories or kilocalories (kcal) For example, a carrot typically provides 25,000 calories or 25 kcal. In contrast, running on the treadmill for 30 minutes usually requires using 300,000 calories or 300 kcal. However, since “kilocalories” is a difficult word to use, people often use the term “calories”.

How Does Your Body Use Calories?

If you’re wondering why calories are important, it’s important to understand how your body uses them. 

Start with what you eat. Food and drink are where your body gets the calories it needs to function. These calories come from one of three macronutrients: 

  • Carbohydrates, Also Called Carbs 
  • Protein 
  • Fat 

During digestion, your body breaks down the food you eat into smaller units. These subunits can be used to build your own tissues or to provide the body with the energy it needs to meet its immediate needs. The amount of energy your body receives from subunits depends on where they come from.

What Is a Calorie Deficit?

Calorie deficit is a term we often hear whenever we talk about weight loss. It’s just another way of saying you’re burning more calories than you need to maintain your current body weight. But remember, it’s nearly impossible to know exactly how many calories a person needs — it depends on variables like gender, age, activity level, and weight. Whatever equation you use to estimate this is just that: a rough estimate.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a deficit of 500 calories per day for weight loss. In a week, that’s 3,500 calories, the amount long thought to be equivalent to 1 pound (pound) of fat (although that calculation is increasingly being questioned). The CDC recommends creating a deficit through a combination of multiple activities, such as walking and food exchanges such as drinking sparkling water instead of ginger ale.

Does Calorie Counting Work?

The fact is that the calculation of calories does not consider that calories are not interchangeable. The quality of the calories you consume matters as much, if not more than the quantity.

If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you know first-hand that creating (and staying in) a calorie deficit is harder than it looks. Often, counting calories can lead to eating snacks that may be within your calorie goal, but leave you hungry soon after.

If you’re considering 500 calories of chocolate cake, it won’t have the same effect on your body and how you feel as when you eat a balanced meal with different food groups [and the same number of calories.

A chicken breast with brown rice and broccoli may have the same amount of calories as a slice of pie, but the chicken will keep you full and energized for hours because your body digests things like protein and fat more slowly. The fibre, while the chicken will keep you full and energized for hours. The sugar in the cake can cause blood sugar (sugar) fluctuations that cause hunger.

What Is Metabolism and Why Is It Important?

One factor over which a dieter has little control is the number of calories his body burns at rest. The calories can trick your body into compensating in other ways. A published study has shown that in the short term, a reduction in energy intake is counteracted by mechanisms that reduce metabolic rate and increase calorie intake, ensuring recovery of lost weight. For example, even a year after the diet, the hormonal mechanisms that stimulate appetite are increased. It might be a good idea to limit your calorie deficit to something like 250 calories (instead of the usual 500) and lose the weight you want at a slower rate that’s easier on your metabolism and easier to maintain in the long run.

Other Factors Affecting Calorie Intake

Another thing that many people may not consider is that a host of other factors can affect calorie intake. For example, people overeat and choose high-calorie foods when they don’t get enough sleep. Previous research has shown that calorie restriction can increase cortisol, a stress hormone that causes cravings for high-calorie foods.

Another major contributor to hunger for many people is ultra-processed food, which is industrially produced with more ingredients and additives. Many studies suggest that these foods contribute 89.7% of added sugar in the American diet. The excess sugar, which is high in calories, makes it difficult to maintain a low-calorie diet. When you eat a meal or snack high in sugar, your blood sugar rises sharply and then drops, leaving you hungry again a few hours after eating.

In contrast, many nutrients facilitate calorie reduction. Previous research has shown that dietary fibre intake is associated with lower body weight. Other research shows that high-protein diets will keep you feeling fuller and more satisfied for a longer period than low-protein diets. The smartest calorie counters include both with every meal and snack. It can be helpful to think of food in terms of energy density, or the amount of calories it provides in each volume. One tablespoon (tablespoon) of butter, at 96 calories, according to the USDA, is an energy-dense food. Broccoli is a low energy density food: you would need to eat more than 3 cups of vegetables to get 100 calories. Research shows that diets high in energy-dense foods are associated with better diet quality and lower body weight.

Flip the Scale

Your weight is a balancing act, but the equation is simple: if you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight and if you eat fewer calories and burn more calories exercising, you lose weight. In general, if you cut 500 to 1,000 calories per day from your typical diet, you will lose about 1 pound (0.5 kilograms) per week.

