So, Counting Calories Doesn’t Work For You?

Counting calories
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Have you tried and failed with calorie counting and believe that calories in vs calories out (CICO) does not work for you? The bad news is, you either did not know how, or were not fully committed. The good news is, it may not be entirely your fault that you failed at counting calories. Although the concept of CICO is pretty simple, it requires an attention to details that may mean more than you realize.

Why Calories In Calories Out Matters

In layman’s terms we are looking at the basic law of thermodynamics as it applies to our diet. To maintain our weight, our calories consumed must equal the calories we burn. In order to lose body fat, we must utilize more calories for energy than we consume.

There are three main bodily processes that burn calories:

  • Basic metabolism. Your body uses most of the calories you get from food to sustain basic functions, such as your heartbeat. This is commonly referred to as your basal metabolic rate (BMR).
  • Digestion. Around 10–15% of the calories you eat is used to power digestion. This is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF) and varies based on the foods you eat.
  • Physical activity. The leftover calories you get from your diet are meant to fuel your physical activity, including workouts and everyday tasks like walking, reading, and washing dishes.

No matter what you may have come to believe over the years from failed diets – from a biological perspective, you have to consume fewer calories than you burn to lose weight. There’s no way around it. This is a truth for you, me, and everyone else in the world. None of us are exempt from this except for very few people who have a legitimate and diagnosed reason from a medical doctor otherwise. The truth be told, even with medical reasons which might affect your weight, it still comes down to the total amount of calories you consume in a day compared to what you burn. If your weight is suffering as a result of a medical condition, you need to discuss this issue with your physician who should be able to assist you in the matter.

How People Fail With Calorie Counting

  1. You might believe CICO is tedious, inaccurate, and sets you up for failure. Counting calories is not a tedious, nor monumental task. Seriously, how much time and effort does it take to note the calories in a serving of food? The counting of calories is only as inaccurate as yourself – you are not set up for failure, you do it to yourself.
  2. You do not weigh and measure foods as you prepare them. If you are estimating the amount of your servings, chances are you are underestimating the amount you are eating. Weighing foods, followed by measuring, are the most accurate methods of accountability.
    • If you estimate a 2 tablespoon serving of peanut butter, but it is actually 3 tablespoons, you have underestimated by about 90 calories.
    • Ask yourself, how much time does it require of you to lay a piece of meat onto a kitchen scale before cooking it. Is your time so pressed you can’t take an extra second or two to weigh a serving?
    • Are you aware that most serving utensils are made for accurate measurements of food. You can know with good accuracy how much food you put onto your plate when you use them.
    • When people try to estimate their portion sizes, or calories, they often inadvertently low-ball how much they are eating. Sometimes, when they think they had three ounces of chicken for dinner, it almost invariably turns out they actually had more. By estimating, you might actually double or triple the recommended portions—when servings get that large, calories can add up.
  3. You may be accurately tracking your calories, but are still eating more than you need. The exact amount of calories you need will depend on a number of different factors, including your gender, age, weight and activity levels.
    • Online calorie calculators are only as accurate as the input of information you give. You may have overestimated your daily activity which would give you a higher caloric number than you actually require to lose weight. This is even true for our Calorie Counter Pro feature that we provide here at David’s Way to Health and Fitness.
    • If you are weighing and measuring your foods to ensure that you are eating at a caloric deficit – you have to adjust your daily calories downward if you are still not losing weight. You are still eating too many calories.
    • When you are losing weight, and then plateau as we all will, you have to readjust your calories downward again. The amount of calories you need to lose weight in the beginning will at some point equal the amount of calories you need to maintain weight at a certain point.
    • To record food portions correctly. Here are a few common ways to measure portion sizes:
      1. Scales: The most accurate way to determine how much you’re eating is to weigh your food.
      2. Measuring cups: Standard volume measures are slightly quicker and easier to use than a scale.
      3. Comparisons: Using comparisons to common items is quick and easy, especially if you’re away from home. However, it’s also much less accurate.
    • If you find yourself having to estimate your portions such as when eating out, here are some common serving sizes compared to household items that may help you estimate your portion sizes:
      1. 1 serving of rice or pasta (1/2 a cup): a computer mouse or rounded handful.
      2. 1 serving of meat (3 oz): a deck of cards.
      3. 1 serving of fish (3 oz): a check book.
      4. 1 serving of cheese (1.5 oz): a lipstick or the size of your thumb.
      5. 1 serving of fresh fruit (1/2 cup): a tennis ball.
      6. 1 serving of green leafy vegetables (1 cup): a baseball.
      7. 1 serving of vegetables (1/2 a cup): a computer mouse.
      8. 1 teaspoon of olive oil: 1 fingertip.
      9. 2 tablespoons of peanut butter: a ping pong ball.
  4. You are greatly overestimating the amount of calories you burn from exercise! The bottom line is, most people believe they are burning far more calories from exercise than they actually are. If you believe that you burned 1000 calories by spending an hour on the treadmill, the truth is, you only burned maybe about 500 to 600 calories. Many popular brands of fitness trackers are overestimating the number of calories burned by more than 50 per cent.
    •  Fitness trackers aren’t the be all and end all when it comes to monitoring how many calories you’re burning, as a lot of the time the companies themselves say the information they offer is only based on estimations.
    • For those hoping to lose weight, research suggests that the amount of energy people expend during exercise is often much less than they think. In reality, exercise is vastly overshadowed by diet in determining weight-loss success. While exercise does contribute to more energy burned in a day, a change in diet will generally be the largest factor in whether or not a person loses weigh.
    • Cardio equipment uses standard formulas to figure out how many calories you burn, and asks users for their age and weight in order to produce a more accurate read. But there are many more factors that figure into how many calories you burn, such as your body fat, body temperature, hormone changes, your running form, and your running efficiency. The machines themselves get less accurate as they age and at higher intensities. Furthermore, even if you are one of those people who actually enter your age and weight, many cardio machines are calibrated for men, leaving you with a skewed formula from the get-go.

