Stop Counting Calories to Lose Weight

Recently I read an article entitled “Stop Counting Calories to Lose Weight.” I was intrigued because I lost 100 pounds by counting my calories and I’ve kept the weight off now for 5 years by continuing to count my calories. (You can read more here: How to Count Calories.)

I went into the article expecting to hate it and rip it apart. Not because I think MY WAY is the best way, but because I’ve read a lot of articles criticizing calorie counting and it rubs me the wrong way when they discredit something that works. It may not work for everyone, but it works for a lot of people (I mean really, Weight Watchers is essentially calorie counting, just in a different format–points).


Let’s talk about calorie counting for a minute. One question I get asked a lot is how I counted my calories. I’ve written a plethora of posts on the topic but the question that stands out is that people want to know if I tracked fat, carbs, etc. All those micro-nutrients and saturated fats, blah blah blah. Sure those things are probably important but I didn’t track that. I didn’t care. All I cared about was the calorie count because it was SIMPLE. I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with all of those other things. Seriously, I couldn’t fathom tracking all of those things because I was overwhelmed as it was and I was also hand writing everything! Now things are easier. There’s websites and apps that do all that stuff for you.

“… not everyone has to count calories to lose weight. In fact, for some OCD people or people with eating disorders, it could be counterproductive. “

This is an excellent point about counting calories. If you struggle with restriction and have a history of eating disorders, it’s probably not a good idea. Instead, discuss your options with a doctor or RD. I’m sure they have some alternatives that can help you succeed without triggering disordered thinking.

Intuitive Eating is a popular thing these days. There are a lot of bloggers out there that swear by it and there’s a ton of books on the topic. I tried it once. It did not work for me. The reason it didn’t work for me was because I’m a REFORMED BINGE EATER who used to be obese. “Intuitively” I want to binge eat. I have to practice self-control and willpower in order to not do this. While binge eating isn’t something I have to worry about most days, there are still times in my life where I do want to revert back to the old habits I had. (Read these posts: Psychology of Weight Loss and Stop Dieting!)

When you spent half your life with bad habits and the desire to overeat, it’s difficult to trust your mind and your body to eat only what it NEEDS to survive and not what it CRAVES. For me, there needs to be a happy medium between intuitive eating and calorie counting. I address it in more detail here: Why All or Nothing Doesn’t Work For Me.

“…it is not necessary. Many people have gotten down to single digit body fat without ever counting a single calorie. They practiced portion control.”

This is entirely possible. I know several people that practice portion control instead of calorie counting. I believe that portion control is a crucial element of weight loss and maintenance. Once you achieve goal weight, it’s not like you can go back to eating an entire pizza in one sitting. You have to continue the healthy practices you did to lose the weight in the first place. But can you JUST measure portions out and still lose weight? You bet. I don’t see why not.

“You need to focus on the quality of the food that’s going into your mouth. Until your diet is 80-90 percent whole foods, you’re wasting your time counting calories.”

This has been an evolution for me. When I was first losing my weight I ate a TON of processed foods because they were portion controlled and I knew exactly how many calories I was eating (which made calorie tracking so much easier). Over the last few years that I’ve been maintaining 110 pounds lost, I’ve moved more toward eating natural, whole foods. The article recommends adding whole foods and remove processed foods from your diet. I agree whole-heartily. I love my veggie garden! 🙂

The bottom line is this: All Calories Are Not Equal. You cannot sustain a healthy body and lifestyle eating only 1500 calories of Twinkies in a day. It is true that there are much healthier calories we can be eating!


So while I went into the article expecting to hate it, I did agree with a lot of their points and suggestions. Counting calories works for me. I lost my weight and I’ve kept it off for years. Because it works so well, I’ve continued it.

What’s your take on the article?

24 Responses

  1. I am with you. I’m overwhelmed with it all. Counting calories is simpler. The all or nothing approach does not work for me either! It’s too restrictive. However, I do try to incorporate fruits and vegetables into my day as much as possible as well as make sure I’ve got protein goin’ on. I’m not sure intuitive eating would work for me either. I think I’d have a lot of other food issues to overcome first…
    Carrie @ Season It Already! recently posted..Surdyk’s Flights – Getting to the Airport

  2. I worry more about carbohydrates than calories due to my health condition but I agree it is all very overwhelming. Especially since there are so many different opinions about the right amount calories to eat etc. I just try to concentrate mostly on no processed food (hard one for me), eating regular meals/snacks and eating mostly veggies, fruit and meat.But counting calories has helped me realize how many are in fast food meals or eating out which has been very helpful in losing weight and why I continue to count!
    K @ Finding a Skinnier me recently posted..Oh How Pinteresting Wednesday and WIAW

  3. I do think calories matter too. When I first started WW, those Bakers Breakfast Cookies came out and because they were so high in fiber, they ended up being 1 point each – they were huge and filling!

