Do you need to count calories to get results with your health and fitness? The answer to that question really depends on what your goal is in relation to your health and fitness. Firstly, I think that calorie counting has a place in the world of nutrition; it is a very effective way for bodybuilders and athletes to get into peak condition or cut weight for a certain event. Is it the best course of action for the majority of the population? In my opinion the answer is no. On a personal note, I have never counted calories in my life; I am in good shape, I enjoy foods, I generally have lots of energy and I generally eat a clean diet. I have trained clients for many years who have seen incredible results without even mentioning the word calories. I also know a host of people in great shape who do not follow a calorie counting style diet. Does this mean that the energy balance equation of weight loss is untrue or does this mean that following a calorie deficit to lose weight is wrong? No. This system gets proven results and I think it is a useful source of information. I think if I tried to refute that, I would be in front of a firing squad led by health and fitness professionals. So what am I trying to say? I think counting calories is the wrong approach; I think that it creates a negative association with food, I think it confuses the majority of the population, it is not practical and I firmly believe that it is not a long term solution for our world obesity pandemic.
I believe the modern health and fitness industry has been so focused on weight loss and results that they have neglected some of the most valuable areas of nutrition like education and understanding. This is not entirely the fault of the health industry; it is almost like a spiral effect where people want quick results and the industry has adapted to that demand. It really is having a huge effect on the modern health industry and is having a damaging effect on our health. The question I often myself is if calorie counting is the only way to get results then why don’t they teach it to kids? Just because we are adults means we get to graduate to counting calories? Why not develop on what we have learned as a kid?
Our body is an amazing machine; it gives us signals of when we are hungry, when we are full, it tells us what foods our body responds to and tells us what food our body rejects. Instead of learning about the number of calories each food represents, I propose that we teach ourselves how to read our body signals, how to eat with purpose and what each food represents. That sounds too simple and generic though right? Honestly, I think people search for complicated nutrition because maybe they think that if it is super complex then it must be effective. The reality is that for most people they should have just listened to the advice from their grandmother. “Eat your greens”, “ Don’t eat a snack, it will spoil your dinner’ and that’s to name just a few.
We need to start making nutrition simple again and stop all of the complications surrounding it. It doesn’t need to be complicated to be effective. My main issue with the calorie counting brigade is that for the majority of the population it is not feasible. I mean what happens if we go out to dinner with friends? Are you going to go into the kitchen and measure the food? What if you are in a rush? What if you just want to eat food? What if you miscalculate your food? What if the calories you eat are not making you feel good? What if you are hungry but you don’t have any calories left? The problem is not entirely the calories themselves; the problem is the obsession with them. We need to take calorie counting off its pedestal and start learning about food and our bodies before counting calories. If you want to count calories after that they go ahead and do it.
Here’s my proposal on where you should start:
Eat when you are hungry. This usually means meals over snacks. When you are hungry, your body secretes a hormone called ghrelin. That’s your signal to eat. It can often be masked with habit, stress, boredom and procrastination so learning to read that is super important.
Eat your food at a table with family and not on the go. Meals are there to be enjoyed and are an excellent way to switch off.
Stop eating when you are full, not when the plate is empty. Leptin is a hormone that is secreted when you are full. It takes a while to kick in and certain foods impact it more than others.
Eat your veggies and especially your greens. Plates should be predominantly veggies, with a high quality protein source and then some fats and carbs depending on your activity levels, energy levels and how you feel.
Get a high quality protein source with each meal; be it meat or seafood or whatever your choice of protein is.
Eat real food rather than junk food
If you follow these guidelines, as basic as they are; you will achieve results. There is no doubt about that. If you are looking for specific body bodybuilding results or high level athletic performance results then yes of course you need to be a little more specific but get your base right first.
Calorie counting does not need to be your foundation.