Sounds simple. However, it’s more complex because when you lose weight, you typically lose a combination of fat, lean tissue, and water. Also, due to the changes that occur in the body because of weight loss, it may be necessary to cut calories further to continue losing weight.

Cutting Calories

Cutting calories takes a change, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. These changes can have a big impact on the number of calories you eat: 

  • Avoid high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods 
  • Replace high-calorie foods with low-calorie foods 
  • Reduce portion sizes

Genetic Makeup

Our genetic makeup also affects weight regulation. For proof, look no further than those exasperated people who apparently can eat whatever they want and never gain an ounce. Conventional wisdom holds that these people have “good genes”, and twin research shows that genes influence how our bodies respond to calories.

For example, a study was conducted by researchers on 12 pairs of identical male twins for four months, supervising their every move. The subjects received 1,000 more calories per day than their normal intake and their physical activity was limited. As expected, they gained weight. The amount varied, from about 10 to 30 pounds. Moreover, the difference in weight gain was much smaller between twins in the same pair than between different pairs of twins.

In other words, the twins in each pair experienced relatively similar weight gains, suggesting that genetic factors influence how easily we gain weight. Similar research suggests that genetics also affects how easily we lose weight.

Another possible contributor to weight is the mix of microbes in our gut. This community of bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms, known as microbiota, helps break down food and extract energy from it. Studies show that the microbiota of obese people is different from that of lean people.

Although this research is still in its infancy, it suggests that two people can eat the same amount of the same food and experience different effects on their weight depending on the composition of their microbiota. Those whose gut microbes gather more energy from food may be more likely to gain weight because it’s the calories we take in, as opposed to the calories we ingest, that count for our weight.

Counting calories can be effective for weight loss in the short term and may work long term for some. For the vast majority of people, it not only fails, it can also hurt. For starters, it can detract from the enjoyment of eating by turning mealtimes into a boring exercise in counting and weighing food. This routine can be stressful and can contribute to an unhealthy relationship with food, making it even more difficult to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Additionally, the obsession with calories can lead to food choices and eating habits that are detrimental to your health. Not all calories are equal: 50 calories of broccoli don’t equal 50 calories of jelly, and a low-calorie diet isn’t necessarily healthy. Focusing on calories alone can lead to too many things your body needs and too many things it doesn’t.

Does Counting Calories Help With Weight Loss?

If you want to achieve a healthy body weight, calorie counting is one possible strategy. It can help someone raise awareness and learn more about nutrition. Also, it can help people realize that a small amount of peanut butter has the same number of calories (or more) as a satisfying serving of green leafy vegetables. Counting calories can work. If you do this in a way that promotes a calorie deficit, you will lose weight. However, that doesn’t always favour the healthiest or most satisfying choices. If you’re not careful, it can backfire.

Remember that counting calories isn’t the only way to lose weight, and it’s not a practice that works for everyone. People with a history of eating disorders should avoid using this strategy.

Counting calories is counterproductive for most people. You can make small changes to your current diet and lifestyle that add up over time. You are overweight without counting calories.

What Is the Alternative?

While it’s good to keep an eye on calories in general, don’t dwell on them. Instead, pay attention to the overall quality of your diet, emphasizing vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seafood, and lean meats, while minimizing highly processed foods like chips, cookies, fried foods, and sugary drinks.

To say that our body’s weight-regulating mechanisms are complex is an understatement. After decades of research, there is still a lot that scientists don’t understand. It therefore defies the logic that a simple 19th century food notation system should suffice to capture this complexity. Yet calorie counting and calorie counting continue to be mainstays of weight loss efforts.

It is not surprising that our society’s concern over this inadequate and error-prone measure has produced such poor results. What’s surprising is that we continue to give it so much weight anyway.

If you eat a diet mostly of lean meat, healthy fats, whole grains, fruits, and lots of vegetables, calorie counting isn’t necessary. Portion control is a much better option and is much easier to do than counting every calorie, which can be inaccurate at best.

Most dishes are too big. Most restaurant portions are overly generous. We live in a world where “oversizing” meals is encouraged, buying in bulk is cheap, and where we’ve learned to eat everything on our plate. Acceptable portions got bigger and bigger.


Saravavan Nadarajan (Vanan)

Vanan, fitness expert and leader at EzFit Singapore, specializes in holistic training—home-based, boot camps, and corporate fitness—with over a decade of industry experience.

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