    Fast forward a couple years, and they changed their labeling – calling 1 cookie 1/2 a serving and it ended up being a 300 calorie cookie! Sometimes I ate two because I was only “using” 2 WW points.

    I use to track my calories and to get nutrition labels for my recipes – love it!
    Biz recently posted..Almond Poppy Seed Pancakes

  4. I count weight watchers points….and though it is a tiring and boring exercise at times, its something that works when its done properly. Its very obvious that all calories aren’t created equal, and I feel so much better spending points on filling healthy foods rather than junk. BUT…I had to go through all kinds of trial and error to reach that conclusion. Thanks for the through provoking post Lisa, have a great day.
    Roz@weightingfor50 recently posted..The Daily Goose

  5. I totally agree with it that learning to eat the right kinds of foods is a huge boon to the undertaking. I’ve found the better I eat, the less processed foods, the easier my losses are. I’ve also found healthier foods are not always more expensive.

    I also very briefly tried the intuitive eating thing and my intuition told me to eat everything in the house… lol. Like you, I couldn’t trust my body to say it had had enough thanks to years of bad eating habits.

    And yup. WW is totally calorie counting, though don’t ask me how many I eat in a day. I honestly don’t know or care as long as the scale keeps moving. 🙂
    Deb recently posted..Ten Things Tuesday Day 591

  6. I think you have to count something, whether it is portion size, calories, points, whatever. You just have to be aware of what you are eating. I think people can get really obsessive with exact calories and those people should stop counting. I have no problem with numbers and understand that they are an approximation at best.
    Lori recently posted..Tippy Pot Tutorial!

  7. Similar to how people have different learning styles, I think people have different eating styles as well. As a result, effective methods for losing weight can be varied.

    For me (and it’s taken some time to figure this out), it’s a blend of paying attention to calories, serving size and macro-nutrient ratios. And the overall theme that seems to impact things the most is sticking with whole, healthy foods 85% of the time.
    Michelle @ Eat Move Balance recently posted..KISS: Baked Salmon over Lightly Seasoned Spaghetti Squash

  8. I have found eating whole foods, removing grains & dairy, and looking closely at carbs to be absolutely key in weight loss/maintenance. My carbs in weight maintenance are very, very narrow- so my weight can be effected by eating too much fruit on low activity days.

    I wish I had understood this all the times I yo-yo’ed around. I can eat on the higher end of my calorie range on more active days- and a few more carbs, too- but there is a very fine line cut-off.

    I track on MFP about 80% of the time. Keeps me on track.
    Karen P recently posted..June 2013 challenge and the official start of Summer

  9. Calories absolutely matter. That being said, I counted (or monitored) fat percentage which in essence had a similar affect. Fat has a lot more calories than carbs/protein so I naturally began to eat fewer calories. I also became a dedicated measurer of foods to help me control my portion sizes. We all have to find what works and for me, intuitive eating did not. I had too many emotional issues tied up with food to make that work for me, but I admire people who make it work.
    Diane Fit to the Finish recently posted..Entitled Eating: Satisfying the Now

  10. To be honest, I dislike the idea of “intuitive eating,” as choosing foods “intuitively” is what I reckon made a lot of people overweight in the first place – when I was overweight, my intuition told me that it’s quite alright to eat a pizza and then, as a late meal, have nachos with cheese dip.

    Other than that, I agree with you: counting calories worked for you (and for me), and while limiting calories is behind every successful loss of weight, counting them does not work for everybody.
    evilcyber recently posted..Bite-Size Candies: Your Weight Loss Enemies

  11. I lost nearly 50lb through reducing my portion and limiting junk. I am more of an intuitive eater, I guess 🙂 I counted calories a few times, but not religiously. I mainly did it for a few days at a time to check myself, making sure I was eating what I thought I was. I eat similar foods most days so calorie counting every day would be redundant. I actually had my biggest problem when I got to my goal weight. I increased my intake, but not enough. I have lost around 4lb in 3 months because I guess I am eating just under maintence. Some people would love that problem, I’m sure, but I had just invested in size 10 stuff(which was a little loose) but the 4lb along with the weights I do has pushed me firmly into a size 8, and I can’t afford to buy new clothes.

    1. Limiting junk is half the battle! And that alone can make a huge difference. I totally understand the quandary about clothing sizes. I went through the same thing. Just as I thought I’d be ok for awhile at one size, I’d get over the plateau and lose more. Not that I am complaining but buying new clothes is expensive!

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