What are the pros and cons of counting calories? Analysis + Tips

Heather Campbell
 min read

What are the pros and cons of counting calories? Is it necessary? Does it help? Or can we do without it?

What are the pros and cons of counting calories? Analysis + TipsDo you want to lose weight and/or eat healthier? If so, calorie counting is a method to better understand the amount of energy you eat and drink and then use for exercise and sports.

As a general rule, people tend to count calories when trying to lose weight. It can stop you from mindless eating, and show where you’re going wrong. It takes time, effort, and energy and does not reflect how healthy a food is or isn’t. A degree of flexibility is always warranted.

Continue reading to learn what the pros and cons are of counting calories, and how these can help you on your way.

Table of Contents

What are the pros and cons of counting calories? Introduction

The energy balance is the starting point for your weight loss journey.

The relationship between how much you eat and how much you exercise is called the energy balance.

We speak of an energy balance when there is a balance between the amount of energy you take in through your diet and the amount of energy your body uses.

If you want to lose weight you must consume more energy than you take in.

And do you want to bulk up a bit? Then you have to consume and absorb more energy than you burn.

If you consume the same amount of energy as you need daily, your weight will remain relatively stable and you will not gain weight.

You can estimate the amount of energy you consume using several calculations. In other words, you can calculate your energy needs and adjust your nutrition plan and eating pattern accordingly.

When creating a nutrition plan, it is helpful to understand your energy intake.

For example, calorie counting helps you figure out why you’ve gained weight. Was this due to a miscalculation of your energy needs?

Or have you been moving around too little? Did you unconsciously overeat? Then again what about nutritional value?

This is why we will be discussing what are the pros and cons of counting calories.

Calorie counting can also be done with an app

A smartphone app is a helpful tool for logging your calorie intake.

In addition to recording your calorie intake, the app also provides targeted feedback on how much protein, carbohydrate, and fat the food you registered contains.

This will give you a better idea of your current situation and whether you are taking in more or less energy than you actually need.

What are the benefits of calorie counting?

  • Keeping track of your food intake and calories consumed can serve as a stick to better rein you in at night if you have already overeaten. Suppose you can tell from your calculations and list that you’re already over your daily calories. In that case, it’s easier to pass on that snack.
  • Knowledge of the calorie content of different foods can prevent unforeseen and thoughtless energy intake.
  • Counting calories will give you a better understanding of your diet. A clear understanding of your energy intake can help evaluate your diet. This will help you know if you are taking in more or fewer calories than you need.

What are the disadvantages of calorie counting?

Counting calories also comes with some drawbacks. Below you will read the main disadvantages of counting calories to lose weight:

  • You can’t always correctly estimate and count all the calories, so you will sometimes have to guess.
  • Not only is the daily intake of calories essential, but also the ratio and the intake of micronutrients and macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats). Focusing on calories can result in your intake of macro and micronutrients being less than ideal.
  • Counting calories takes time, effort, and energy.
  • Counting calories can also lead to an obsession, making you very rigid and inflexible.
  • Logging and recording your nutrition can provide a lot of guidance and structure. For some, it can be difficult when this falls away at a later stage because the stick behind the door, so to speak, disappears. In addition, some people who are heavily into calorie counting have not yet learned to listen to their bodies properly. For example, how do you know if you’ve eaten enough without logging your nutrition and energy intake? And how do you ensure that you maintain a healthy balance?

Do you need to count all your calories to lose weight?

An important question that often arises is the following:

Do all calories need to be counted to lose weight? What are the pros and cons of counting calories?

Calorie counting can undoubtedly help you gain a better understanding of your diet.

But counting all the calories like an absolute maniac is probably not the most intelligent solution to successfully losing weight.

When to count calories

  • If you are just beginning to follow a (new) nutrition plan, it will be necessary to understand your diet. Therefore, it is often advised that you count all calories in the beginning and keep track of your macronutrient intake.
  • Even if you have insufficient knowledge about your energy balance and calories per food item, tracking your energy intake is useful.
  • If you add new products and foods into your diet, check how many calories they contain, so there are no surprises.

When you shouldn’t count calories

  • Suppose you don’t work with a tight nutrition plan. You eat by your gut and are already achieving your desired results. In such a situation, what you do works, so you also have no need to start counting and recording everything meticulously.
  • You have sufficient knowledge regarding the number of calories in your current diet.

How to track your calorie intake without it becoming an obsession?

We advocate using a smartphone app as a tool to understand the nutritional values of your dishes and foods.

But don’t overdo it, and don’t obsess over counting all the calories. It makes no sense to suddenly start logging every calorie like a maniac.

This is because when counting all the calories becomes a goal in itself, you’re working on it all the time. In other words, it can become a dangerous obsession, which is really not recommended.

Intuitive eating as a solution

Fortunately, things can be different thanks to sensible and intuitive eating. This means that you eat based on hunger and satiety, and you do not exclude any food products in the process.

Research shows that intuitive eating is associated with a positive self-image, self-love, eating pleasure, body acceptance, life satisfaction, and positive feelings.

