The Biggest Mistake People Make Counting Calories and How to Fix It
I should start by saying that I’m not a big fan of calorie counting. In fact, I’m not a fan of counting calories at all. (I don’t like those restrictive diets, either.)
Why? The simple reason is that calorie counting is a pain in the ass.
Seriously, I can’t stand to do it for longer than a week!
The complex reason is that calorie counting is:
1 – Frequently inaccurate and can often be over or under by 25-50%
2 – Sometimes unhealthy, especially if it becomes an obsession.
Too much focus on “dieting” can lead to poor mental and physical health. Especially in young women. This pre-occupation, or “cognitive dietary restraint”, has been associated with irregular menstrual cycles, low bone density, and an increased risk for eating disorders.
3 – Teaches you to rely on external cues (“I eat 1200 calories a day, no matter what”) instead of internal cues (“I eat until I’m comfortably full”, “I know it’s time to eat because I’m hungry”, etc.)
4 – Calorie counting, done right, can be complex. Beginners and intermediates are better off focusing on learning simple nutrition habits and on adopting a healthy lifestyle.
So, that’s my own bias against calorie counting – out in the open and out of the way.
Why I Still Use Calorie Counting With Some Clients
I have many clients for whom calorie counting just works. They do it. They’ve always done it. And without it, many of them feel totally lost. Even scared and helpless.
And that’s OK! (Hey, as a coach – if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. It’s not in my interests or my client’s interests to mess with a good thing.)
For these clients, I don’t run in with my “Calorie Counting Sucks” sign and beat them over the head with it.
Instead, I work with them to see where they may be going wrong.
It’s fine if you want to count calories. Just make sure that you’re doing it right.
The #1 Mistake that people make when they count calories is not paying attention to macronutrient balance.
Macronutrient balance refers to the ratio of Protein, Fat, and Carb that you eat everyday. It’s the “balanced” in balanced diet.
For example, a popular approach for fat loss is to follow a “30/40/30” plan.
- 30% of daily calories from protein (meat, fish, etc.)
- 40% of daily calories from carbs (whole grains, veggies, fruits, etc.)
- 30% of daily calories from fat (dairy, avocados, olive oil, nuts, etc.)
As it turns out, macronutrient balance is incredibly important when it comes to changing your weight. Both for weight gain and for weight loss.
Honestly, the #1 offenders for this are people who have followed Weight Watchers forever.
They have their points (total calories) and they only focus on staying within their points. But they don’t pay enough attention to food type or to food quality.
Think of it this way.
Would you be healthier eating 1200 calories a day of pasta, bread, frozen dinners, and fish sticks?
Or would you be healthier eating 1200 calories a day of meat, various vegetables, healthy fats, fruits, and whole grains?
Both diets add up to 1200 calories! But one is significantly more nutritious AND does a much better job of regulating your blood sugar.
I consulted with a woman, age 43, whose weight loss had plateaued for weeks. We talked about her diet, and she mentioned that she was always on target for her points
When we talked about her meals, I noticed that she didn’t eat ANY fat. She was almost completely fat free, save for what fat you’d find in lean proteins. That’s a big problem!
Her split was closed to 25% protein, 65% carb, and 10% fat. Not at all ideal for fat loss!
This client struggled to recover from her workouts and rarely felt satisfied after meals.
(Remember, fats are used by your body to create healthy cell membranes and to produce sex hormones, like testosterone, that are key for body transformation).
One of my strength training clients had the opposite problem.
1200 calories a day with very little protein, almost no carbs, and mostly fat.
Her diet was close to a 20/20/60 split!
(She was not following a ketogenic diet, so let’s rule that option out)
She was having trouble adding lean muscle mass and struggled to lose fat. I also knew that she wasn’t eating very many fruits or vegetables – making it difficult for her to meet her recommended daily amount (RDA) for vitamins and minerals.
By adding more protein and carbs (yes, even bread) to her diet, she was able to add more lean muscle AND reignite her fat loss.
- I don’t recommend counting calories. But if you insist, pay attention to the total calories AND the macronutrient split. Or don’t do it at all. (Seriously)
- The 30/40/30 split is popular for fat loss and is a good starting point for most people
- Most food trackers will show you the macronutrient splits. I recommend myfitnesspal.com for beginners and www.cronometer.com for advanced users
- Most of my clients don’t count calories. We use a habit-based approach instead (and get awesome results!)
Now, what if you’re like me? You’re sick of counting calories and you’re ready to learn a better, simpler way.
I recommend downloading my FREE “Calorie Counting Debunked” Infographic bundle!
- The Cost of Getting Lean – Why looking like a fitness model can be so unhealthy
- The Problem with Calorie Counting, Part 1 – Why “Calories In” sets you up for fat loss failure
- The Problem with Calorie Counting, Part 2 – Why “Calories Burned” can be off by 25%
- AND the Portion Control Guide – Discover how to automatically eat the perfect amount at every meal.
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