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Why Counting Calories Doesn’t Work + What to Do Instead

Counting calories doesn’t work; it’s a waste of time and counting calories can even make you fat. Lose weight + reach optimal health by doing this instead.

Counting calories doesn't work; it's a waste of time and counting calories can even make you fat. Lose weight + reach optimal health by doing this instead.

“Oh this is healthy, it only has 100 calories per bag.”

“I eat healthy, I have a protein shake for breakfast, Lean Cuisine for lunch and a granola bar for a snack.”

“Oh I couldn’t eat that on my diet, it’s got so much fat. I always buy low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese and yogurt.”

Any of this sound familiar?

Unfortunately, there are still millions of people out there who think calories and fat are the enemy, when in reality good fats (those rich in omega-3s, like salmon, avocados, olive oil and nuts and seeds), should be a cornerstone of a healthy diet.

Did you know Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to an increase in lean mass and a decrease in body fat stores?

So that whole fat makes you fat thing….NOT true. Eating plenty of the right fats will actually help your waistline!

And counting calories? Yeah, it’s stupid. There I said.

Counting calories doesn’t work. Counting calories is a waste of your time and energy. And in fact, counting calories just might be making you fat.

Because guess what? When you eat an anti-inflammatory diet based in real food, you don’t need to count calories.

Related: What is Real Food? 

Think about it–nobody is getting fat off eating too many apples and avocados or boatloads of spinach or even too much wild-caught seafood. Nope. Nobody!

Why? Well let’s get into that right here and now.

Counting calories doesn't work; it's a waste of time and counting calories can even make you fat. Lose weight + reach optimal health by doing this instead.

Why You Should Stop Counting Calories NOW!

  • Not all calories are created equal. Eating 500 calories from a McDonald’s Big Mac is not the same as eating 500 calories of salad with homemade dressing. 100 calorie bags of chips are not the same as 100 calorie bags of carrots. Even 500 calories from a McDonald’s Big Mac is not the same as the calories you’d get from eating an organic grass-fed homemade cheeseburger. Quality matters more than calories. Nutrients matter more than calories. Plus, a calorie is NOT a calorie (contrary to the popular “a calorie is a calorie” belief). Our bodies process and metabolize fat, protein, and carbs VERY differently, and even different kinds of fats (saturated vs unsaturated) and carbs (simple vs complex) are metabolized in diverse ways.
  • Ingredients are more important than calories. Ok, so you might be convinced now that you need to stop counting calories. But don’t just stop at calories. Stop looking at the nutritional panel altogether. It’s not as important as the ingredients, as what’s actually in the food you’re eating. Because again, if you’re eating real, whole foods, that’s what really matters, that’s what’s really going to affect your health the most. And if the ingredients label is full of chemicals and impossible-to-pronounce artificial ingredients, colors, flavors and preservatives, tons of added sugar and sodium…well, then it doesn’t matter how low-cal that food is, it’s going to harm your health. I promise you.
  • Managing insulin is more effective than counting calories. If you want to count something, or if there is one place to actually pay attention on the nutrition panel, count sugar. Sugar is the real enemy, not calories or fat. And that doesn’t just mean refined white sugar and it’s counterparts like Stevia, Splenda and corn syrup. Your body also converts carbs into sugar, so minimizing your intake of refined carbs (that’s white bread, white pasta, pastries and baked goods, desserts, bagels, pizza, etc.) is equally important for managing insulin and blood sugar levels, which will ultimately help you shed any excess weight. Why? Eating refined sugar and carbs causes your body to produce insulin, which is appropriately named the fat storing hormone.

    Related: What is the Anti-Inflammatory Diet?

  • Eating less and exercising more is a myth. What if I told you that you could lose weight without counting calories? AND that you could actually keep it off, instead of the typical yo-yo dieting?! Because, did you know that counting calories might actually be making you fat? Studies have shown that eating less and exercising more doesn’t work long term, which makes sense if you think about it. By restricting calories, we are telling our bodies food is not available, which then slows our metabolism WAYYYY down. No matter how many hours we spend on the elliptical, that won’t change. And in fact, when it comes to working out, more isn’t better either, as you can burn out your adrenals. 20-45 minutes of exercise 4-6 days per week is actually better for your hormones, and thus your waistline. Try alternating between HIIT, yoga, weights and walking.
  • Not eating enough calories will harm your health. Forget counting calories, let’s talk about what happens if you count them such that you eat an extremely low-calorie diet. Your mood can change (hangry is a word for a reason!), your energy and sex drive will plummet, your thyroid will suffer, making you cold all the time (source), your skin will suffer, and you’ll generally just feel terrible. That’s because your body NEEDS NUTRIENTS. It needs food, protein, fat and carbs. Don’t restrict yourself, give your body what it needs to function optimally.
  • Counting calories ruins your relationship with food. It’s true, counting calories is just too much effort…it’s exhausting, it’s unrealistic (you can’t really know the exact calorie content of every single thing you’re eating when you dine out or eat at a friend’s house or even when the label tells you so, as they’re sometimes wrong too). And it makes you obsessed with food in the worst way, constantly thinking about what you’re eating and how it’s going to affect you and punishing yourself for everything you ingest, which usually often leads to binge eating. STOP THE MADNESS! Just eat real food.