Guidelines for learning to eat intuitively

The following aspects, among others, play a role in intuitive eating:

  • Do not exclude food products. Which, of course, doesn’t mean you have to start eating a lot of unhealthy things.
  • Make food choices for health reasons while enjoying them.
  • Do not classify food products as good versus evil or safe versus unsafe. Look at food more in terms of nutritious versus less nutritious, healthy versus unhealthy, or flavorful versus less flavorful.
  • Do not use food and snacks to avoid negative emotions or suppress certain feelings.
  • Have respect for your body, regardless of your weight and what your body looks like.
  • Exercise and practice sports mainly for health reasons and try to have fun while at it.
  • You can learn to eat based on physical signals such as hunger and satiety.
  • If you overate once, eat a little less the next meal. As a result, you become flexible and adapt to circumstances.
  • You mainly choose foods that are the most filling, such as high-protein and high-fiber foods.

How does intuitive eating work in practice?

Many people over or underestimate their calorie intake, so intuitive eating doesn’t just come naturally.

Learning to eat based on hunger and satiety can take some time and experience.

Here are 7 ways to help you:

The fewer distractions, the more you can focus on eating

Are you hungry and it’s time to eat? Then keep your focus on eating and not doing other things during the meal.

Put your phone away (mute the sound), turn off your laptop for a while, and don’t eat in front of the TV.

By focusing entirely on the food, you can better register when you are full and satiated.

Scoop your portion onto a plate in the kitchen

Leave your dish in the kitchen and scoop portions onto plates.

Do not take the cooking pots and pans to the dining table in the kitchen or living room.

Not putting your pots and pans on the table reduces the likelihood that you’ll spoon up extra and eat a second plate.

So first, scoop up a portion of food in the kitchen and eat it with complete focus and attention.

Eat slowly and chew more often

The human body takes about 15 to 20 minutes to indicate how satiated (stuffed) you are from your meal.

Thus, there is a delay of at least ten to fifteen minutes between the chewing and swallowing of the food and the feeling of having eaten enough.

Eating too fast increases the chance that you will overeat simply because you have not yet allowed enough time for your body to give a satiety signal.

You can eat more calmly by regularly putting down your cutlery, taking a sip of water, and chewing on one bite more often and for longer.

Examine your need to eat in detail

Examine what feelings, situations, and thoughts precede your feeling the need to eat.

The following questions can help:

  • What are you really craving when you think you want/need to eat?
  • Do you really need candy or cookies to satisfy that hunger?
  • Do you need nourishment at all, or do you just need comfort, companionship, or a pleasant atmosphere?
  • Are you really hungry, or is it more of an imaginary hunger? Is your stomach growling in protest or not at all?
  • Do you think you should eat because it’s a specific time of day? Without actually being really hungry?

Thoroughly examining your needs to eat provides insight into yourself. This allows you to make an informed choice about whether or not to act on it.

Accept your feelings

You can gain more control over something by accepting the situation.

If you get a craving for something sweet, just set it. Register this fact just as you would notice the sun shining or the neighbor’s dog barking.

Allow the hunger or craving to be there and let this feeling just be.

Keep control over it, and continue doing what you were doing without giving in to that craving.

Postpone your desires

Do you notice a craving for something sweet like cookies or candy? Then it’s best to postpone any snacking first.

For example, ask yourself again half an hour later if that need is still as strong. Often the desire does subside after a while.

If after half an hour it doesn’t go away, then have a small snack, enjoy it, and put the rest away.

A juicy, healthy apple can do wonders, so see if you have any healthier alternatives to satisfy that sweet craving.

Don’t wait too long to eat when you’re hungry

Don’t wait too long to eat if you are starving. It’s good to listen to your body.

In addition, not listening to hunger increases the likelihood of overeating later.

Learning healthy (eating) habits is important

In addition to intuitive eating, it is good to examine what behaviors are causing you to become overweight.

For example, do you often have seconds at dinner Or do you eat too many snacks during the day?

It is much more convenient to focus on unlearning unhealthy eating habits instead of altogether banning treats and obsessively focusing on calorie counting.

Eating a hamburger or pizza once in a while is not a problem because it will not make you fat all of a sudden.

When you unlearn your unhealthy eating habits, weight loss will often follow naturally.

Avoid being obsessive about calorie counting.

Related postScale obsession: How do I stop being obsessed? Tips for letting go

Monitoring eating habits

You may not be getting enough healthy nutrients, and your diet may not be well-aligned with your current goals and objectives.

For example, you may not be getting enough protein, vegetables, fruits, and fiber.

A smartphone app can be a useful tool to gain insight into your eating habits.

The next step is to compare your eating habits with various general guidelines for healthy and balanced nutrition.

For example, do you eat too few vegetables, fruits, and proteins? Then make sure to address this. Creating a targeted and realistic nutrition plan is essential.

If you can’t figure it out, contact your doctor or a nutritionist who can assist you with professional advice and assistance.

Another way to monitor your eating habits is to write down your goals. For example, a goal might be to stop putting sugar in your tea or coffee and stop taking a cookie.

