If you want to lose weight, there has a to be a calorie deficit. There is no other way around it. However, calorie counting may not work for everyone.
The problem with ‘a calorie is a calorie’ thinking is that it is biased against EFA (essential fatty acids) rich foods which is beneficial to our health (1, 2, 3). Planning your eating around ‘calories in vs calories out’ may reinforce overeating and inactivity, which are underlying causes of obesity to begin with (4). For some people, it might just be making smarter food choices in combination with regular exercise to make progress. Our focus should not be the amount of calories, but to promote good nutrition (5). Increasing fruit, non-starchy vegetables, nuts, legumes and fish is a priority (6).
However, for those who find it challenging to control portion sizes; it would be beneficial to keep track of what you are eating. Calorie counting is effective in terms of health goals such as fat loss (7). Apps such as My Fitness Pal are great to track your calories intake as well as your daily activity.
I encourage a food diary including the amount of food you are eating. Either write it down or take photos of your meals. The purpose of keeping a food diary is not to obsess over every grain of rice, but to have a better understanding of your current intake and make changes accordingly.
Although calorie counting has its place, it is not for everyone. If you know that a restrictive lifestyle doesn’t work for you, don’t count calories. If you need a rigid plan for stability and routine to begin with, counting calories may be beneficial. The bottom line is, eat mainly unprocessed wholefoods, pay attention to your portion sizes and choose an exercise that you enjoy so you will commit.
- Paoli A, Bianco A, Grimaldi K, Lodi A, Bosco G. Long Term Successful Weight Loss with a Combination Biphasic Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet and Mediterranean Diet Maintenance Protocol. Nutrients. 2013;5(12):5205-5217.
- Hernáez Á, Castañer O, Goday A, Ros E, Pintó X, Estruch R et al. The Mediterranean Diet decreases LDL atherogenicity in high cardiovascular risk individuals: a randomized controlled trial. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research. 2017;:1601015.
- McCarty M, DiNicolantonio J, O’Keefe J. Ketosis may promote brain macroautophagy by activating Sirt1 and hypoxia-inducible factor-1. Medical Hypotheses. 2015;85(5):631-639.
- Lucan S, DiNicolantonio J. How calorie-focused thinking about obesity and related diseases may mislead and harm public health. An alternative. Public Health Nutrition. 2014;18(04):571-581.
- Malhotra A, DiNicolantonio J, Capewell S. It is time to stop counting calories, and time instead to promote dietary changes that substantially and rapidly reduce cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Open Heart. 2015;2(1):e000273.
- Mozaffarian D. Dietary and Policy Priorities for Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, and Obesity. Circulation. 2016;133(2):187-225.
- Ard J, Gower B, Hunter G, Ritchie C, Roth D, Goss A et al. Effects of Calorie Restriction in Obese Older Adults: The CROSSROADS Randomized Controlled Trial. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. 2016;:glw237.