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How Calorie Counting Is Sabotaging Your Weight Loss

How Calorie Counting Is Sabotaging Your Weight Loss


Calories in, calories out. But recent studies suggest that this method of dieting could be making people less healthy in the long run.

The premise of calorie counting is that based on your weight, height, and activity level, there is a magic number of calories that is optimal for your daily consumption. Those who wished to regulate their calories would theoretically limit their intake to that calculated number (numbers that may be more difficult to find once Obamacare ends).

There have been multiple apps, websites, and programs based solely on the practice of calorie counting for weight loss. MyFitnessPal, VeryWell Calorie Counter, and Lose It! are a few well-known examples. Despite the many articles presenting evidence that all calories are not created equal, the proliferation of calorie counting has gotten out of hand.

Even if calorie counts were accurate, evidence suggests it still isn’t a good idea. In essence, calorie counting is a strict version of dieting: the body’s natural signals of hunger and fullness are thrown to the wayside in favor of a predetermined number.

Many who count calories have reported going to bed hungry, obsessing over their calorie counting app, and becoming frustrated when their weight stalled at a higher number than expected. When it comes down to it, calorie counting is often an attempt to control the body and adhere to a weight loss diet.

The science tells us that weight loss diets don’t work. One study showed that 90 to 95 percent of weight loss diets result in any weight lost while dieting simply being regained in the following years. You don’t have to be a health enthusiast to see this effect in real time; there’s a reason your friends’ conversations so often revolve around attempted but failed weight loss attempts. If dieting worked, it would be easy. If dieting worked, people wouldn’t need consumptive programs like Weight Watchers or “going low-carb.”

In an attempt to understand the widespread failure of diets, another group of experts convened to evaluate the effects of calorie restriction on the body. Their investigation revealed that “one-third to two-thirds of dieters regain more weight than they lost on their diets.” So, in essence, weight loss attempts were actually counterproductive.

Like nutrition expert Jonathan Bailor, author of The Calorie Myth, told Prevention, “counting calories leads to failure 95.4 percent of the time — and often leaves people fatter.”

The specific reasons for this failure of dieting are a little less clear, but research suggests that it has to do with the body’s fear response to starvation. According to Traci Mann, a professor of psychology who has studied nutrition for over 25 years, “After you diet, so many biological changes happen in your body that it becomes practically impossible to keep the weight off.”

To summarize her explanation, the three changes that occur are reactions from the body to try and escape the state of deprivation:

  1. Your brain has a heightened neurological excitement to food.
  2. You undergo hormonal changes that send your brain more hunger signals than it was receiving before the diet.
  3. Your metabolism slows down to conserve energy.

There has been no reliable evidence published to support that dieting improves any aspect of health or wellness. To the contrary, however, studies have revealed some adverse health effects of dieting, including irreversible effects on metabolism and mental health.

By restricting your body to a calorie number, you could be condemning yourself to future weight gain alongside negative effects on your health.

It’s time to put down the calculator and leave diets in the dust — they’re not doing our health or our waistlines any favors.


Here’s Why Counting Calories Really Isn't Necessary for Weight Loss

As a registered dietitian, the thought of anyone counting calories, aka the energy you get from what you eat and drink, causes me to sigh audibly. Counting calories is a time-consuming, soul-sucking practice that’s actually a lesson in futility, as far as I’m concerned.

Yet people continue to do it. They pull out their calorie-tracking apps and plug in whatever foods they’ve eaten, feeling guilty when they go over their “recommended” calorie amounts, then running to the gym to try to undo it all. And I can’t blame them: The idea that monitoring all your calories is key for weight loss is a popular one.

While I do think there’s value in recording the foods you’ve eaten to understand what you’re consuming and offer accountability, and while I do think it’s important to know relative calories (e.g., cake: high, broccoli: low), it’s a colossal waste of time to drill it down to every single calorie that passes your lips.

Of course, calories do count, since they’re what you consume when all is said and done. But counting calories can be a real drag at best, and a dangerous practice at worst. Not only does it get you focusing on numbers instead of enjoying the food you’re eating, it can be a slippery slope from paying attention to calorie counts to obsessing over them. For anyone with a history of disordered eating, counting calories might be something to avoid. If you have or are in recovery from an eating disorder, it’s best to talk to your doctor before changing your eating habits or tracking your food.

I should also note that weight loss is about so much more than calories. It encompasses exercise, how you sleep, how stressed you are, and health issues that you may not be able to control, like hormonal changes. That's why, if losing weight is your goal, it's important to acknowledge how individual a process it is and figure out how to do it in a way that's healthy for you. Make sure your goals are realistic for your body as well as the amount of time and energy you have to devote to the process.

No matter your goals, spending vast amounts of energy and time poring over calories might not get you very far. Here’s why.

In order to accurately count calories for weight loss, you’d need to know your basal metabolic rate, or how many calories your body burns each day simply to stay alive and keep all your systems running. And unless you’ve done indirect calorimetry, which I can almost guarantee you haven’t—it involves lying with a mask on, hooked up to a very expensive piece of machinery for a prolonged period of time to measure your oxygen intake and carbon dioxide expulsion—you really are playing with arbitrary numbers. Although it’s the “gold standard” of figuring out how many calories you use per day, like anything else, indirect calorimetry can have flaws.

Yes, you can approximate the number of calories you use in a day via equations and apps, but that’s all you get: an approximation. If even the “gold standard” machine can be wrong, then why let some app or equation determine how much you should be eating?

Let’s say that by some miracle, you know exactly how many calories you need to eat per day for weight loss. That’s great, but you’re not out of the woods, thanks to the question of absorption.

We used to think that since 3,500 calories equal a pound, every time you eat 3,500 extra calories beyond what your body needs, you end up gaining that weight. Now we know better: Not all calories are equal like we thought.

Everything from how your food is processed to how much fiber it contains determines how many calories you’re absorbing from it. Even the bacteria in your gut may play a part in how you digest food and how many calories you derive from it.

For example, you’ll absorb more calories from cooked meat versus raw, and peanut butter versus whole peanuts. Due to size differences, one sweet potato varies in calories from another before you even take it off the shelf at the store. Calories absorbed is a complex business that’s light years beyond any calorie-counting app on the market.

But wait! Even if you know how many calories you need and how many you’re absorbing, you’re not done! In fact, the Food and Drug Administration allows up to 20 percent margin of error in the numbers on those nutrition labels you likely rely on to count many of your calories. Meaning, that 250-calorie snack you’re eating might actually have 200 calories—or 300.

Focusing entirely on calories, instead of the quality of the food you’re eating and how you actually feel before chowing down (hungry, bored, stressed, etc.), can wreak havoc on those precious hunger cues you’re born with. Whether you’re eating just because you “have calories left,” even though you’re not truly hungry, or you’re not eating because you’ve “gone over” your calorie allotment for the day, but you’re actually still hungry, you’re doing the same thing: ignoring what your body is trying to tell you.

Trust your body, because it knows what it needs a lot more than some random number or tracker.

