Should I Count Calories?

Nowadays, it’s hard not to be more conscious of health and body image. With all the calorie-tracking apps available and the increased consciousness regarding nutritional information, counting calories is in particular at rage. But what exactly are calories?

A calorie is the unit of measure for how much energy a food item contains, and yes, consuming too many will lead to weight gain. You may see some people count calories for every bite. Then you ask yourself, “Should I count calories?” Keep reading to find the answer.

Should You Count Calories?

No, you do not need to keep counting the calories you consume. While it can be helpful when you’re starting a diet and need to keep note of calorie content in certain food items, obsessiveness over calorie intake in the long run makes dieting more frustrating. Besides, it is impossible to do it accurately and has no significant contributions to decreasing weight and preventing diseases. Here are some specific reasons why you should stop tracking your calories

1. Estimating Calories Is Usually Inaccurate

People typically underestimate their calories intake at an average of 30%, and even worse, overweight people underreport a staggering 47% of their calories. Almost no one can accurately keep track of their calorie intake because we tend to remember what we should be eating instead of what we actually put in our mouths

2. Using Nutrition Labels Leads Nowhere

USDA labeling laws make it almost impossible to track calories properly. The calorie content listed on processed foods are allowed to deviate for up to 20% of their actual content. Even whole foods aren’t spared; pasture-raised beef and chicken usually have lower calorie counts than what is listed in the USDA database, while pasture-raised pork has more. Even fruits and vegetables have a wide range of calorie contents depending on their sizes. Should I count calories? Of course not because you'll never know the exact amount you've consumed if the measurements are incorrect in the first place. 

3. Keeping Track Will Only Make You Hungrier

Psychologically speaking, forcing yourself to eat what you think are low-calorie foods will only make you feel hungrier and less satisfied, no matter the actual calorie content of your foods. Studies show that even labeling food as “healthy” already has negative connotations and makes consumers feel less satisfied.

4. Using a Skewed Baseline Means Getting Skewed Results

Don’t fall into the trap of following the popular 2000-calorie diet. 2000 is actually an underestimation based only on surveys and guesswork, meant to discourage people from overeating. If you want to eat a true healthy portion, the standard is 2700 calories for men and 2400 for women.

5. Obsessing over Calories Will Make You Forget the Bigger Picture

Low-calorie does not mean healthy. The health halo effect is a phenomenon that causes you to zone in on only one aspect of food – in this case, calories – and completely disregard its nutritional contents. Thus, you’re more likely to make snap judgments based on only calories while missing out on the bigger picture. Instead of asking, “should I count calories?” you should be asking, “is this healthy for me?" You should mind the kind of calories you consume, rather than the quantity.

6. Restricting Your Diet Stresses You Out

Studies show that monitoring your calories increases your psychological stress, and restricting your calories – even if you don’t count them – also causes you physiological stress. In short, you stress your body out just by limiting food intake.

7. Counting Calories Only Works in the Short Run

No matter how much you try to limit your calorie intake, chances are, you only delay – and even increase – your weight gain. All the stress, inaccurate calculation and risk of poor nutrition will drive you crazy in the long run.

Things to Do Instead of Counting Calories

Instead of always asking, “should I count calories?” you can do other things that really benefit your body. Here are a few easy steps towards getting a healthy and fit body, without obsessing over the wrong things.

  1. Make a nutrition checklist. Ensure that you are consuming something from every major food group. Keep track of portion sizes and how many servings you’ve had of each in order to properly note your nutritional and diet needs.
  2. Eat every four or five hours. If you often eat again right away after just finishing a meal, chances are that you’re not really hungry whenever you eat. But don’t wait too long, either; this will only cause you to overeat later on.
  3. Listen to your body. Shakiness, fatigue, and restlessness are usually indicators of hunger. Don’t be afraid to eat, but make sure to do it in moderation. Eat until you’re not hungry – not until you’re full. This will help you naturally eat the right amount of calories.
  4. Take measurements once a week. Don't take measurements with a scale too often. If you’re starting to feel like you’re gaining weight, you’re probably overeating. Learn to trim down your portion sizes to keep your weight in check.
  5. Understand portions. Know the approximate measurements of serving sizes so you can more easily stick to your diet goal.
  6. Adopt healthy eating habits. Concentrate on your foods so you can accurately pay attention to when you’re really full. Chew slowly and give your body time to digest what you’re eating.
  7. Plate your food differently. Something as easy as eating from a smaller plate will trick your mind into thinking you’re full, even if you’re really eating less.
  8. Check your mood. Extreme positive or negative emotions can make you crave for food even if you’re not really hungry. Try to channel these emotions into activities that don’t involve eating.
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