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Do You Need to Count Calories to Lose Weight?

Calorie counting is a popular weight loss tool because majority of the current research indicates that reducing energy (calorie) intake is important for weight loss. On one hand, calorie-counting apps can provide a few benefits:

· Greater awareness of the energy content, energy density and portion size of foods in the current diet

· Popular tool for flexible dieting that allows a more balanced food intake whilst still meeting estimated energy and nutrient requirements for weight loss

· Useful for education in specific diets, e.g. to monitor fibre intake in IBS, or to ensure adequate carbohydrate intake surrounding training for an endurance athlete

However, it does come with a few definite cons:

· Calorie counting apps are a COMMON trigger for a very unhealthy relationship with food. Food is more than just numbers and maths – food is social, emotional and is allowed to bring us joy. Seeing certain numbers can trigger us to perceive food as “bad” and experience guilt, disgust and stress which are NOT conducive factors to a long term healthy eating approach.

· The accuracy of calorie counting is extremely limited. Not only do energy and micronutrient content vary between different brands, batches and seasons, but studies show that most people under-report their food intake but over-estimate their calories from exercise

· Hellooooo – maths is the worst! Calorie counting does take a LOT of time and effort, which can lead to difficulties with adherence and long term results.

So should you try it? Consider the pros and cons above and decide whether it is an effective tool for YOU. If you do choose to calorie count, don’t sweat the accuracy. And make use of my calorie counting motto: “curiosity not judgement” – you’re not a criminal if a piece of cake ends up in your MyFitnessPal, but utilise the tool to LEARN about food and your own eating habits. And don’t push yourself to do it long term.

Is calorie-counting required for weight loss? CERTAINLY NOT. You can just as successfully lose and maintain weight through other monitoring techniques, including:

· Written food diaries or visual food records (my favourite is the smartphone app See How You Eat) to monitor trends in your intake.

· Monitoring your hunger/fullness signals, and practising eating until satisfaction instead of feeling over-full.

· Monitoring your body cues including the reason for eating. Studies show that reducing stress, emotional or compulsive eating is effective for long term weight loss.

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