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IS IT ALWAYS NECESSARY TO COUNT CALORIES?

17th May 2018

The idea of monitoring your calories for weight loss is a very popular one. However it can be a slippery slope from paying close attention to what calories you’re intaking, to obsessing over them. 

Calories are essentially a measure of how much “energy” food contains- making them essential for everyday living.

Then again, it should be understood that your body DOES NOT treat all calories in the same way. For example, 100 calories of chicken is not the same as 100 calories of chocolate. Your body will use these calories in very different ways for its needs. 

It is where the calories come from that is crucial in determining whether your body is tempted to store them as fat, use them as energy or apply them to some other mechanism. Whether you want to lose weight or gain muscle, it all depends on the type of foods you intake. The quality of the food you consume is much more important than the actual ‘number of calories' in it.

Weight loss is so much more than calorie intake. It is a combination of exercise, how you sleep, how stressed you are and health issues that you may not be able to control e.g. hormonal change, that will all contribute to your weight loss.

Your body works hard to keep you in a set weight range by regulating your appetite and metabolism through your hormones, genes and brain. For example, if you eat too much one day, your body would burn more calories and lower your appetite to compensate.

Counting calories can make you ignore the hunger cues that your body is trying to tell you. Whether you’re eating because you have calories left over, even though you are not hungry; or you’re not eating because “you’ve gone over” but you’re still hungry- you’re ignoring key messages that your body is telling you and may not allow you to lose weight in the long run.  Extreme calorie obsessing can result in a very low consumption of calories that can cause further health problems.

In order to actually count calories for weight loss correctly, you would need to know your basal metabolic rate- how many calories your body burns each day to simply function properly. Without knowing this while calorie counting, there’s a chance that you may not intake enough calories, putting your brain and body into a state of shock and enabling it to store fat away, as it panics and stores fat as ‘back up energy stores’.

Calorie counting can also add to the misconception that you can simply work off what you’ve eaten. This is always easier said than done. Often enough this thought process leads to overeating, as it is believed it can just be burned off later. Binge eating can really damage your progress and take a long time to get back to where you want to be. One day of heavy eating can take 1-2 weeks to start to progress again, so it’s best to avoid and enjoy treats on treat day.

Most of all, calorie counting can make you think about your food constantly. Do you really want to be weighing, measuring, counting and analysing food every time you eat? Counting calories can cause you to approach food from a completely mental standpoint. Remember we are feeding our bodies, not our minds. Counting calories is not always sustainable in the long run, because it can become a boring process and therefore making it easier for us to ‘slip up’. If you eat a balanced diet most of the time, your body will most likely respond by finding its balance- no calorie counting required.

Ultimately dieting is down to whatever works best for you. Calorie counting is a great starting point to get an idea of what you should intake and to keep in control of your plan. Though this might not always work for everyone. Listening to your body and making sensible choices can be a much better option for some. And if you are calorie counting, your basal metabolic rate should be used as a guideline to keep in control of your eating and drinking, try not to be too strict with yourself constantly, especially if you're always finding yourself still hungry- this doesn't always work in the long run.