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Why calorie counting doesn’t work:

For those that calorie counting hasn’t worked for, here is some food for thought as to why it hasn’t worked and what you can do about it.
By Amanda Ferguson
Date: February 06 2012
Editor Rating:

Most people have been led to believe that calorie counting is the perfect solution to weight loss.  It seems to make sense right – to lose weight, all you need to do is burn more calories than you put in. It is hard to try and change people’s minds and perceptions about not doing that, as it has been drilled into them for so long.

How many times have you tried to count calories – what you eat vs the exercise you do. How much does it stress you out? Has it worked for you? If it did work, great, hope you have managed to keep it off, so you probably won’t read on. For those that calorie counting hasn’t worked for, here is some food for thought as to why it hasn’t worked and what you can do about it.

It can get a bit complicated, so I will try and keep it simple and give you the top 5 reasons why calorie counting doesn’t work.

1.       Calories are not all equal

  • A calorie is a unit of food energy, that’s it. Every calorie that you eat has a different effect on your body.
  • Calories don’t tell you the amount of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients (fats, proteins, carbs) that the food contains.  It is these things that will determine how your body reacts to what you are putting in your mouth. For example Fat storage or Fat burning mode.

An example:

  • A mars bar has 251 Calories
  • 6-8 brazils & 5-6 almonds has approx. 250 calories

These two snacks contain similar amount of calories. Do you think both of these would have the same effect on your just because they have the same amount of calories in them? Certainly not.  The Mars Bar has is pretty much all carbs – Sugar (and not the good type), Salt and Fat (and not the good type there either) and minimal protein.  The nuts on the other hand have lots of fat in them – but the good fats, ones that help you digest your food, potassium, protein, calcium, fibre etc. So a much better option

Another example:

Say you and a friend both decide you want to lose weight. You are the same age, weight about the same, both exercise together. You decide to restrict yourself to 1800 calories a day and eat healthy, unprocessed foods, fresh, cook yourself etc. Your friend eats mostly convenience, low fat foods, food from packets but still only consumes 1800 calories a day. Who do you think will lose weight faster, be in better shape and be healthier? And more likely to keep weight off? YOU!

SO, calorie counting tells you absolutely nothing about the nutritional value of the food you eat and nothing about how you will react to that food – fat burning vs fat storage.


2. Restricting Calories causes you to burn LESS fat

In theory, if you burn more calories that you eat, you should have a calorie deficit and this should cause you to lose weight right? So most people will that that to the extreme, especially if they want to lose weight faster!

If you restrict your calorie intake too far, then your body will go into shock. Your body will start to break down muscle tissue in order to produce the energy it would usually get from food (calories) that you should be eating!

In this case, your body is burning muscle, NOT fat. You might be losing weight on the scales, but you have lost muscle mass, which is what you need more of to burn calories, you haven’t actually lost any FAT at all.

So, cutting calories means you will burn less Fat and more muscle  – it’s the wrong way round!


3. Restricting calories can cause you to store MORE fat

Yep, you read that right. If you count calories and restrict yourself, you will be eating less food but storing MORE fat.  If you restrict calories too far over a period of time your body will go into starvation mode.  You are already breaking down muscle mass to produce energy – your body needs to survive, so every chance it gets it will put a few extra calories back in reserve – into your FAT stores!

So, don’t restrict your calories if you don’t want to increase your FAT stores.


4. Your body doesn’t count the calories, why would you?

Most people think that if they skip a meal (ie no calories for lunch), I can just have a bigger dinner! Or no breakfast to have a bigger lunch, or I will save lots of calories for the weekend when I am going out and will have a few drinks!

Instead your body will struggle to process the big meal you have when you have it. And there will probably be a big sugar spike, resulting in a strong insulin response )insulin tells your body to store excess blood sugar as fat!)

And remember about the starvation mode – this is when your body will store more fat, just in case you starve it again at the next meal!

So, your body works meal by meal, not number of calories consumed!


5. It will mess with your head

How stressful, boring, obsessive, crazy will you become if you count calories? Stressing over food labels, not enjoying your food cause it’s boring, can’t go out for dinner with friends cause you don’t know how many calories you will be eating, feel guilty if you have 100 calories over your daily limit.  Stress makes you fat as well!

Take the stress away, put some enjoyment back into what you eat and learn to make better food choices, lose weight the healthy way, where you will be less likely to put it back on and improve your overall health – body and mind!

Now is the time to delete your calorie counting App, step on your calorie counter, chuck out the book and stop obsessing over every crumb that you eat!

Here are a few helpful hints on things to do without calories counting, or weighing food!

  1. Make sure you have protein, good carbs, good fats at each meal, including snacks
  2. Reduce or take out wheat and dairy from your diet (
  3. Don’t skip meals
  4. Take Sugar out of your diet – cakes, biscuits, chocolate, fizzy drinks etc – they are treats!
  5. Drink 2L of water a day
  6. At least do Incidental exercise
  7. Take out or reduce any packaged foods – fresh is best (frozen veggies are fine)
  8. Treat yourself 1-2 nights a week – glass of wine, small chocolate – enjoy it, moderation!
  9. Don’t weigh yourself
  10. Get a good nights sleep

Amanda Ferguson is the mum to 12 month old Chelsea and has her own business in Bayside Melbourne – Blue Sky Health & Fitness, check out the website

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