You hear it all them time, eat less calories than your body burns and you’ll lose weight.  Count your calories to make sure you’re not overeating. 

While it’s true that eating less calories than you burn will lead to weight loss, it’s misleading to suggest that’s the only thing you need to do.

Not all calories are created equal.

Do you think eating 200 calories worth of chocolate chip cookies is equivalent to eating 200 calories of broccoli?

Absolutely not! First of all, 200 calories is one cookie, if it’s one of the larger ones you might find at a bakery.  Second, 200 calories of broccoli is more than 6 cups worth of food.

Yeah, much more than one measly cookie.

More than that, though, that cookie won’t provide anywhere near as many nutrients and fuel to your body as the broccoli will.  The broccoli will be more satisfying, leave you fuller longer, and give you more energy longer as well.

The cookie will give you a lot of energy for a short amount of time, then leave you tired and hungry again.

We need to stop talking about cookies before I get both of us hungry, so back to the topic.  Studies have shown that people who meticulously count their calories tended to lose less weight than people who simply reduced their sugar, refined grain, and processed food intake.

But here are a few more reasons you shouldn’t count your calories.

You Won’t Eat Healthy

You know the saying, everything is ok as part of a balanced diet?  Well, if you focus too much on how many calories you’re eating you won’t pay as much attention to where the calories are coming from.

You won’t be eating a balanced diet.

You can eat sugar and simple carbs as part of a balanced diet, but if you’re looking too much at the calories and not seeing that 1000 calories of pasta is a no-no, you’re going to be disappointed.

Try to focus on nutrient dense foods, whole ingredients like meats, veggies, and whole grains like brown rice or quinoa.

It Can Hinder Muscle Growth

Anyone who’s trying to lose weight should be focusing on building muscle, not losing it.  Muscle burns several more times calories than fat every day, so replacing fat with muscle helps you maintain a healthier weight.

Not eating foods that help your muscles grow will not help you though.

Eating too many carbs and fats and not enough proteins can lead to muscle loss.  Your body relies on proteins to repair your muscles after workouts.  That’s why so many gym rats are usually downing protein shakes immediately after leaving the gym.

Or maybe as they’re walking out the door.

Either way, simply counting calories will not help you build muscle, and can lead to muscle loss if you’re not careful.

It can increase your consumption of unhealthy diet foods

Stores are full of them, low fat, sugar free, and low carb protein bars, shakes and what not.  The food companies make them look appealing with fancy words and visuals, but they rely on you not knowing what your body actually needs.

Many of these foods don’t have the nutrients your body needs, or are filled with dangerous chemicals to make the food taste better or last longer on the shelf.

Next time you pick up one of these foods at the supermarket, simply look at the ingredients.  If there are any words there too hard to pronounce, then put the box back.

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It’s Not Sustainable

So, how long do you plan on counting calories for?

A few weeks, a few months?  Years?

Really, how long can you keep it up? Will you continue counting calories for the rest of your life?  If not, then there’s really no point in pretending it’ll help you maintain a healthy weight long term.

You Might Still Be Eating Too Many Calories Anyways

Unless you’ve been to a facility where they hooked you up to a machine and measured your Basal Metabolic Rate, you can only get an approximation of how many calories you burn.

There are equations and calculators on the internet that can determine those numbers for you, but they’re always an approximation.  Everyone’s body will work different, and we can’t predict that with an equation.

Calorie Counts Aren’t Always Accurate

Food companies and restaurants provide nutrition info on all their products these days, usually available on their websites so they don’t take up too much space on their menus.

Packaged foods will have their nutrition info on their packages, though.  For the most part, you can rely on these calorie counts to be accurate, but, there’s a catch.

Do you know how much you’re eating?

Probably not.  A bag of chips with a serving size of 1 ounce might have 11 ounces in it, but maybe you eat 3 ounces without knowing it.

How many times do you eat out of that 11-ounce bag?  Let’s say it’s 4 times.  That means you’re eating just under 3 ounces of chips at each serving.

So, how many times do you eat of your packaged foods?  Could be chips, crackers, cookies, rice, or pretty much anything else.  Even healthy things like nuts are high in calories and can make you fat if you’re not careful.

And now let’s talk about restaurants.  They tell you how many calories each dish has, but in order for that to be accurate, they need to make it exactly like the person who calculated the calories.

AND, they need to portion it out the same way that person did too.

If they make it differently, like putting more cheese on it, that can make a big difference.

If they give you a bigger helping, that makes a big difference too.  If you’ve ever been to a mall Chinese place, they don’t measure the portions they’re giving you, so how do you know how many calories it is?

You don’t!

You just have to guess.

What to Do Instead

This is why you don’t need to count calories, instead, focus on three things: portion control, and only eating when you need to.  We’ll get the third later.

You don’t need to wait until you’re hungry to eat, it can actually be beneficial if you eat before you get hungry. 

Have you ever been so hungry you ended up eating too much and felt sick afterwards?

Of course you have, everyone’s been guilty of that at some point.  We do this because we get really hungry and eat quickly because we’re really hungry.

Common sense, right?

Well, it’s natural for you to overeat in these situations because our bodies don’t have enough time to signal us that we’re full.  When you eat too quickly, you keep eating past the point of where we’d feel full because our stomachs haven’t caught up to our brains yet.

We can avoid this by not allowing ourselves to get too hungry.  Then we can eat slowly and our bodies will tell us when we’re no longer hungry.

This also means you shouldn’t get up right away and go for seconds.  Give yourself at least 10 minutes for the food to work its way through and just have some conversation with your meal partners.

You’ll find yourself going for seconds less often.

This helps with the other problem, portion control.  We just happen to eat too damn much when we sit down for meals.  Especially at restaurants.

Most of your problem of eating too much can be solved by eating less at each meal.  Put less food on your plates, use smaller plates if you need to, and don’t leave the food family style on the dinner table.

If you keep the piles of food out of sight, you’ll be less likely to take more when you finish what’s on your plate.  This combined with waiting 10 minutes before getting seconds helps keep you from eating too much at meals.

As for restaurants, you’ll just have to use willpower to avoid eating everything in sight.  I don’t normally rely on willpower, but sometimes it’s what you need to turn to.

Now, for the third thing I skipped over earlier.  You want to cut back on eating sugars, simple carbs, and highly processed foods.

Studies have shown just cutting back on these three simple things helps you lose weight more than any other common tactic.

When you cut back on these foods you tend to eat meals and snacks with better ingredients, less, chemicals, and less simple carbs that spike your blood sugar and insulin levels.  Studies show that the spike in insulin levels is what actually causes your body to store fat when you eat.

Avoiding these foods is one of the best ways we can do that.

Well, I shouldn’t say avoid, everything is ok in moderation. Just try to cut back on them as much as possible and you’ll see some real progress.

When you do eat some of these unhealthy foods, just try to control the portion sizes.  The less you eat the less it will impact your progress.

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