One of the things that angers me most about calorie-counting apps is the impression they give that you can exercise yourself “back into the green.” Going over your “calorie allowance” again and again because you think you can burn off the transgressions? Nope. Your body doesn’t burn off food calorie-for-calorie like that.

A 2014 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine emphasized that “it is where the calories come from that is crucial” in determining whether your body is tempted to store them as fat, use them for energy, or apply them to some other mechanism, the study authors explain.

Plus, if you do routinely overindulge then try to work it off in the gym, you’ll be exercising for a very long time, depending on the size of the junky meals you’ve eaten. This, in turn, may cause you to become hungrier…and eat more. Vicious cycle? Definitely.

The good news is that when you only overeat from time to time, your body can handle those extra calories without making you gain weight. It’s when you overeat on a more frequent basis that you can get into weight-gain territory.

Opt mostly for fresh, whole foods when you're grocery shopping, and think of it as eating food, not calories. Try as hard as you can to look at your diet as a whole instead of the sum of its parts. That means focusing on healthy items like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein, and it also means eating mindfully—slowing down, eating until you're satisfied, and giving deprivation a pass. If you eat a balanced diet most of the time, your body will most likely respond by finding its balance—no calorie counting required.

Keep in touch with me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. For diet reviews, blog posts, and recipes, check out Abby Langer Nutrition.


Here’s Why Counting Calories Really Isn't Necessary for Weight Loss

As a registered dietitian, the thought of anyone counting calories, aka the energy you get from what you eat and drink, causes me to sigh audibly. Counting calories is a time-consuming, soul-sucking practice that’s actually a lesson in futility, as far as I’m concerned.

Yet people continue to do it. They pull out their calorie-tracking apps and plug in whatever foods they’ve eaten, feeling guilty when they go over their “recommended” calorie amounts, then running to the gym to try to undo it all. And I can’t blame them: The idea that monitoring all your calories is key for weight loss is a popular one.

While I do think there’s value in recording the foods you’ve eaten to understand what you’re consuming and offer accountability, and while I do think it’s important to know relative calories (e.g., cake: high, broccoli: low), it’s a colossal waste of time to drill it down to every single calorie that passes your lips.

Of course, calories do count, since they’re what you consume when all is said and done. But counting calories can be a real drag at best, and a dangerous practice at worst. Not only does it get you focusing on numbers instead of enjoying the food you’re eating, it can be a slippery slope from paying attention to calorie counts to obsessing over them. For anyone with a history of disordered eating, counting calories might be something to avoid. If you have or are in recovery from an eating disorder, it’s best to talk to your doctor before changing your eating habits or tracking your food.

I should also note that weight loss is about so much more than calories. It encompasses exercise, how you sleep, how stressed you are, and health issues that you may not be able to control, like hormonal changes. That's why, if losing weight is your goal, it's important to acknowledge how individual a process it is and figure out how to do it in a way that's healthy for you. Make sure your goals are realistic for your body as well as the amount of time and energy you have to devote to the process.

No matter your goals, spending vast amounts of energy and time poring over calories might not get you very far. Here’s why.

In order to accurately count calories for weight loss, you’d need to know your basal metabolic rate, or how many calories your body burns each day simply to stay alive and keep all your systems running. And unless you’ve done indirect calorimetry, which I can almost guarantee you haven’t—it involves lying with a mask on, hooked up to a very expensive piece of machinery for a prolonged period of time to measure your oxygen intake and carbon dioxide expulsion—you really are playing with arbitrary numbers. Although it’s the “gold standard” of figuring out how many calories you use per day, like anything else, indirect calorimetry can have flaws.

Yes, you can approximate the number of calories you use in a day via equations and apps, but that’s all you get: an approximation. If even the “gold standard” machine can be wrong, then why let some app or equation determine how much you should be eating?

Let’s say that by some miracle, you know exactly how many calories you need to eat per day for weight loss. That’s great, but you’re not out of the woods, thanks to the question of absorption.

We used to think that since 3,500 calories equal a pound, every time you eat 3,500 extra calories beyond what your body needs, you end up gaining that weight. Now we know better: Not all calories are equal like we thought.

Everything from how your food is processed to how much fiber it contains determines how many calories you’re absorbing from it. Even the bacteria in your gut may play a part in how you digest food and how many calories you derive from it.

For example, you’ll absorb more calories from cooked meat versus raw, and peanut butter versus whole peanuts. Due to size differences, one sweet potato varies in calories from another before you even take it off the shelf at the store. Calories absorbed is a complex business that’s light years beyond any calorie-counting app on the market.

But wait! Even if you know how many calories you need and how many you’re absorbing, you’re not done! In fact, the Food and Drug Administration allows up to 20 percent margin of error in the numbers on those nutrition labels you likely rely on to count many of your calories. Meaning, that 250-calorie snack you’re eating might actually have 200 calories—or 300.

Focusing entirely on calories, instead of the quality of the food you’re eating and how you actually feel before chowing down (hungry, bored, stressed, etc.), can wreak havoc on those precious hunger cues you’re born with. Whether you’re eating just because you “have calories left,” even though you’re not truly hungry, or you’re not eating because you’ve “gone over” your calorie allotment for the day, but you’re actually still hungry, you’re doing the same thing: ignoring what your body is trying to tell you.

Trust your body, because it knows what it needs a lot more than some random number or tracker.

One of the things that angers me most about calorie-counting apps is the impression they give that you can exercise yourself “back into the green.” Going over your “calorie allowance” again and again because you think you can burn off the transgressions? Nope. Your body doesn’t burn off food calorie-for-calorie like that.

A 2014 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine emphasized that “it is where the calories come from that is crucial” in determining whether your body is tempted to store them as fat, use them for energy, or apply them to some other mechanism, the study authors explain.

Plus, if you do routinely overindulge then try to work it off in the gym, you’ll be exercising for a very long time, depending on the size of the junky meals you’ve eaten. This, in turn, may cause you to become hungrier…and eat more. Vicious cycle? Definitely.

The good news is that when you only overeat from time to time, your body can handle those extra calories without making you gain weight. It’s when you overeat on a more frequent basis that you can get into weight-gain territory.

Opt mostly for fresh, whole foods when you're grocery shopping, and think of it as eating food, not calories. Try as hard as you can to look at your diet as a whole instead of the sum of its parts. That means focusing on healthy items like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein, and it also means eating mindfully—slowing down, eating until you're satisfied, and giving deprivation a pass. If you eat a balanced diet most of the time, your body will most likely respond by finding its balance—no calorie counting required.

Keep in touch with me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. For diet reviews, blog posts, and recipes, check out Abby Langer Nutrition.


Here’s Why Counting Calories Really Isn't Necessary for Weight Loss

As a registered dietitian, the thought of anyone counting calories, aka the energy you get from what you eat and drink, causes me to sigh audibly. Counting calories is a time-consuming, soul-sucking practice that’s actually a lesson in futility, as far as I’m concerned.

