Do you believe counting calories everyday is the best way to lose weight?

In my opinion, there are 3 major problems with calorie counting. And one good alternative.


1) It's boring as hell.

Whether you do it on an app or with pen and paper, it's annoying and takes a toll on your mood. It's painstaking to match everything you ate to some item in a calorie database. You're looking for perfect accuracy (it's the point of doing that math, right?), and get frustrated with finding only close match. Not to mention you need to weigh in everything, which is very practical as you can imagine.

That reason alone makes it a poor approach for weight loss. Indeed, by making the whole endeavour more painful, you're more likely to get discouraged. And if that happens, you usually give up on calorie counting AND on trying to lose weight altogether.


2) Science is not so sure it works after all.

You can find plenty of studies showing calories are the alfa and the omega of weight loss. It's the current dogma, or rather it used to be.

Now, more and more scientists are coming forward with a different point of view, telling us that losing weight is not as simple as a Calories in - Calories out formula.

I won't dive into the details here, as this topic would require a Quora answer on its own, but I'll just leave the link of a very informative article by Peter Attia M.D. for people interested in this issue (see sources). To summarise: calories are just the energy density of food. They do matter, but their impact on your body can vary so greatly that focusing solely on a daily total amount is pointless.

For instance, if you eat a high carb meal, you're more likely to eat again soon than if you ate a high fat/protein meal, simply because proteins lower an appetite hormone (ghrelin) and boost satiety.

Another example: if you eat food that increase insulin levels and your cell's insulin resistance, your body will prioritise fat storage over fat utilisation. You'll end up storing more and more fat, even though you stick to your calorie budget!


3) It doesn't make sense in the long term.

Do you see yourself counting calories everyday of your life? No? Then don't even bother starting.

Every pound you lose thanks to a temporary habit or program, you'll put right back on when you revert to your old ways.

Weight loss is all about thinking long term. In fact, success is not measured by the maximum amount of weight you've lost, but really on how long you keep it off.
Anyone can start a fad diet, lose 30 pounds, be happy for a minute, and then get utterly depressed as every single pound comes back once you revert to your old ways.
Anyone can restrict his calorie budget with a calorie counter, but the same thing apply: when you stop, it's back to square one in no time.

Successful weight loss comes from making changes that last. Learning things, finding solutions that fit your lifestyle, building new habits. Measuring progress not just on pounds lost but really on the evolution of your habits ("only 2 sodas this week, down from a 4 per week average", etc).

Can calorie counting help you do that? Not really. You need to learn, you need to be smart (what sort of changes are sustainable for me? How can I make healthier choices everyday?), and finally you some other means to keep track of your food choices.


The alternative: keeping a food journal to leverage the power of self-observance

If calorie counting is not the way to go, keeping track of what you eat as a mean to precisely understand your current food habits is not off the table.

In a 2008 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers found that those who kept a food journal at least 6 days per week lost on average twice as much weight as the others after a 6 month effort.

A journal gives you accountability (to yourself, or a coach), helps your identify the triggers that affect you, and empowers you, by showing you that you can really take control of what you eat.

It's usually much less boring that calorie counting, because you don't have to do the math and there is no quest for complete accuracy (you can keep track of portions and food groups without drowning in details).

Also, you don't have to do it forever. The goal is to identify your mistakes and fix them. You're really just observing and learning about yourself, while staying on track.



Sources :
Your Fitness App Is Making You Fat
Do calories matter?
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