It’s hard not to be at least calorie-conscious these days, with oodles of calorie-tracking apps to download, as well as an abundance of nutritional information on food labels and all over the internet.
But how closely do we need to watch those numbers if we want to drop a few pounds? Is counting every calorie an obsessive waste of time and energy, or the only true gauge for making sure our nutritional needs are met while staying on track to meet our weight-loss goals? We asked a couple of registered dietitians to debate the pros and cons, so you can decide which approach works best for your life.
Should I Count Calories? Yes!
Lauren Popeck, R.D., Orlando Health
“Counting calories provides structure, and that personal tracking is what some people need to meet their health-related goals. People also usually experience success right away when they begin tracking calories, which is a great way to help become more aware of habits and encourage behavioral change.
While calories are not the whole picture when it comes to nutrition and weight loss, for some, counting calories is easier than actually understanding the complex effects food has on our bodies. It’s also especially helpful if you hit a plateau in weight loss; it can help point out if you’re eating too much or not enough. You may ever be surprised at how many calories you consume even when you’re following a healthy diet.
Many people are also driven to eat for reasons other than hunger, such as stress, anger, comfort, boredom, or sadness—and they don’t even realize realize they’re doing it. If that’s the case, tracking can help you get back in control of emotional eating and seek solutions to change behavior. (See What 200 Calories Really Look Like.)
Having a daily calorie target can also help identify high-calorie, low-nutrient items, so you can swap them for lower-calorie, healthier options. For example, instead of a flavored latte made with whole milk at 250 calories, switch to black coffee with two tablespoons of fat-free milk at just 10 calories. Swap one cup of chocolate ice cream at 285 calories with one and a half cups of strawberries at 70 calories.”
Follow these guidelines to count correctly:
1. Set realistic goals. When it comes to calories, weight loss, behavioral change, and fitness, you don’t need to get to your goal in one big leap, but you do need to sustain change.
2. Pick a tracking method that’s easy. Consider an app like MyFitnessPal, or a website like SuperTracker. Be aware of portion size and read food labels to identify nutrient information, as well as serving size and calories per serving.
3. Don’t rely on it too much. Remember that counting calories is ultimately part of a larger plan to maintain momentum and encourage long-term success.
4. Choose healthy foods. The type of food we eat has a profound impact on our gut health, brain chemistry, and hormones, all of which help to control food intake resulting in weight loss. Maintain a balanced diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats.