3 Reasons Why Counting Calories Doesn’t Work

When I hit 21, I was the heaviest I’d ever been.

I wasn’t obese or even overweight, but I wanted to lose a few of the extra pounds I had gained recently.

So, I started to count calories.

Counting calories was easier said than done… Any time I ate out or forgot to track my meals, I’d be ‘guessing’ which option in my calorie tracker was the closest to my meal.

In the end, calorie counting failed for me – I wouldn’t try it again until a few years later.

So, if calorie counting doesn’t work, why do nutritional scientists make this claim:

“Losing Weight Is As Simple As ‘Calories In’ Vs. ‘Calories Out’. Eat Less Than You Burn & You’ll Lose Weight.”

TECHNICALLY, they’re right…

But they’re too focused on the science, not the real world application of counting calories.

If you want to count calories PROPERLY, it’s extremely difficult to do it right. It can take weeks or months of trial and error before you’re on the right track.

 

The 3 Biggest Mistakes People Make When Counting Calories

These are mistakes pretty much everyone makes when counting calories – so don’t feel bad if you’ve ever made them.

Mistake #1 – Counting Calories Burned

Many days I’d go for a swim or a 20 minute jog. I’d go into my calorie counting app and I’d add those to my calories for the day.

After all, I just burned 100 calories; I want to be able to count it.

Big mistake…

There’s 2 issues with counting calories burned from exercise:

  • It varies up to 70% from person to person.
    I might burn 500 calories from a 2 hour run while someone else might burn only 200. It’s purely best guess and almost impossible to effectively track.
  • Your metabolism slows after exercise. Even if you counted the perfect number of calories burned during your exercise session, you can’t count for the metabolic slowdown that occurs after exercise.

Not being able to count calories burned isn’t a bad thing.

Even with forms of exercise that don’t slow down your metabolism, like weightlifting or HIIT, you’ll just get an extra boost in your weight loss efforts, because your diet is well controlled.

Mistake #2 – When Your “Best Guess” Is Wrong

I told you about the time I failed to count calories, but a few years later I tried again and succeeded.

What was the difference the second time around?

First of all, I didn’t count calories burned from exercise.

But, even more importantly, I started drastically overestimating the calories in all the food I counted.

I set my daily calorie intake for 300 calories under my daily metabolic rate. In theory, this should lead to me burning 0.6-0.7lbs of body weight per week.

But many weeks I’d end up losing 1lb or more.

This was due to overestimating the calories in my food.

Let’s say I ordered a burger from a restaurant without calorie measurements. When I searched up the calories in a burger on my calorie tracking app, there were 4 options ranging from 600 calories to 1000 calories.

I’d choose the 1000 calorie option because it’s better to be eating slightly below your goal versus slightly above.

This mistake is crucial when you eat out or order take-out often.

If you’re cooking everything at home, recording your calories accurately isn’t too difficult.

But I live a busy life.

I eat out 5 or 6 times a week.

If you’re incorrectly measuring those calories, it can completely destroy your dieting efforts.

I remember one time ordering a small pepperoni pizza from dominos. I went online and checked the calorie count per slice and they had all the nutrition details…

…but then I saw something that didn’t make sense.

It said that a slice weighed 100 grams. I was curious, so I took out my food scale and measured the weight of a slice. A slice was 137 grams! 37% more calories than the nutrition info stated.

Small situations like this, when eating out, can completely screw up calorie counting efforts.

Mistake #3 – Starting At The Wrong Point

How do you figure out what your daily calorie expenditure is? How do you figure out how many calories you should eat to lose a pound per week?

Most people use a calorie calculator.

But these calculators are inaccurate.

I remember testing this theory my second time counting calories. The calculators said I needed to eat 2300 calories per day to maintain my current bodyweight.

So for the next 2 weeks, I counted my calories every single day – without trying to lose weight.

By the end of week 2, I weighed the exact same.

But the math didn’t add up.

I was eating 2050 calories per day, not 2300. The calorie recommendation was off by 250 calories. Had I followed their recommendation, I would have gained a bit of weight.

If you want to figure out your REAL daily calorie recommendation, you’re going to need to put some effort into figuring this out.

There are 2 ways you can do this:

  • Without dieting or trying to lose weight, count your normal daily calories in a tracker for a week. Average the number out.
    That’s your standard metabolic rate.
    Now subtract 500 from that number and that’s how much you need to eat per day to lose 1 pound per week for 2 months – then you readjust.
  • Use a calculator’s recommendations and adjust each week from there. If you’re eating at 500 calories below your daily limit, but you lose 1.5lbs of fat, increase your daily calories by 200-300.
    Keep adjusting until you find the sweet spot where you lose 0.5-1 pound per week.

Remember, you have to readjust every month or two. As you lose weight your metabolism will slow down a bit, even when you do things slowly.

You may want to ignore any weight you lose the first week or 2, since people lose a few pounds of water at the start of a diet.

Is Calorie Counting The Best Way To Lose Fat?

Calorie counting is difficult for many people. If you have the discipline to do it properly, I’d recommend you try it.

But other people can go on diets that reduce their calorie intake without having to count calories.

Diets like intermittent fasting, ketogenic, paleo, and sugar free – these diets make a lot of big claims as to why they’re “the best diet”, but most work primarily because you end up eating fewer calories.

If going carb-free is the easiest way for you to eat less and feel full, go for it.

The secret to weight loss success isn’t a special diet, or even effective calorie counting.

It’s all about sustainability.

Being able to stick to something long term to reach the body you’ve been dreaming of – the body you’ve worked so hard for.

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