We have all heard of calorie counting as a fool-proof method to achieving weight loss and lead a healthier lifestyle, but have you ever heard about the possible negative effects? There are several pros and cons to consider before incorporating calorie counting into your fitness plan.
Benefits of Calorie Counts
Calories are units of heat that quantify the energy we consume through eating and drinking. The act of counting them and recording the counts in a food journal has been proven to help thousands of people lose weight.
Raising awareness of body’s nutritional needs
Weighing and measuring food portions and their nutritional value helps people who are starting to work toward health goals look closely at their eating habits. When you don’t think about what foods you are putting into your body, it is almost guaranteed that you will overeat. Calorie counting makes you more conscious about what triggers you to eat unhealthy foods or large servings, helping you become capable of stopping yourself from doing so in the future. In this way, counting calories retrains the way you think about and approach food.
Helps you stick to nutrition goals
Once you become aware of what you eat and how many empty calories are in your favorite foods and drinks, it is easy to progress to setting targeted nutrition goals. Find out the amount of calories your body needs not only to function, but to lose weight. We all lose and gain weight at a different pace, which is why the number of calories you need can greatly differ from the amount your BFF needs, even if you both have a similar build. This works better than simply “eating less” as you become aware of the types of calories that are most beneficial.
After you start counting calories you start learning how many calories are burned during a workout. Weight loss isn’t just about eating less, although proper diet plays a huge role in achieving those goals. You learn to measure how much you take in and how much you use up. The only way to lose weight is to burn more fuel than you pump into your body.
Due to all of the above, the #1 benefit of counting calories is to ensure you meet your weight loss goals. Studies have shown that people who count are more likely to reach the goals they set for themselves, that is, if they stick to a rigid routine of counting and journaling for each meal.
Cons of Calorie Counting
Almost nothing in life has benefits without some down sides. There are a few disadvantages to calorie counting that can hinder more than help.
It’s tedious and mentally exhausting
At first, calorie counting can be a pain. Physically measuring portions, looking up how many calories each type of food has that is not prepackaged with a nutritional value printed on the packaging, doing math and writing it all down for each meal every day are not fun activities. However, to reach those weight loss goals, many stick to this process and become better and better at it, completing a calorie count within a couple minutes. The National Weight Control Registry finds that 74% of people who succeed in weight loss count their daily caloric intake. Still, it is easy to obsess over the numbers. This obsession has the potential to take the joy completely out of eating.
Quality and Calorie Types Matter
Not all calories are created equal. “TEF” or “thermic effect of food” is the energy the body uses to process and absorb the foods we eat. This accounts for approximately 10% of a person’s daily caloric burn. The thing to know is, not all calories are absorbed in the same way.
An experiment was conducted once with two different types of grilled cheese sandwiches. One was the typical white bread with Kraft cheese singles, the other was made with multigrain bread with whole grain, sunflower seeds, and cheddar cheese. Or, put more succinctly, one was “processed” and the other was “whole.” While they each had the same number of calories, the body used more calories to process the whole food sandwich. The processed sandwich made more calories available to the body, meaning they were stored as fat.
Simply going by the numbers doesn’t provide the big picture. 500 calories worth of refined carbs leave you hungrier than 500 calories worth of fat and protein. If you stay hungry after eating the amount of calories you needed for that meal, you’re likely to eat something else to satisfy the hunger.
In the end, there are uncontested benefits to calorie counting. It is a good strategy to adopt in the early stages of your weight loss plan to help you become more aware of what you eat and learn what your body really needs. If weight loss is your goal and it can help you succeed, you may as well give it a try. After you become a pro at eating well and managing a daily fitness routine for weight loss, you may choose to drop the routine altogether and enjoy more wholesome foods without the hassle.