Counting calories doesn't work; it's a waste of time and counting calories can even make you fat. Lose weight + reach optimal health by doing this instead.

how to stop counting calories and still lose weight

When you nourish your body with nutrient-dense foods, listening to what it needs and fueling it with that, you’ll start to feel amazing. And if you can take it a step further and eat a hormonally-nourishing diet, you will even start to lose any excess weight. Take a look:

  • Fill your plate with Protein, Fat + Fiber. Instead of counting calories, aim for each meal to include some healthy fats (like nuts, avocados or olive oil), lean protein (think beans, eggs, fish and grass-fed, pasture-raised meat) and fiber-rich carbs (that’s veggies and whole grains, not refined flours and sugars). Why? By consuming fat and fiber with your carbs, you’ll slow down the sugar rush and reduce your insulin response, meaning less of what you just ate will be stored as fat. Plus, protein and fiber fill us up and keep us full longer, while building lean muscle tissue, which in turn boosts our metabolism. I’m not even suggesting that you count your macros, rather just that you try to incorporate something from each of these three categories onto your plate at every meal, in general. Don’t overthink it.
  • Count nutrients instead. Likewise, instead of counting calories, count nutrients. I aim to incorporate at least one serving, if not two, of either fruits or vegetables into every single meal, including snacks. Sometimes this is the only thing I focus on–like, eat whatever you want so long as you have two servings of fruits/veggies with your meal. Nutrients are MOST important for your health, and being nutrient-deprived can result in weight gain, hormonal imbalances, auto-immune disease and worse.
  • Avoid xenoestrogens. Known as the “female sex hormone,” estrogen encourages the body to store additional fat—especially around the hips, legs, and booty (even in men). And because so many things in our environment now contain xenoestrogens (soy, commercially-raised animal protein, plastics, personal care products, etc.), many of us are now suffering from estrogen dominance. Try cutting these xenoestrogens from your diet and environment by switching to all-natural, non-toxic products and organic (hormone-free), grass-fed meats, and you’ll likely notice a reduction in your weight.

    Related: The Top 10 Chemicals to Avoid in your Products

  • Season with herbs and spices. If you’re still worried about calories, try seasoning your foods with fresh herbs and spices. Countries around the world have proven the most flavorful dishes require almost no calories or fat at all (it’s not all about butter, cream and cheese as America would like us to believe). Rather, they most flavorful dishes are full of fresh herbs and spices. Some of the most anti-inflammatory options include ginger, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, chiles, and aromatic herbs like basil, mint, parsley, thyme and cilantro. We’ve got tons of recipes for herbaceous sauces, dressings and marinades, so be sure to check those out.

So, what do you think? Convinced? Do you, or have you in the past, count calories? Will you change your ways now? I’d love to hear your thought, so be sure to comment below!

Photo Credit: Heidi Geldhauser

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7 comments on “Why Counting Calories Doesn’t Work + What to Do Instead”

  1. I’ve got one question. In general the more you’re curious you’re about what you eat the better for your health. Why don’t apply that curiosity on both? I mean on one side to check healthy and well balanced food and on the other side – to check also total energy you’re providing to your body? In other words – assume you’re eating healthy food – let’s say 3000kcal per day for month. And for the second month you’ll just eat the same food but doubled. Definitely it’s not the same for body. So why don’t take that energy (I e. Kcal) to your consideration? 😉

    • I try to stay curious and open–I’m definitely a researcher!–but I do my best to listen to my body and simply eat healthy, whole foods that I know are nourishing and work with my body’s needs. I trust that when I feel good and balanced, that my body is getting what I need, and I feel that is all that really matters.

  2. What a great read. I have this pinned on my Pnterest. I have struggled for years with finding a healthy relationship with food. This article will help me on that journey. Thanks so much.

    Grace

  3. Thank you for sharing your journey, I really enjoyed the article on the anti-inflammatory foods.

    This article interested me as i started counting calories in August, it helped me understand food better and I have lost 16kg’s so far. But my approach is as you say more real/ healthy food, less junk food. I don’t use it to see how I can “cheat”, I use it as a tool to making better choices.

    I agree counting calories doesn’t work for everyone. My husband tried it and he would eat plenty during the day and then after supper he would see that he still had loads of calories left for the day and would go looking for snacks. After a week or so he deleted the app 🙂

    I don’t believe in diets, I do believe in self-control.

    • I think it’s awesome that you’ve got a better understanding of food now, Aynsley! And congrats on your weight loss. I totally agree that counting calories can often lead to “cheating” just because you can. I much prefer intuitive eating, listening to your body, nourishing it with nutrient-dense real food. I actually don’t really believe in self-control because when your body’s systems are out of whack, it’s impossible. Instead, I believe in getting more of the good into your diet so your body can return to homeostasis and “self-control” becomes natural, rather than forced. I hope that helps! 🙂

  4. Your information is so important. I found you through IG. I signed up for your emails immediately.
    Your delivery is not preachy just down to earth sharing of facts.
    I tell so many people about root and revel.
    Please keep.up the good work.
    Thank you

    • Oh my gosh, wow, Laura. Thank you SO much for the kind words. You just totally made my day, my week!! So glad to have you in the R+R community! 🙂