Why Counting Calories Is Pointless?


In this article, I will explain everything you need to know about why counting calories is pointless, and alternatives to track your food intake, without a calculator.

Why counting calories is pointless? Counting calories is pointless because it creates more rules, more restrictions, and more stress. Counting calories focuses only on the numbers, without creating a healthy connection with food, and doesn’t show the reason why we eat, or how we eat.

First the basics. The only way to lose weight is by being in a caloric deficit. There is no other way around it. More on that in a moment.

Can I Lose Weight Without Counting Calories?

You can lose weight without counting calories because counting calories is just one of many methods used to drive caloric deficit. Counting calories is a numerically oriented external cue that is used to measure and control calories in food intake to lose weight.

If you eat less energy (food) than your body needs, it will trigger several metabolic adaptations and start to use stored body fat.

And over time, you lose weight. So all you need is to eat less food.

But what does it mean “eating less”?

Eating less is quite subjective.

Eating less means different things for different people. Hey siri, what does eating less mean…

That’s why we come up with “traditional” ways to measure the quantity of food by counting calories, weigh food portions or points.

And it works.

Related article: 7 Steps To Stop Counting Calories

Why Counting Calories Works?

Counting calories works because it’s a precise, detailed, and numerically oriented way of tracking food intake and self-monitoring the results. The numbers provide the evidence and the data based on what people make an outcome-based decision about what to eat and how much.

Which is great.

Because those methods work, at least for people who like mathematics, and numbers make sense to them (typically engineers or mathematicians).

But for everyone else, counting calories in the long term create more rules, restrictions, and stress.

Related article: Can You Do Keto Without Counting Calories?

In fact, studies show that counting calories are associated with eating disorders (source) because people start to qualify foods as good or bad, depending on the number of calories they have, rather than what they want to eat or not.

That restrain from foods that you like and the cravings that you have to create unhealthy stress, that sooner or later leads to binge eating.

And once we fall off the wagon, we start to feel guilty, shameful, and as a result, we start the cycle again, with even more restrictions.

This cycle over the years (or even decades) creates a destructive relationship with food and disconnects us from the feelings around the food.

Why Counting Calories Doesn’t Work?

Counting calories doesn’t work over the long term because it doesn’t teach us healthy relationships with food, keeps us out of touch with feelings and emotions around the food, and can lead to compulsive eating. For many people, counting calories can bring more harm than good.

If all you see is the numbers, and you justify your food choices based on the number of carbs or calories, you’re already in trouble.

Numbers don’t tell us about why we eat.

People eat food for many reasons, not only to satisfy their physical hunger (source).

Have you’ve heard about emotional eating or stress eating?

Why people eat more under stress?

Because they use food to regulate their emotions, their mood, and their feelings. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why they can’t lose weight. So it’s a behavioral problem, not a calorie problem.

It’s got nothing to do with calories.

How many people you know that knows everything about calories, grams, ketones, autophagy, carbs, insulin, but they still fat? A lot. Why?

Because we make decisions based on our emotions. And if you get to raid a pantry every time when you get emotional, counting calories is not gonna help.

Related article: Should I Count Calories On My Cheat Day?

Food is not the problem. The problem is the problem. When people automatically reach out for food in response to uncomfortable feelings, then those feelings should be addressed, not the food. Food is just an emotional blanket.

If someone is eating more when stressed out, then the easiest way to fix the problem is to find an alternative to regulate this stress.

Exercise, human connection, meditation, learning new skills, getting a dog, etc. Those are all great ways to reduce stress, without compulsive eating (source).

Why Counting Calories Is A Waste Of Time?

Counting calories is a waste of time because it only provides information about energy in foods you eat and it doesn’t teach how to have a normal relationship with food. Counting calories is bad because it teaches us to choose food based on the calories, not preferences.

People choose foods based on several factors. It’s called a bio-psycho-social model. And it includes things like food likes, dislikes, culture, economy, preferences, habits, etc.

their likes and dislikes. And when we start counting calories, now we start to believe that some foods are becoming good or bad, based on their calories. Which is insane.

In the short-term, that may work, for some people. But for everyone else, this will create even more anxiety and eating disorders (source).

So how to combine weight loss goals, without sacrificing your favorite meals?

You need to find alternatives to counting calories.

Related article: Should I Eat The Same Amount Of Calories As My BMR?

Alternatives To Calorie Counting

An alternative to calorie counting is intuitive and mindful eating. Mindful eating helps us get in touch with our body’s internal cues like hunger, appetite, and cravings. It helps us make decisions about food based on internal signals like fullness and satisfaction, rather than numbers.

Here are the three simple alternatives to counting calories that will help you not only lose weight but restore healthy relationships with your foods.

They are interconnected with each other and build upon each other. The first is to reduce or eliminate distractions, the second one is to eat slowly, and the third one is to stop eating when no longer hungry.

Reduce Or Eliminate Distractions

The first most important step to get started with mindful eating is to eliminate distractions when you eat. Studies show evidence that mindless eating, especially while doing something else at the same time, leads to overeating.

Most people are distracted during their meals and focusing on external cues like watching TV, reading newspapers, watching Youtube, or listening to podcasts (source).

Reducing or eliminating distractions will keep your focus entirely on the food you eat. This means not only you can stay in control, but also you can now eat slowly.

Eat Slowly

Eating slowly helps you get in touch with your body’s inner compass.

It takes 20 minutes for satiety to kick in. But you can speed up this process by eating slowly because when you consciously focus on smelling and tasting your meals, it will stimulate your olfactory system, it will fire up all the gastric juices, gastric enzymes, stimulate insulin, and increase peristaltic mobility (source).

So you can get fuller with half of the food that you normally eat. Also, slow eating improves your interoception. Interoception is the ability to sense any internal sensations that are going on inside of our body. Hunger, thirst, pain, tingling, heat, cold, appetite, fullness, etc.

So when you eat slowly, you’re more aware of when exactly you feel no longer hungry.

People who are distracted, have a poor sense of interoception. This means when they eat their meal, they can’t really tell when they feel no longer hungry. So if you can’t tell when you’re no longer hungry, when are you gonna stop? Probably when it’s too late.

Stop Eating When No Longer Hungry

There are a number of ways we know when to stop eating. A study done by Brian Wansink Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in Chicago documented that Americans use external cues of satiation when eating a meal, comparing to Europeans, who use internal cues (source).

External cues are counting calories, measuring food portions, stop eating when run out of a beverage, or stop eating when the TV show is over. Internal cues are to stop eating when I don’t feel hungry anymore.

So eating slowly without distraction helps you to be present in the moment and focus on listening to your body cues and helps you differentiate when exactly you feel no longer hungry versus full.

In Conclusion

Counting calories works, but it’s not for everyone. People who find themselves elbow-deep in the tube of ben and jerries after a small emotional whiff, need to start by addressing why they feel like they want to eat first.

Focusing on internal cues, rather than external cues will help to reduce weight, and at the same time reduce stress levels.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is an exercise physiologist (MSc), nutrition coach, Ashtanga teacher, and fitness blogger. He shares his successes and failures to help busy men and women squash down 20, 50, or even 100 pounds of fat without leaving their home.

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