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Counting Calories: A Useful Tool or a Recipe for Disaster?

Counting Calories: Helpful or Hurtful?

Counting calories has been a weight-loss strategy for years, but does it really work? And if it does, is it something sustainable that will help you keep the weight off?

We see calorie counts on food labels, fast food signs and many websites. What does it all mean, and do they really matter? How many calories should you be eating every day?

These are all good questions, but even health professionals have different opinions. Here’s what we DO know: while calorie-counting isn’t perfect, it CAN be a useful tool to help you stay on track with your goals. However, there are a few things to consider first.

What to Know about Counting Calories

Your Personal Number

Finding a healthy range of calories to eat every day depends on your unique needs. How many calories do you need every day? Many websites can give you a ballpark number, but they’re not always accurate.

Your caloric needs are affected by your activity level, genetics, metabolism, etc. On average, women need around 1500 and men need around 1800. Working with a health professional (like a registered dietitian) can help you find the range that fits you best.

How Much to Cut Out

To lose a pound, you need to burn or cut out 3,500 calories. Now, this doesn’t have to happen in one day. You can start by creating a calorie deficit of 250 – 500 each day with some extra exercise. With time, it will add up to a 3,500 calorie deficit.

Nutritional Value

Of course, there are some exceptions to counting calories. Some foods are quite nutritious but higher in calories, like eggs or avocados. If you’re strict with calorie-counting, it can cause you to cut certain foods from your diet that are actually really good for you. Having diversity in your food is a good thing, and many higher-calorie foods play an important part of good nutrition. Instead of eliminating them, choose them in moderation.

How Counting Calories Can Be Useful:

  • Stay on Track: Logging your calories can keep you in touch with your health goals, help you stay focused in your plan and assist you in looking at your food habits.  You might think twice about a 400-calorie coffee drink if you think about how many calories you should be aiming for each day.
  • Identify Problems: Logging your calorie intake can help you identify problems in your eating habits and come up with solutions. Some areas might need some work. For example, you might notice that you’re an after-work snacker if you regularly consume a lot of calories when you get home from a long day. This might be an opportunity to make changes to your lunch so you’re more satisfied later in the evening.
  • Healthier Choices: Calorie-counting naturally pushes you towards healthier food options. An apple has far less calories than an apple pie! By logging your calorie intake, you’ll see yourself gravitating toward healthier choices or running out of options. ,  CLICK HERE for examples of healthy food swaps to lower your calorie count and gain nutrition.

Losing weight is long process and not always an easy one. Different approaches work for different people. Many people do very well with calorie counting, but it’s not for everyone. Give it a try to see if this gets you going in the right direction!

Need help finding a health professional to help you with weight management? Click Here to view the Obesity Action Coalition’s Obesity Care Provider Locator.

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