What's the official stance on calorie counting? Is it a thing, or not? The quick answer is YES. Calorie counting, seemingly archaic, has decades of research indicating it's not only a thing, but THE thing. It is the thing that dictates whether you lose weight or not. Calories in vs. calories out is real and it continues to be validated by reviews done on research studies. If a research study comes out saying, “all you need to do is limit carbs,” as much as it says that calories matter, Sara Lee and Nabisco would be out of business. And while carb lean diets do yield positive results, the overall constant is that calories are limited. There are numerous studies published which may SEEM like calories don't matter, but these studies generally limit something vital which also contains a lot of calories (low protein, low fat) and should be thrown out as evidence that the calories don't matter, because long term maintenance with those deficiencies would be detrimental to your health.
So if calories in vs. calories out is a legitimate weight loss equation, why don't I lose weight following it? I track my food on my Fitbit or I've done Weight Watchers and I haven't lost a single pound.
Here are a few POTENTIAL reasons why you may not be losing weight:
1. You are overcounting your calories out, I.e., burned calories. What do you ACTUALLY burn doing yoga? How much yoga does it actually take to burn 300 calories? Well, it says on my Fitbit that 30 minutes does the trick. What type of yoga did you do? Did you sweat? Was it hard for you? These are all variables of, in my opinion, 100-200 calories differences. So maybe this is happening throughout the entire day. Is your gardening actually burning that many calories? Possibly, but quite variable. One thing to think about is NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis). NEAT can be a big variable when determining calories burned throughout a NORMAL day.
2. Undercounting calories. My calorie counter also says I am in a deficit of 500 calories, so therefore, by the end of the week I should be down 1 lb. I am never down that pound. Calories in vs. calories out is BS. Well, maybe not. There have been some studies to show calorie counting can be off by around 40% in a given day. 40%???!!! Yes, it is possible. Are you weighing your food? Do you know exactly how much mayo you are putting on your sandwich? Do you count your “zero calorie” cooking spray when you fire up the skillet? Newsflash. There are calories in cooking spray. Read up on that right HERE! Did you count how many cookies you ate? Was a serving size 15? Well, I don't know...so there goes another 100 calories or more.
So, why doesn't this concept work? It is HARD. It's daunting. I don't want to be measuring my food. I won't ever be so obsessed about calories to truly get a 100% accurate idea of how many calories I am eating (or drinking). Here's the thing. This equation is what it really all comes down to. If you're going to really crack down on your caloric intake and needs, you're going to have to get serious, and you're going to have to learn how to identify the calories in the things you put in your mouth, solid or otherwise. Start with your staple foods. Most days I eat x,y,z for breakfast. They contain this many calories. Then the same for lunch and snacks. Once you legitimately know how many calories they contain, adjust your activity level until you do find yourself in a caloric deficiency, and that pound is melted off. Learn about yourself and how your body processes those calories and burns them. Once you get a handle on it, you can expand and experiment with other foods and other activities. If you can really find out your caloric needs are, based on any level of activity, you will have actual control of your weight and health. Be mindful of how foods make you FEEL, too. That 1pm salad nourished me
and kept me awake for the usual afternoon slump that a sandwich usually induces. Your food is fuel. Gas up accordingly.
Thank you for investing in your health.
Joseph Champa, RD, CSCS