Yet people continue to do it. They pull out their calorie-tracking apps and plug in whatever foods they’ve eaten, feeling guilty when they go over their “recommended” calorie amounts, then running to the gym to try to undo it all. And I can’t blame them: The idea that monitoring all your calories is key for weight loss is a popular one.

While I do think there’s value in recording the foods you’ve eaten to understand what you’re consuming and offer accountability, and while I do think it’s important to know relative calories (e.g., cake: high, broccoli: low), it’s a colossal waste of time to drill it down to every single calorie that passes your lips.

Of course, calories do count, since they’re what you consume when all is said and done. But counting calories can be a real drag at best, and a dangerous practice at worst. Not only does it get you focusing on numbers instead of enjoying the food you’re eating, it can be a slippery slope from paying attention to calorie counts to obsessing over them. For anyone with a history of disordered eating, counting calories might be something to avoid. If you have or are in recovery from an eating disorder, it’s best to talk to your doctor before changing your eating habits or tracking your food.

I should also note that weight loss is about so much more than calories. It encompasses exercise, how you sleep, how stressed you are, and health issues that you may not be able to control, like hormonal changes. That's why, if losing weight is your goal, it's important to acknowledge how individual a process it is and figure out how to do it in a way that's healthy for you. Make sure your goals are realistic for your body as well as the amount of time and energy you have to devote to the process.

No matter your goals, spending vast amounts of energy and time poring over calories might not get you very far. Here’s why.

In order to accurately count calories for weight loss, you’d need to know your basal metabolic rate, or how many calories your body burns each day simply to stay alive and keep all your systems running. And unless you’ve done indirect calorimetry, which I can almost guarantee you haven’t—it involves lying with a mask on, hooked up to a very expensive piece of machinery for a prolonged period of time to measure your oxygen intake and carbon dioxide expulsion—you really are playing with arbitrary numbers. Although it’s the “gold standard” of figuring out how many calories you use per day, like anything else, indirect calorimetry can have flaws.

Yes, you can approximate the number of calories you use in a day via equations and apps, but that’s all you get: an approximation. If even the “gold standard” machine can be wrong, then why let some app or equation determine how much you should be eating?

Let’s say that by some miracle, you know exactly how many calories you need to eat per day for weight loss. That’s great, but you’re not out of the woods, thanks to the question of absorption.

We used to think that since 3,500 calories equal a pound, every time you eat 3,500 extra calories beyond what your body needs, you end up gaining that weight. Now we know better: Not all calories are equal like we thought.

Everything from how your food is processed to how much fiber it contains determines how many calories you’re absorbing from it. Even the bacteria in your gut may play a part in how you digest food and how many calories you derive from it.

For example, you’ll absorb more calories from cooked meat versus raw, and peanut butter versus whole peanuts. Due to size differences, one sweet potato varies in calories from another before you even take it off the shelf at the store. Calories absorbed is a complex business that’s light years beyond any calorie-counting app on the market.

But wait! Even if you know how many calories you need and how many you’re absorbing, you’re not done! In fact, the Food and Drug Administration allows up to 20 percent margin of error in the numbers on those nutrition labels you likely rely on to count many of your calories. Meaning, that 250-calorie snack you’re eating might actually have 200 calories—or 300.

Focusing entirely on calories, instead of the quality of the food you’re eating and how you actually feel before chowing down (hungry, bored, stressed, etc.), can wreak havoc on those precious hunger cues you’re born with. Whether you’re eating just because you “have calories left,” even though you’re not truly hungry, or you’re not eating because you’ve “gone over” your calorie allotment for the day, but you’re actually still hungry, you’re doing the same thing: ignoring what your body is trying to tell you.

Trust your body, because it knows what it needs a lot more than some random number or tracker.

One of the things that angers me most about calorie-counting apps is the impression they give that you can exercise yourself “back into the green.” Going over your “calorie allowance” again and again because you think you can burn off the transgressions? Nope. Your body doesn’t burn off food calorie-for-calorie like that.

A 2014 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine emphasized that “it is where the calories come from that is crucial” in determining whether your body is tempted to store them as fat, use them for energy, or apply them to some other mechanism, the study authors explain.

Plus, if you do routinely overindulge then try to work it off in the gym, you’ll be exercising for a very long time, depending on the size of the junky meals you’ve eaten. This, in turn, may cause you to become hungrier…and eat more. Vicious cycle? Definitely.

The good news is that when you only overeat from time to time, your body can handle those extra calories without making you gain weight. It’s when you overeat on a more frequent basis that you can get into weight-gain territory.

Opt mostly for fresh, whole foods when you're grocery shopping, and think of it as eating food, not calories. Try as hard as you can to look at your diet as a whole instead of the sum of its parts. That means focusing on healthy items like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein, and it also means eating mindfully—slowing down, eating until you're satisfied, and giving deprivation a pass. If you eat a balanced diet most of the time, your body will most likely respond by finding its balance—no calorie counting required.

Keep in touch with me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. For diet reviews, blog posts, and recipes, check out Abby Langer Nutrition.


Here’s Why Counting Calories Really Isn't Necessary for Weight Loss

As a registered dietitian, the thought of anyone counting calories, aka the energy you get from what you eat and drink, causes me to sigh audibly. Counting calories is a time-consuming, soul-sucking practice that’s actually a lesson in futility, as far as I’m concerned.

Yet people continue to do it. They pull out their calorie-tracking apps and plug in whatever foods they’ve eaten, feeling guilty when they go over their “recommended” calorie amounts, then running to the gym to try to undo it all. And I can’t blame them: The idea that monitoring all your calories is key for weight loss is a popular one.

While I do think there’s value in recording the foods you’ve eaten to understand what you’re consuming and offer accountability, and while I do think it’s important to know relative calories (e.g., cake: high, broccoli: low), it’s a colossal waste of time to drill it down to every single calorie that passes your lips.

Of course, calories do count, since they’re what you consume when all is said and done. But counting calories can be a real drag at best, and a dangerous practice at worst. Not only does it get you focusing on numbers instead of enjoying the food you’re eating, it can be a slippery slope from paying attention to calorie counts to obsessing over them. For anyone with a history of disordered eating, counting calories might be something to avoid. If you have or are in recovery from an eating disorder, it’s best to talk to your doctor before changing your eating habits or tracking your food.

I should also note that weight loss is about so much more than calories. It encompasses exercise, how you sleep, how stressed you are, and health issues that you may not be able to control, like hormonal changes. That's why, if losing weight is your goal, it's important to acknowledge how individual a process it is and figure out how to do it in a way that's healthy for you. Make sure your goals are realistic for your body as well as the amount of time and energy you have to devote to the process.

No matter your goals, spending vast amounts of energy and time poring over calories might not get you very far. Here’s why.

In order to accurately count calories for weight loss, you’d need to know your basal metabolic rate, or how many calories your body burns each day simply to stay alive and keep all your systems running. And unless you’ve done indirect calorimetry, which I can almost guarantee you haven’t—it involves lying with a mask on, hooked up to a very expensive piece of machinery for a prolonged period of time to measure your oxygen intake and carbon dioxide expulsion—you really are playing with arbitrary numbers. Although it’s the “gold standard” of figuring out how many calories you use per day, like anything else, indirect calorimetry can have flaws.

Yes, you can approximate the number of calories you use in a day via equations and apps, but that’s all you get: an approximation. If even the “gold standard” machine can be wrong, then why let some app or equation determine how much you should be eating?

Let’s say that by some miracle, you know exactly how many calories you need to eat per day for weight loss. That’s great, but you’re not out of the woods, thanks to the question of absorption.

We used to think that since 3,500 calories equal a pound, every time you eat 3,500 extra calories beyond what your body needs, you end up gaining that weight. Now we know better: Not all calories are equal like we thought.

Everything from how your food is processed to how much fiber it contains determines how many calories you’re absorbing from it. Even the bacteria in your gut may play a part in how you digest food and how many calories you derive from it.

For example, you’ll absorb more calories from cooked meat versus raw, and peanut butter versus whole peanuts. Due to size differences, one sweet potato varies in calories from another before you even take it off the shelf at the store. Calories absorbed is a complex business that’s light years beyond any calorie-counting app on the market.

But wait! Even if you know how many calories you need and how many you’re absorbing, you’re not done! In fact, the Food and Drug Administration allows up to 20 percent margin of error in the numbers on those nutrition labels you likely rely on to count many of your calories. Meaning, that 250-calorie snack you’re eating might actually have 200 calories—or 300.

Focusing entirely on calories, instead of the quality of the food you’re eating and how you actually feel before chowing down (hungry, bored, stressed, etc.), can wreak havoc on those precious hunger cues you’re born with. Whether you’re eating just because you “have calories left,” even though you’re not truly hungry, or you’re not eating because you’ve “gone over” your calorie allotment for the day, but you’re actually still hungry, you’re doing the same thing: ignoring what your body is trying to tell you.

Trust your body, because it knows what it needs a lot more than some random number or tracker.

One of the things that angers me most about calorie-counting apps is the impression they give that you can exercise yourself “back into the green.” Going over your “calorie allowance” again and again because you think you can burn off the transgressions? Nope. Your body doesn’t burn off food calorie-for-calorie like that.

A 2014 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine emphasized that “it is where the calories come from that is crucial” in determining whether your body is tempted to store them as fat, use them for energy, or apply them to some other mechanism, the study authors explain.

Plus, if you do routinely overindulge then try to work it off in the gym, you’ll be exercising for a very long time, depending on the size of the junky meals you’ve eaten. This, in turn, may cause you to become hungrier…and eat more. Vicious cycle? Definitely.

The good news is that when you only overeat from time to time, your body can handle those extra calories without making you gain weight. It’s when you overeat on a more frequent basis that you can get into weight-gain territory.

Opt mostly for fresh, whole foods when you're grocery shopping, and think of it as eating food, not calories. Try as hard as you can to look at your diet as a whole instead of the sum of its parts. That means focusing on healthy items like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein, and it also means eating mindfully—slowing down, eating until you're satisfied, and giving deprivation a pass. If you eat a balanced diet most of the time, your body will most likely respond by finding its balance—no calorie counting required.

Keep in touch with me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. For diet reviews, blog posts, and recipes, check out Abby Langer Nutrition.


Here’s Why Counting Calories Really Isn't Necessary for Weight Loss

As a registered dietitian, the thought of anyone counting calories, aka the energy you get from what you eat and drink, causes me to sigh audibly. Counting calories is a time-consuming, soul-sucking practice that’s actually a lesson in futility, as far as I’m concerned.

Yet people continue to do it. They pull out their calorie-tracking apps and plug in whatever foods they’ve eaten, feeling guilty when they go over their “recommended” calorie amounts, then running to the gym to try to undo it all. And I can’t blame them: The idea that monitoring all your calories is key for weight loss is a popular one.

While I do think there’s value in recording the foods you’ve eaten to understand what you’re consuming and offer accountability, and while I do think it’s important to know relative calories (e.g., cake: high, broccoli: low), it’s a colossal waste of time to drill it down to every single calorie that passes your lips.

Of course, calories do count, since they’re what you consume when all is said and done. But counting calories can be a real drag at best, and a dangerous practice at worst. Not only does it get you focusing on numbers instead of enjoying the food you’re eating, it can be a slippery slope from paying attention to calorie counts to obsessing over them. For anyone with a history of disordered eating, counting calories might be something to avoid. If you have or are in recovery from an eating disorder, it’s best to talk to your doctor before changing your eating habits or tracking your food.

I should also note that weight loss is about so much more than calories. It encompasses exercise, how you sleep, how stressed you are, and health issues that you may not be able to control, like hormonal changes. That's why, if losing weight is your goal, it's important to acknowledge how individual a process it is and figure out how to do it in a way that's healthy for you. Make sure your goals are realistic for your body as well as the amount of time and energy you have to devote to the process.

No matter your goals, spending vast amounts of energy and time poring over calories might not get you very far. Here’s why.

In order to accurately count calories for weight loss, you’d need to know your basal metabolic rate, or how many calories your body burns each day simply to stay alive and keep all your systems running. And unless you’ve done indirect calorimetry, which I can almost guarantee you haven’t—it involves lying with a mask on, hooked up to a very expensive piece of machinery for a prolonged period of time to measure your oxygen intake and carbon dioxide expulsion—you really are playing with arbitrary numbers. Although it’s the “gold standard” of figuring out how many calories you use per day, like anything else, indirect calorimetry can have flaws.

Yes, you can approximate the number of calories you use in a day via equations and apps, but that’s all you get: an approximation. If even the “gold standard” machine can be wrong, then why let some app or equation determine how much you should be eating?

Let’s say that by some miracle, you know exactly how many calories you need to eat per day for weight loss. That’s great, but you’re not out of the woods, thanks to the question of absorption.

We used to think that since 3,500 calories equal a pound, every time you eat 3,500 extra calories beyond what your body needs, you end up gaining that weight. Now we know better: Not all calories are equal like we thought.

Everything from how your food is processed to how much fiber it contains determines how many calories you’re absorbing from it. Even the bacteria in your gut may play a part in how you digest food and how many calories you derive from it.

For example, you’ll absorb more calories from cooked meat versus raw, and peanut butter versus whole peanuts. Due to size differences, one sweet potato varies in calories from another before you even take it off the shelf at the store. Calories absorbed is a complex business that’s light years beyond any calorie-counting app on the market.

But wait! Even if you know how many calories you need and how many you’re absorbing, you’re not done! In fact, the Food and Drug Administration allows up to 20 percent margin of error in the numbers on those nutrition labels you likely rely on to count many of your calories. Meaning, that 250-calorie snack you’re eating might actually have 200 calories—or 300.

Focusing entirely on calories, instead of the quality of the food you’re eating and how you actually feel before chowing down (hungry, bored, stressed, etc.), can wreak havoc on those precious hunger cues you’re born with. Whether you’re eating just because you “have calories left,” even though you’re not truly hungry, or you’re not eating because you’ve “gone over” your calorie allotment for the day, but you’re actually still hungry, you’re doing the same thing: ignoring what your body is trying to tell you.

Trust your body, because it knows what it needs a lot more than some random number or tracker.

One of the things that angers me most about calorie-counting apps is the impression they give that you can exercise yourself “back into the green.” Going over your “calorie allowance” again and again because you think you can burn off the transgressions? Nope. Your body doesn’t burn off food calorie-for-calorie like that.

A 2014 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine emphasized that “it is where the calories come from that is crucial” in determining whether your body is tempted to store them as fat, use them for energy, or apply them to some other mechanism, the study authors explain.

Plus, if you do routinely overindulge then try to work it off in the gym, you’ll be exercising for a very long time, depending on the size of the junky meals you’ve eaten. This, in turn, may cause you to become hungrier…and eat more. Vicious cycle? Definitely.

The good news is that when you only overeat from time to time, your body can handle those extra calories without making you gain weight. It’s when you overeat on a more frequent basis that you can get into weight-gain territory.

Opt mostly for fresh, whole foods when you're grocery shopping, and think of it as eating food, not calories. Try as hard as you can to look at your diet as a whole instead of the sum of its parts. That means focusing on healthy items like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein, and it also means eating mindfully—slowing down, eating until you're satisfied, and giving deprivation a pass. If you eat a balanced diet most of the time, your body will most likely respond by finding its balance—no calorie counting required.

Keep in touch with me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. For diet reviews, blog posts, and recipes, check out Abby Langer Nutrition.


Here’s Why Counting Calories Really Isn't Necessary for Weight Loss

As a registered dietitian, the thought of anyone counting calories, aka the energy you get from what you eat and drink, causes me to sigh audibly. Counting calories is a time-consuming, soul-sucking practice that’s actually a lesson in futility, as far as I’m concerned.

Yet people continue to do it. They pull out their calorie-tracking apps and plug in whatever foods they’ve eaten, feeling guilty when they go over their “recommended” calorie amounts, then running to the gym to try to undo it all. And I can’t blame them: The idea that monitoring all your calories is key for weight loss is a popular one.

While I do think there’s value in recording the foods you’ve eaten to understand what you’re consuming and offer accountability, and while I do think it’s important to know relative calories (e.g., cake: high, broccoli: low), it’s a colossal waste of time to drill it down to every single calorie that passes your lips.

Of course, calories do count, since they’re what you consume when all is said and done. But counting calories can be a real drag at best, and a dangerous practice at worst. Not only does it get you focusing on numbers instead of enjoying the food you’re eating, it can be a slippery slope from paying attention to calorie counts to obsessing over them. For anyone with a history of disordered eating, counting calories might be something to avoid. If you have or are in recovery from an eating disorder, it’s best to talk to your doctor before changing your eating habits or tracking your food.

I should also note that weight loss is about so much more than calories. It encompasses exercise, how you sleep, how stressed you are, and health issues that you may not be able to control, like hormonal changes. That's why, if losing weight is your goal, it's important to acknowledge how individual a process it is and figure out how to do it in a way that's healthy for you. Make sure your goals are realistic for your body as well as the amount of time and energy you have to devote to the process.

No matter your goals, spending vast amounts of energy and time poring over calories might not get you very far. Here’s why.

In order to accurately count calories for weight loss, you’d need to know your basal metabolic rate, or how many calories your body burns each day simply to stay alive and keep all your systems running. And unless you’ve done indirect calorimetry, which I can almost guarantee you haven’t—it involves lying with a mask on, hooked up to a very expensive piece of machinery for a prolonged period of time to measure your oxygen intake and carbon dioxide expulsion—you really are playing with arbitrary numbers. Although it’s the “gold standard” of figuring out how many calories you use per day, like anything else, indirect calorimetry can have flaws.

Yes, you can approximate the number of calories you use in a day via equations and apps, but that’s all you get: an approximation. If even the “gold standard” machine can be wrong, then why let some app or equation determine how much you should be eating?

Let’s say that by some miracle, you know exactly how many calories you need to eat per day for weight loss. That’s great, but you’re not out of the woods, thanks to the question of absorption.

We used to think that since 3,500 calories equal a pound, every time you eat 3,500 extra calories beyond what your body needs, you end up gaining that weight. Now we know better: Not all calories are equal like we thought.

Everything from how your food is processed to how much fiber it contains determines how many calories you’re absorbing from it. Even the bacteria in your gut may play a part in how you digest food and how many calories you derive from it.

For example, you’ll absorb more calories from cooked meat versus raw, and peanut butter versus whole peanuts. Due to size differences, one sweet potato varies in calories from another before you even take it off the shelf at the store. Calories absorbed is a complex business that’s light years beyond any calorie-counting app on the market.

But wait! Even if you know how many calories you need and how many you’re absorbing, you’re not done! In fact, the Food and Drug Administration allows up to 20 percent margin of error in the numbers on those nutrition labels you likely rely on to count many of your calories. Meaning, that 250-calorie snack you’re eating might actually have 200 calories—or 300.

Focusing entirely on calories, instead of the quality of the food you’re eating and how you actually feel before chowing down (hungry, bored, stressed, etc.), can wreak havoc on those precious hunger cues you’re born with. Whether you’re eating just because you “have calories left,” even though you’re not truly hungry, or you’re not eating because you’ve “gone over” your calorie allotment for the day, but you’re actually still hungry, you’re doing the same thing: ignoring what your body is trying to tell you.

Trust your body, because it knows what it needs a lot more than some random number or tracker.

One of the things that angers me most about calorie-counting apps is the impression they give that you can exercise yourself “back into the green.” Going over your “calorie allowance” again and again because you think you can burn off the transgressions? Nope. Your body doesn’t burn off food calorie-for-calorie like that.

A 2014 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine emphasized that “it is where the calories come from that is crucial” in determining whether your body is tempted to store them as fat, use them for energy, or apply them to some other mechanism, the study authors explain.

Plus, if you do routinely overindulge then try to work it off in the gym, you’ll be exercising for a very long time, depending on the size of the junky meals you’ve eaten. This, in turn, may cause you to become hungrier…and eat more. Vicious cycle? Definitely.

The good news is that when you only overeat from time to time, your body can handle those extra calories without making you gain weight. It’s when you overeat on a more frequent basis that you can get into weight-gain territory.

Opt mostly for fresh, whole foods when you're grocery shopping, and think of it as eating food, not calories. Try as hard as you can to look at your diet as a whole instead of the sum of its parts. That means focusing on healthy items like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein, and it also means eating mindfully—slowing down, eating until you're satisfied, and giving deprivation a pass. If you eat a balanced diet most of the time, your body will most likely respond by finding its balance—no calorie counting required.

Keep in touch with me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. For diet reviews, blog posts, and recipes, check out Abby Langer Nutrition.


Here’s Why Counting Calories Really Isn't Necessary for Weight Loss

As a registered dietitian, the thought of anyone counting calories, aka the energy you get from what you eat and drink, causes me to sigh audibly. Counting calories is a time-consuming, soul-sucking practice that’s actually a lesson in futility, as far as I’m concerned.

Yet people continue to do it. They pull out their calorie-tracking apps and plug in whatever foods they’ve eaten, feeling guilty when they go over their “recommended” calorie amounts, then running to the gym to try to undo it all. And I can’t blame them: The idea that monitoring all your calories is key for weight loss is a popular one.

While I do think there’s value in recording the foods you’ve eaten to understand what you’re consuming and offer accountability, and while I do think it’s important to know relative calories (e.g., cake: high, broccoli: low), it’s a colossal waste of time to drill it down to every single calorie that passes your lips.

Of course, calories do count, since they’re what you consume when all is said and done. But counting calories can be a real drag at best, and a dangerous practice at worst. Not only does it get you focusing on numbers instead of enjoying the food you’re eating, it can be a slippery slope from paying attention to calorie counts to obsessing over them. For anyone with a history of disordered eating, counting calories might be something to avoid. If you have or are in recovery from an eating disorder, it’s best to talk to your doctor before changing your eating habits or tracking your food.

I should also note that weight loss is about so much more than calories. It encompasses exercise, how you sleep, how stressed you are, and health issues that you may not be able to control, like hormonal changes. That's why, if losing weight is your goal, it's important to acknowledge how individual a process it is and figure out how to do it in a way that's healthy for you. Make sure your goals are realistic for your body as well as the amount of time and energy you have to devote to the process.

No matter your goals, spending vast amounts of energy and time poring over calories might not get you very far. Here’s why.

In order to accurately count calories for weight loss, you’d need to know your basal metabolic rate, or how many calories your body burns each day simply to stay alive and keep all your systems running. And unless you’ve done indirect calorimetry, which I can almost guarantee you haven’t—it involves lying with a mask on, hooked up to a very expensive piece of machinery for a prolonged period of time to measure your oxygen intake and carbon dioxide expulsion—you really are playing with arbitrary numbers. Although it’s the “gold standard” of figuring out how many calories you use per day, like anything else, indirect calorimetry can have flaws.

Yes, you can approximate the number of calories you use in a day via equations and apps, but that’s all you get: an approximation. If even the “gold standard” machine can be wrong, then why let some app or equation determine how much you should be eating?

Let’s say that by some miracle, you know exactly how many calories you need to eat per day for weight loss. That’s great, but you’re not out of the woods, thanks to the question of absorption.

We used to think that since 3,500 calories equal a pound, every time you eat 3,500 extra calories beyond what your body needs, you end up gaining that weight. Now we know better: Not all calories are equal like we thought.

Everything from how your food is processed to how much fiber it contains determines how many calories you’re absorbing from it. Even the bacteria in your gut may play a part in how you digest food and how many calories you derive from it.

For example, you’ll absorb more calories from cooked meat versus raw, and peanut butter versus whole peanuts. Due to size differences, one sweet potato varies in calories from another before you even take it off the shelf at the store. Calories absorbed is a complex business that’s light years beyond any calorie-counting app on the market.

But wait! Even if you know how many calories you need and how many you’re absorbing, you’re not done! In fact, the Food and Drug Administration allows up to 20 percent margin of error in the numbers on those nutrition labels you likely rely on to count many of your calories. Meaning, that 250-calorie snack you’re eating might actually have 200 calories—or 300.

Focusing entirely on calories, instead of the quality of the food you’re eating and how you actually feel before chowing down (hungry, bored, stressed, etc.), can wreak havoc on those precious hunger cues you’re born with. Whether you’re eating just because you “have calories left,” even though you’re not truly hungry, or you’re not eating because you’ve “gone over” your calorie allotment for the day, but you’re actually still hungry, you’re doing the same thing: ignoring what your body is trying to tell you.

Trust your body, because it knows what it needs a lot more than some random number or tracker.

One of the things that angers me most about calorie-counting apps is the impression they give that you can exercise yourself “back into the green.” Going over your “calorie allowance” again and again because you think you can burn off the transgressions? Nope. Your body doesn’t burn off food calorie-for-calorie like that.

A 2014 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine emphasized that “it is where the calories come from that is crucial” in determining whether your body is tempted to store them as fat, use them for energy, or apply them to some other mechanism, the study authors explain.

Plus, if you do routinely overindulge then try to work it off in the gym, you’ll be exercising for a very long time, depending on the size of the junky meals you’ve eaten. This, in turn, may cause you to become hungrier…and eat more. Vicious cycle? Definitely.

The good news is that when you only overeat from time to time, your body can handle those extra calories without making you gain weight. It’s when you overeat on a more frequent basis that you can get into weight-gain territory.

Opt mostly for fresh, whole foods when you're grocery shopping, and think of it as eating food, not calories. Try as hard as you can to look at your diet as a whole instead of the sum of its parts. That means focusing on healthy items like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein, and it also means eating mindfully—slowing down, eating until you're satisfied, and giving deprivation a pass. If you eat a balanced diet most of the time, your body will most likely respond by finding its balance—no calorie counting required.

Keep in touch with me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. For diet reviews, blog posts, and recipes, check out Abby Langer Nutrition.


Here’s Why Counting Calories Really Isn't Necessary for Weight Loss

As a registered dietitian, the thought of anyone counting calories, aka the energy you get from what you eat and drink, causes me to sigh audibly. Counting calories is a time-consuming, soul-sucking practice that’s actually a lesson in futility, as far as I’m concerned.

Yet people continue to do it. They pull out their calorie-tracking apps and plug in whatever foods they’ve eaten, feeling guilty when they go over their “recommended” calorie amounts, then running to the gym to try to undo it all. And I can’t blame them: The idea that monitoring all your calories is key for weight loss is a popular one.

While I do think there’s value in recording the foods you’ve eaten to understand what you’re consuming and offer accountability, and while I do think it’s important to know relative calories (e.g., cake: high, broccoli: low), it’s a colossal waste of time to drill it down to every single calorie that passes your lips.

Of course, calories do count, since they’re what you consume when all is said and done. But counting calories can be a real drag at best, and a dangerous practice at worst. Not only does it get you focusing on numbers instead of enjoying the food you’re eating, it can be a slippery slope from paying attention to calorie counts to obsessing over them. For anyone with a history of disordered eating, counting calories might be something to avoid. If you have or are in recovery from an eating disorder, it’s best to talk to your doctor before changing your eating habits or tracking your food.

I should also note that weight loss is about so much more than calories. It encompasses exercise, how you sleep, how stressed you are, and health issues that you may not be able to control, like hormonal changes. That's why, if losing weight is your goal, it's important to acknowledge how individual a process it is and figure out how to do it in a way that's healthy for you. Make sure your goals are realistic for your body as well as the amount of time and energy you have to devote to the process.

No matter your goals, spending vast amounts of energy and time poring over calories might not get you very far. Here’s why.

