Counting Calories – Harmful or Helpful?

April 30, 2014

Counting calories always turns out to be a heated discussion. Either people freak out and claim that it’s way too obsessive, or the complete opposite.

Well, I know for a fact that there are pros and cons, and what works for one person may not work for another. As with everything, right? Right.

First of all, lets just get this out of the way – making assumptions based on if someone does something you don’t agree with is silly. For example, thinking whoever counts calories and/or macros is super restrictive, has a problem, whatever. That doesn’t help anything either.

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Anyway, there are people who swear that you just need to eat clean, paleo, whatever and counting calories is nonsense. This can be true.

There are also people who preach the whole IIFYM thing and that calories and macros are all that matter. This can also be true.

There are people who have tried to count calories and macros and felt way too obsessive, restricted, and it made them crazy. This can be true.

There are also people who have counted calories and macros and felt freedom, being able to eat things they didn’t eat before because it wasn’t “clean” and have felt way less restricted. This can be true.

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All of these things can happen, or not, depending on the person.

Pros of Calorie Counting

  • It can help people lose weight. If you are starting on a weight loss journey, counting calories is one of the best tools to start with. Many people have NO idea how much they are eating, so tracking and logging food for a couple weeks can be super helpful by showing the person proper serving sizes for meals. This doesn’t mean they have to count forever, just to get the hang of it! Weight loss is all about calories in vs. calories out.
  • It can help people gain weight. Some people may need to gain weight and underestimate how much they eat on a daily basis. Especially people who are used to eating very little, they may feel like they are eating a ton, but they actually are under-eating for their activity level.
  • It can help you reach fitness goals. If you’re looking to compete in a competition, book a photo shoot, or something along those lines, counting calories and macros are probably the best way to achieve that. Many people have successfully done those things without tracking, but some people really benefit from it.
  • It can allow you to eat things that aren’t “clean”. Let me start by saying you do NOT have to count calories just to eat things that aren’t considered clean. No. However, some people have restricted for so long and have had such a one-way mindset that you can ONLY eat clean food. This should NOT be the case. You should be able to eat whatever you want without guilt! Counting and tracking can simply be a way for people to get out of that mindset and can be a step towards a more balanced lifestyle.

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Cons of Calorie Counting

  • Can make you obsessive. For some, numbers are just too much to handle and make people even more obsessive. If they are still hungry but feel like they can’t eat because they have reached their calorie goals or macro goals can make people crazy. This is not good, because if you are hungry, EAT.
  • Can be time consuming. Counting, weighing, logging – all of it can be super tedious, annoying, and just time consuming. Some people don’t go time fo dat!
  • It can become an addiction. Similar to obsessing over numbers, some people start tracking their food and just cannot stop. Personally, I don’t think counting calories and macros is necessary for the rest of your life. Hell, I couldn’t do that. I won’t be in a nursing home weighing my food and tracking on my fitness pal hahaha. No but really, some people feel lost without tracking, and like they will gain 2093482093 pounds if they stop. This should not be the case for anyone.

I’m sure there are MANY more pros and cons, but these seem to be the most common.

My personal thoughts: I think counting calories and/or macros do have a time and a place. I think it can help people in many ways (read: pros). However, I also think it can become an obsession for some. I do not think you have to count and track forever. Personally, I would not be able to do that. If you start tracking and feel stressed and anxious, breathe, take a step back, and stop.  You will live, I promise. If it helps you, count! Do what you know is best for you.

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LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. It knows best. If you are hungry, eat. If you are full, don’t force it. Feed it with nourishing food your gut and body likes, AND food your mind and soul likes. Find balance. Just eat. It’s really that simple.

 

What are your thoughts?

Have you benefited or not from tracking?

 

33 Comments
    1. I’ve been on both ends of the obsessive calorie counting. Great advice as it really is a personal issue. I encourage people who have never tried it to do it for a few days and just get an education. It can be so eye opening to those who say “I eat healthy, but I can never lose weight”. Great post!

    1. I guess in some ways I have benefited from counting calories, but overall it was obsessive for me and I stopped counting them earlier this month. Like you said, it has its time and place but I’m a lot more happier now that I’ve stopped counting. 🙂

      1. Good for you girl!! Glad you are much happier without it 😀

    1. Yes!! I work with clients who benefit from counting and clients who would find it more harmful than helpful. I work with each individual client to find what is most realistic and beneficial to them both physically and mentally.

