Should You Really Count Calories to Lose Weight?

Should You Really Count Calories to Lose Weight?

So much has been in the media lately about people losing incredible amounts of weight, only to regain it all (and then some) in a fairly short period of time. Not only is this incredibly discouraging to the person who lost the weight, but it’s also really hard on their body.

The success rate of someone keeping weight off, whether it’s 5 or 50 pounds, varies between 3 to 20 percent. That means that of of 100 people who lose weight as many as 97 of them will regain. Yes, sustaining weight loss is challenging, but not impossible (easier said than done, I know).

I believe we need to completely turn weight loss on its head in order to achieve long lasting success. To do this means to ignore, for the most part, the diet industry.

In 1941, the USDA began using caloric guidelines to give people an idea of how much they should be taking in. Food group suggestions were also given. Despite nearly every recommendation suggesting that we eat more vegetables and fruits, the caloric recommendations (set at approximately 2000 a day) aren’t really creating the refrigerator roadblock we need.


We know that if we eat too much we will gain weight. No matter which side of the fence you stand on, I think we can all agree on this.

Factoring in a lack of access to healthy food (a much bigger problem than most realize), not moving enough and nutritional laziness (I know the chips are bad, but …), we’re left with the quality of the almighty calorie.

No, a calorie isn’t just a calorie.

Out with the calories in, calories out mentality.

Calories are a measurement of energy. They’re a baseline or point of reference. Knowing how many calories are in something we’re eating is good to know. But it’s not something we need to obsess over. Many of us do – in hopes that staying just under or around our quota will put us on the path to weight loss. In my opinion, relying on a fixed number of calories to solve all of our weight loss problems is madness.

Let’s say two people, Jane and Sue, follow the exact same caloric recommendation of 2000 calories a day. Jane eats a mostly processed diet of low fat yogurts, frozen lunches, pretzels, diet soda, take out and maybe a few veggies or a side salad peppered in there. Sue eats a whole foods diet, consisting of just about anything that doesn’t come in a box or sit on a shelf first. Her diet naturally consists of more vegetables and fruit, along with lean protein and healthy fats.

Jane and Sue may start off at the same weight, but over time, a diet similar to what Jane eats will eventually affect her health, which will likely lead to weight gain. It’s pro-inflammatory and full of artificial sweeteners and other unnatural food additives.

On the flip side, the foods Sue eats will help her manage her weight much better for a number of reasons. First an foremost, it’s healthier and anti-inflammatory. It’s also higher in fiber and inclusive off all healthy forms of protein, carbohydrates and fat. She’ll simply be able to better manager her hunger.

So now what?

The solution is not so simple. Ideally, we’d all see the light, toss out our super skinny mocha frappu coffee drinks and drink herbal tea instead. Is that going to happen? For some of you, yes! In fact, if you can eat an unprocessed for 80% of the time without filling to capacity, leaving room for dinners out, celebrations, etc., you’ll probably be just fine.

But if you don’t make permanent changes, you won’t see forever change. It’s that simple.

What about the problem of accessibility? It’s easy for me to say that we need to eat foods that are fresh and healthy, but that usually costs a lot of money.

Our government kindly subsidizes commodity crops (wheat, soybeans, cotton, rice and corn) to the tune of $248,000,000,000. If this number surprises you, then you probably eat more byproducts of these foods than you realize. A lot more. Because so much money goes to these crops, including the GMO crops, they’re cheap and extremely available. Every junk food and most processed foods you can imagine has at least one of these ingredients in them.

Specialty crops, or more commonly known as fruits and vegetables, are not subsidized. Zero, zip, zilch dollars are received. I don’t know about you, but when I fill up my shopping cart, produce (as a whole) is usually the most costly line item.

I can only imagine how difficult it must be for the nearly 45 million Americans who live at or below the poverty line to put a healthy meal on their table, for themselves or for their kids, if only once a day.

Back to the quality of the calorie

It’s easier to see how a calorie isn’t just a calorie, especially when you consider that a majority of the food you see in the grocery store isn’t really food at all. It’s a food product. In fact, the average person eats 60 percent of their calories from these processed foods. Until our government sees (or admits) how connected the subsidies are to the nutritional welfare of Americans, it will be an uphill battle to eat better.

For now, how can you eat a higher quality calorie?

  • Naturally, eat more vegetables and fruits. I know it’s expensive, so shop seasonally and buy produce on sale when you can.
  • Don’t load up on junk food (even if it’s on sale). You’ll eat it.
  • Eat more nuts and seeds. They’re always a healthier alternative to chips.
  • Read ingredient labels and do buy anything with more than 12 grams of sugar per serving. This will be a real eye opener.
  • Buy BPA-free cans of beans and lentils. They’re great to add to salads and in soups.
  • Load up on frozen veggies. They stay longer, so there will be less waste and they’re incredibly versatile.


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