In order to accurately count calories for weight loss, you’d need to know your basal metabolic rate, or how many calories your body burns each day simply to stay alive and keep all your systems running. And unless you’ve done indirect calorimetry, which I can almost guarantee you haven’t—it involves lying with a mask on, hooked up to a very expensive piece of machinery for a prolonged period of time to measure your oxygen intake and carbon dioxide expulsion—you really are playing with arbitrary numbers. Although it’s the “gold standard” of figuring out how many calories you use per day, like anything else, indirect calorimetry can have flaws.

Yes, you can approximate the number of calories you use in a day via equations and apps, but that’s all you get: an approximation. If even the “gold standard” machine can be wrong, then why let some app or equation determine how much you should be eating?

Let’s say that by some miracle, you know exactly how many calories you need to eat per day for weight loss. That’s great, but you’re not out of the woods, thanks to the question of absorption.

We used to think that since 3,500 calories equal a pound, every time you eat 3,500 extra calories beyond what your body needs, you end up gaining that weight. Now we know better: Not all calories are equal like we thought.

Everything from how your food is processed to how much fiber it contains determines how many calories you’re absorbing from it. Even the bacteria in your gut may play a part in how you digest food and how many calories you derive from it.

For example, you’ll absorb more calories from cooked meat versus raw, and peanut butter versus whole peanuts. Due to size differences, one sweet potato varies in calories from another before you even take it off the shelf at the store. Calories absorbed is a complex business that’s light years beyond any calorie-counting app on the market.

But wait! Even if you know how many calories you need and how many you’re absorbing, you’re not done! In fact, the Food and Drug Administration allows up to 20 percent margin of error in the numbers on those nutrition labels you likely rely on to count many of your calories. Meaning, that 250-calorie snack you’re eating might actually have 200 calories—or 300.

Focusing entirely on calories, instead of the quality of the food you’re eating and how you actually feel before chowing down (hungry, bored, stressed, etc.), can wreak havoc on those precious hunger cues you’re born with. Whether you’re eating just because you “have calories left,” even though you’re not truly hungry, or you’re not eating because you’ve “gone over” your calorie allotment for the day, but you’re actually still hungry, you’re doing the same thing: ignoring what your body is trying to tell you.

Trust your body, because it knows what it needs a lot more than some random number or tracker.

One of the things that angers me most about calorie-counting apps is the impression they give that you can exercise yourself “back into the green.” Going over your “calorie allowance” again and again because you think you can burn off the transgressions? Nope. Your body doesn’t burn off food calorie-for-calorie like that.

A 2014 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine emphasized that “it is where the calories come from that is crucial” in determining whether your body is tempted to store them as fat, use them for energy, or apply them to some other mechanism, the study authors explain.

Plus, if you do routinely overindulge then try to work it off in the gym, you’ll be exercising for a very long time, depending on the size of the junky meals you’ve eaten. This, in turn, may cause you to become hungrier…and eat more. Vicious cycle? Definitely.

The good news is that when you only overeat from time to time, your body can handle those extra calories without making you gain weight. It’s when you overeat on a more frequent basis that you can get into weight-gain territory.

Opt mostly for fresh, whole foods when you're grocery shopping, and think of it as eating food, not calories. Try as hard as you can to look at your diet as a whole instead of the sum of its parts. That means focusing on healthy items like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein, and it also means eating mindfully—slowing down, eating until you're satisfied, and giving deprivation a pass. If you eat a balanced diet most of the time, your body will most likely respond by finding its balance—no calorie counting required.

Keep in touch with me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. For diet reviews, blog posts, and recipes, check out Abby Langer Nutrition.


Here’s Why Counting Calories Really Isn't Necessary for Weight Loss

As a registered dietitian, the thought of anyone counting calories, aka the energy you get from what you eat and drink, causes me to sigh audibly. Counting calories is a time-consuming, soul-sucking practice that’s actually a lesson in futility, as far as I’m concerned.

Yet people continue to do it. They pull out their calorie-tracking apps and plug in whatever foods they’ve eaten, feeling guilty when they go over their “recommended” calorie amounts, then running to the gym to try to undo it all. And I can’t blame them: The idea that monitoring all your calories is key for weight loss is a popular one.

While I do think there’s value in recording the foods you’ve eaten to understand what you’re consuming and offer accountability, and while I do think it’s important to know relative calories (e.g., cake: high, broccoli: low), it’s a colossal waste of time to drill it down to every single calorie that passes your lips.

Of course, calories do count, since they’re what you consume when all is said and done. But counting calories can be a real drag at best, and a dangerous practice at worst. Not only does it get you focusing on numbers instead of enjoying the food you’re eating, it can be a slippery slope from paying attention to calorie counts to obsessing over them. For anyone with a history of disordered eating, counting calories might be something to avoid. If you have or are in recovery from an eating disorder, it’s best to talk to your doctor before changing your eating habits or tracking your food.

I should also note that weight loss is about so much more than calories. It encompasses exercise, how you sleep, how stressed you are, and health issues that you may not be able to control, like hormonal changes. That's why, if losing weight is your goal, it's important to acknowledge how individual a process it is and figure out how to do it in a way that's healthy for you. Make sure your goals are realistic for your body as well as the amount of time and energy you have to devote to the process.

No matter your goals, spending vast amounts of energy and time poring over calories might not get you very far. Here’s why.

In order to accurately count calories for weight loss, you’d need to know your basal metabolic rate, or how many calories your body burns each day simply to stay alive and keep all your systems running. And unless you’ve done indirect calorimetry, which I can almost guarantee you haven’t—it involves lying with a mask on, hooked up to a very expensive piece of machinery for a prolonged period of time to measure your oxygen intake and carbon dioxide expulsion—you really are playing with arbitrary numbers. Although it’s the “gold standard” of figuring out how many calories you use per day, like anything else, indirect calorimetry can have flaws.

Yes, you can approximate the number of calories you use in a day via equations and apps, but that’s all you get: an approximation. If even the “gold standard” machine can be wrong, then why let some app or equation determine how much you should be eating?

Let’s say that by some miracle, you know exactly how many calories you need to eat per day for weight loss. That’s great, but you’re not out of the woods, thanks to the question of absorption.

We used to think that since 3,500 calories equal a pound, every time you eat 3,500 extra calories beyond what your body needs, you end up gaining that weight. Now we know better: Not all calories are equal like we thought.

Everything from how your food is processed to how much fiber it contains determines how many calories you’re absorbing from it. Even the bacteria in your gut may play a part in how you digest food and how many calories you derive from it.

For example, you’ll absorb more calories from cooked meat versus raw, and peanut butter versus whole peanuts. Due to size differences, one sweet potato varies in calories from another before you even take it off the shelf at the store. Calories absorbed is a complex business that’s light years beyond any calorie-counting app on the market.

But wait! Even if you know how many calories you need and how many you’re absorbing, you’re not done! In fact, the Food and Drug Administration allows up to 20 percent margin of error in the numbers on those nutrition labels you likely rely on to count many of your calories. Meaning, that 250-calorie snack you’re eating might actually have 200 calories—or 300.