      1. Truth!! Everyone is different

    1. I’m definitely a pro-calorie-counter because like you said, it gives me so much more freedom. I used to feel like I could never eat any chocolate or cakes or anything, ever, because I just didn’t know how much of a difference they really made so I had to rely on “chocolate=BAD”. But I love chocolate! So when I count calories I can find a way to work whatever I want into my diet in a healthy way, and I also SEE really clearly that a bit of chocolate or a cookie isn’t really going to sway me much. I’m really weird because counting calories actually helped me hugely in beating anorexia – during my ED I didn’t count calories (I’m in a teeny minority I think!) and I did in recovery and it’s actually made me LESS obsessive and LESS restrictive. Buuuuuut everyone should do what works for them! I’ll do me and you do you and we’ll all be happier 🙂

      1. Love this!!! Thank you for sharing. I know exactly what you mean, and many people have found freedom like you have!

    1. These are all great points in terms of the pros and cons. For me the main con is that it takes so much time to look up each single food in an app or online, and gets complicated if you’re not measuring out exact amounts of your meat and stuff. If I am tracking, I just estimate … which, who knows how accurate that is 😛

      1. Estimating is good enough in my opinion! Can’t be perfect 😀

    1. This is a great post. I do my fair share of calorie counting and it’s definitely proven it’s pros and cons throughout my experience but I agree with your overall mentality that we shouldn’t categorize someone for the way they chose to eat 🙂

      1. Thank you! Yes, exactly 😀

    1. Hey girl, new to your blog and this post struck a real chord for me! I was an obsessive calorie-counter for a year or two in high school, and when I find old food journals from then, it’s horrifying. I was far too restrictive, and for me, counting calories was a disordered behavior that really fueled my OCD and my body dysmorphia. Since then, I’ve learned that focusing on the quality (rather than quantity) of my food is much more productive and healthier for me, mentally and physically. I think it can be great for some people who have specific goals with a time-constraint, but I don’t think counting needs to be an ongoing process for anyone – after all, people have been able to stay healthy and lean for centuries before people even discovered what calories are!

      Looking forward to reading more! 🙂

      1. Hey girl! Welcome, so glad we found each other! 🙂 I’m so happy you have learned what is healthier and better for you mentally and physically. To me, that is the MOST important thing! <3

    1. Ah, I totally relate to this post. I used to obsessively count calories, when trying to keep my intake low. But then I had to gain weight, and tracking my intake helped a ton. Now I’m all about intuitive eating – listening to my body, eating when I’m hungry, giving it what it wants. Still, now that I’m expecting, I’ll do it every so often to make sure eating according to my hunger is getting me in the range I need to be in for me and little one. Great post!

      1. Intuitive eating is awesome! I always encourage people to get to that point eventually. Our bodies do know best 🙂

    1. Yes! While I veer towards the side of not counting, I think it does depend. Sometimes, I’ll encourage a client to track for a few days just to get an idea of how much they’re eating or being aware of mindless snacking. But for the most part, I have to encourage people NOT to track since I work mainly with eating disorders.

    1. Good info as always :).
      I err on the side of being anti calorie counting, well I don’t think having a set calorie goal for the day is a good idea anyway. Our bodies energy expenditure differs daily, and figuring out the optimal (calorie/macro) needs of each individual is really difficult.
      I guess it depends. But if you’re spending your days couting the calories from the cuke in your salad…you may have gone over to a bad place IMO.

      1. So, so true!! Thank you for your input, I couldn’t agree more 🙂

    1. I DO NOT count calories – It would drive me up the wall! I am not a numbers girl either so why bother with calories!!!

      1. Yeah!! It’s definitely not always necessary! 😀

    1. I do think it’s possible to lose weight without counting calories by just focusing on mainly whole foods and being really intuitive about eating. But for someone who really struggles with eating and is clueless about calories, I think becoming more aware of the calorie content of foods could be really helpful for them. I think counting calories every meal, every day is unnecessary for the majority of people though!

    1. I love this topic… and you are so right about there not being one right way for everyone. I’ve benefitted a lot by counting calories to make gains… but it was important for me to take a nice, long break too!

    1. OMG. Love this!!!
      I counted calories for YEARS. I also tried macros there at the end. And I’m only 16. I eat a clean diet, and train hard. About 1-2 months ago I decided, screw it. I need to live. I haven’t counted since.

      I DO have an ideal body. But I figure that as long as I eat healthy and keep lifting heavy, I can obtain this body I want without driving myself insane.

      1. So glad you stopped counting! Girl, being only 16, you definitely shouldn’t worry about counting macros. Eat healthy with balance and enjoy your life 🙂

    1. Thank you!
      I really needed to read this. I honestly feel I am not getting enough food as soon as I start counting.

      1. You are welcome! Listening to your body is definitely best, but maybe you were just inputing the wrong calories 🙂

    1. Love this! I have always hate a love/hate relationship with food (mostly love)! People always tell me that if I don’t eat clean, I won’t be healthy. However, I can not go without processes food the rest of my life! I started counting calories 2 months ago, and I’ve lost 35 lbs! I have 150 more to go, but it seems to work for me. I wish I could eat clean, but it’s just not how I’m wired! I think it’s so important for every person to do what works for them!

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