Every little bit helps

Sometimes it helps to make minor adjustments. First of all, use common sense.

For example, choose a low-fat cheese on your sandwich instead of that fatty cheese means that you will consume fewer calories and saturated fat.

So you don’t always have to calculate or record everything completely.

If you know the number of calories in your diet, you can easily adjust your eating habits based on your current diet and make adjustments as needed.

Don’t forget to get enough exercise

In addition to a healthy diet, it is just as important to get enough exercise.

Choose a sport or activity that you can sustain, reducing the chance of a relapse and/or motivation dip.

7 statements and claims about calorie counting

There are quite a few claims about calorie counting going around these days.

Below you can read the 7 most important statements about calorie logging. Each claim is then critically scrutinized.

The number of calories in a product says nothing about how healthy it is

So what are the pros and cons of counting calories? It is indeed true that you do not yet know how healthy a product is by how many calories it contains.

Hence, we recommend looking at individual foods and whether the product fits within a healthy diet.

Certain food products can be said to have a positive effect on health. For example, you can think of vegetables, fruits, and unsalted nuts.

But again, of course, there has to be a certain balance. Eating only apples, for example, will not make you healthier.

Carbohydrates make you fat faster

It is mainly the fans of the low-carb diet who believe that a calorie is not a calorie.

The thinking is that a low-carb diet makes you lose weight much faster because it provides more stable insulin levels.

Without the well-known spikes in blood sugar, you would burn more and store less fat.

This theory sounds very good but does slimming down really work well by completely eliminating carbohydrates from your diet? Is this true in practice?

When insulin levels rise due to carbohydrate intake, fat burning is temporarily inhibited. But this process of fat burning fully recovers over about 24 hours.

In other words, after 24 hours, fat burning is virtually the same in a diet with a higher carbohydrate intake and a low-carbohydrate diet with the same calorie intake.

Furthermore, a low-carb diet is often not the best choice to lose weight successfully in the long run.

Aim for a healthy carbohydrate intake (45 to 55 percent of your total calorie intake) and also make sure you get enough protein, or you will lose muscle mass.

Low-calorie products such as light products are dangerous

It is occasionally stated that light products make you fat and cause cancer.

Let’s explore this.

What are light products?

The classic sugars may have been replaced with a sweetener in light products 0r the food product contains less fat than the regular variety.

The food in question may also contain at least 30 percent fewer calories than the regular product.

Light products don’t make you fatter

For your information, light products do not make you fatter.

This is because there are no substances in light products that would cause you to suddenly store fat much faster.

However, light products may cause you to eat more and consume too many calories. It is therefore essential to pay attention to this.

Light products with aspartame are not carcinogenic

Based on dozens of scientific studies, it has already been concluded that aspartame can be used safely by healthy people. It is not the cause of cancer, MS, lupus, and epileptic seizures.

However, you must stick to the recommended daily amount of aspartame.

The number of calories you eat says absolutely nothing about how many calories your body absorbs

It is sometimes stated that it takes more energy to digest proteins than to digest fats and carbohydrates.

In other words, it is often argued that the thermogenetic effect of protein is higher.

However, this effect is not considered when one records food (and calories) using an app, for example.

Indeed, it takes more energy to absorb proteins than to absorb fats. But in practice, this difference is not so significant.

Some foods are addictive

‘I am addicted to sugar and because of this, I am not losing weight’.

Statements about sugar addictions are generally not supported by scientific studies. In fact, the substance sugar itself is not addictive.

In contrast, dopamine disposal is blocked in substance addiction such as heroin addiction. This prevents dopamine from leaving, creating a euphoric feeling.

This also causes the body to reduce the production of dopamine. This makes you want more and more of the addictive substance (heroin in this example).

But with sugar, this doesn’t happen.

Calorie counting undermines the pleasure of eating

Counting calories can undermine the pleasure of eating. This is especially true when calorie counting becomes a goal in itself, and you can’t let go.

When calorie counting becomes an obsession, you are in a danger zone.

So we are especially supportive of teaching healthy eating habits and learning to eat intuitively.

Calorie counting is a valuable tool, but it should never become an end in itself.

It’s not about calories but how satiating a food is

This claim is false because the energy balance governs weight loss.

Needless to say, it does help tremendously if you choose foods that have a satiating effect.

Consider protein-rich foods and foods high in fiber, such as vegetables and whole-grain products.

What are the pros and cons of counting calories? Conclusion

Calorie counting can be exhausting and time-consuming, and may not take into account the health effects of food.

On the other hand, it allows you to check how your weight loss efforts are progressing, and ensures that you are not taking in more energy than you are using.

At the end of it all, it’s more about the food itself rather than the calorie count. And that is when you need to see for yourself what are the pros and cons of counting calories.

Related post: Top 8 biggest myths about weight loss and obesity

About Heather Campbell

As a dietitian, my field of specialization is science-based nutritional advice but more importantly, it is my goal to share capturing and inspiring stories, examples and solutions which can help plus-size individuals overcome their specific difficulties. Read More