Here are 5 tips to count calories:

  • Be prepared: Before you start, get a calorie counting app or online tool, decide how you will measure or estimate portions and make a meal plan.
  • Read food labels: Food labels contain lots of useful information for calorie counting. Make sure you check the portion size recommended on the package.
  • Remove temptation: Get rid of the junk food in your house. This will help you choose healthier snacks and make it easier to hit your targets.
  • Aim for slow, steady weight loss: Don’t cut calories too low. Although you’ll lose weight faster, you may feel bad and be less likely to stick to your plan.
  • Fuel your exercise: The most successful weight loss programs include both diet and exercise. Make sure to eat enough to still have energy to exercise.

The hard core truth is, our weight is dependent on the amount of foods we eat versus the amount we actually need. While a hormonal imbalance can cause us to gain weight, and have a difficult time removing those unwanted pounds, most of these issues can be mitigated through proper nutrition and/or your physicians guidance.

Consuming nutritious foods, exercising on a regular basis and engaging in other healthy behaviors can go a long way toward improving your hormonal health. Your hormones are involved in every aspect of your health. You need them in very specific amounts for your body to function optimally. Hormonal imbalances may increase your risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other health problems. Despite the fact that aging and other factors are beyond your control, there are many steps you can take to help your hormones function optimally and to keep your body healthy and fit.

Weight Loss and Portion Control

3 thoughts on “So, Counting Calories Doesn’t Work For You?

  1. I really enjoy reading your blog! A few years ago while my father battled cancer, I successfully cut out sugar and white flour from my diet. I was listening when multiple healthcare professionals gave Dad that advice, in addition to increasing fruit and veg consumption.

    I’m curious what you think of honey. It seems to me that sugar is sugar, regardless of the form.

    1. Hi Diana, thank you for reading and sharing your story. In answer to your question, sugar is sugar no matter the source. Honey, agave syrup, palm or coconut sugar etc. are all essentially the same as refined sugar.

    2. Hello Diana! This issue with honey is a common question. Because honey is considered “natural”, so many people think that it is an acceptable food source. It is a simple sugar and we do not advocate eating any simple sugars whatsoever. Congratulations on removing sugar and white flour from your diet! Brenda Sue

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