Focusing entirely on calories, instead of the quality of the food you’re eating and how you actually feel before chowing down (hungry, bored, stressed, etc.), can wreak havoc on those precious hunger cues you’re born with. Whether you’re eating just because you “have calories left,” even though you’re not truly hungry, or you’re not eating because you’ve “gone over” your calorie allotment for the day, but you’re actually still hungry, you’re doing the same thing: ignoring what your body is trying to tell you.

Trust your body, because it knows what it needs a lot more than some random number or tracker.

One of the things that angers me most about calorie-counting apps is the impression they give that you can exercise yourself “back into the green.” Going over your “calorie allowance” again and again because you think you can burn off the transgressions? Nope. Your body doesn’t burn off food calorie-for-calorie like that.

A 2014 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine emphasized that “it is where the calories come from that is crucial” in determining whether your body is tempted to store them as fat, use them for energy, or apply them to some other mechanism, the study authors explain.

Plus, if you do routinely overindulge then try to work it off in the gym, you’ll be exercising for a very long time, depending on the size of the junky meals you’ve eaten. This, in turn, may cause you to become hungrier…and eat more. Vicious cycle? Definitely.

The good news is that when you only overeat from time to time, your body can handle those extra calories without making you gain weight. It’s when you overeat on a more frequent basis that you can get into weight-gain territory.

Opt mostly for fresh, whole foods when you're grocery shopping, and think of it as eating food, not calories. Try as hard as you can to look at your diet as a whole instead of the sum of its parts. That means focusing on healthy items like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein, and it also means eating mindfully—slowing down, eating until you're satisfied, and giving deprivation a pass. If you eat a balanced diet most of the time, your body will most likely respond by finding its balance—no calorie counting required.

Keep in touch with me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. For diet reviews, blog posts, and recipes, check out Abby Langer Nutrition.


Here’s Why Counting Calories Really Isn't Necessary for Weight Loss

As a registered dietitian, the thought of anyone counting calories, aka the energy you get from what you eat and drink, causes me to sigh audibly. Counting calories is a time-consuming, soul-sucking practice that’s actually a lesson in futility, as far as I’m concerned.

Yet people continue to do it. They pull out their calorie-tracking apps and plug in whatever foods they’ve eaten, feeling guilty when they go over their “recommended” calorie amounts, then running to the gym to try to undo it all. And I can’t blame them: The idea that monitoring all your calories is key for weight loss is a popular one.

While I do think there’s value in recording the foods you’ve eaten to understand what you’re consuming and offer accountability, and while I do think it’s important to know relative calories (e.g., cake: high, broccoli: low), it’s a colossal waste of time to drill it down to every single calorie that passes your lips.

Of course, calories do count, since they’re what you consume when all is said and done. But counting calories can be a real drag at best, and a dangerous practice at worst. Not only does it get you focusing on numbers instead of enjoying the food you’re eating, it can be a slippery slope from paying attention to calorie counts to obsessing over them. For anyone with a history of disordered eating, counting calories might be something to avoid. If you have or are in recovery from an eating disorder, it’s best to talk to your doctor before changing your eating habits or tracking your food.

I should also note that weight loss is about so much more than calories. It encompasses exercise, how you sleep, how stressed you are, and health issues that you may not be able to control, like hormonal changes. That's why, if losing weight is your goal, it's important to acknowledge how individual a process it is and figure out how to do it in a way that's healthy for you. Make sure your goals are realistic for your body as well as the amount of time and energy you have to devote to the process.

No matter your goals, spending vast amounts of energy and time poring over calories might not get you very far. Here’s why.

In order to accurately count calories for weight loss, you’d need to know your basal metabolic rate, or how many calories your body burns each day simply to stay alive and keep all your systems running. And unless you’ve done indirect calorimetry, which I can almost guarantee you haven’t—it involves lying with a mask on, hooked up to a very expensive piece of machinery for a prolonged period of time to measure your oxygen intake and carbon dioxide expulsion—you really are playing with arbitrary numbers. Although it’s the “gold standard” of figuring out how many calories you use per day, like anything else, indirect calorimetry can have flaws.

Yes, you can approximate the number of calories you use in a day via equations and apps, but that’s all you get: an approximation. If even the “gold standard” machine can be wrong, then why let some app or equation determine how much you should be eating?

Let’s say that by some miracle, you know exactly how many calories you need to eat per day for weight loss. That’s great, but you’re not out of the woods, thanks to the question of absorption.

We used to think that since 3,500 calories equal a pound, every time you eat 3,500 extra calories beyond what your body needs, you end up gaining that weight. Now we know better: Not all calories are equal like we thought.

Everything from how your food is processed to how much fiber it contains determines how many calories you’re absorbing from it. Even the bacteria in your gut may play a part in how you digest food and how many calories you derive from it.

For example, you’ll absorb more calories from cooked meat versus raw, and peanut butter versus whole peanuts. Due to size differences, one sweet potato varies in calories from another before you even take it off the shelf at the store. Calories absorbed is a complex business that’s light years beyond any calorie-counting app on the market.

But wait! Even if you know how many calories you need and how many you’re absorbing, you’re not done! In fact, the Food and Drug Administration allows up to 20 percent margin of error in the numbers on those nutrition labels you likely rely on to count many of your calories. Meaning, that 250-calorie snack you’re eating might actually have 200 calories—or 300.

Focusing entirely on calories, instead of the quality of the food you’re eating and how you actually feel before chowing down (hungry, bored, stressed, etc.), can wreak havoc on those precious hunger cues you’re born with. Whether you’re eating just because you “have calories left,” even though you’re not truly hungry, or you’re not eating because you’ve “gone over” your calorie allotment for the day, but you’re actually still hungry, you’re doing the same thing: ignoring what your body is trying to tell you.

Trust your body, because it knows what it needs a lot more than some random number or tracker.

One of the things that angers me most about calorie-counting apps is the impression they give that you can exercise yourself “back into the green.” Going over your “calorie allowance” again and again because you think you can burn off the transgressions? Nope. Your body doesn’t burn off food calorie-for-calorie like that.

A 2014 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine emphasized that “it is where the calories come from that is crucial” in determining whether your body is tempted to store them as fat, use them for energy, or apply them to some other mechanism, the study authors explain.

Plus, if you do routinely overindulge then try to work it off in the gym, you’ll be exercising for a very long time, depending on the size of the junky meals you’ve eaten. This, in turn, may cause you to become hungrier…and eat more. Vicious cycle? Definitely.

The good news is that when you only overeat from time to time, your body can handle those extra calories without making you gain weight. It’s when you overeat on a more frequent basis that you can get into weight-gain territory.

Opt mostly for fresh, whole foods when you're grocery shopping, and think of it as eating food, not calories. Try as hard as you can to look at your diet as a whole instead of the sum of its parts. That means focusing on healthy items like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein, and it also means eating mindfully—slowing down, eating until you're satisfied, and giving deprivation a pass. If you eat a balanced diet most of the time, your body will most likely respond by finding its balance—no calorie counting required.

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