To lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to count calories.
You’re a scientific person. The thought of treating your body like an experiment and controlling your calorie intake seems appealing at first.
Then as time goes on, you realize it’s extremely annoying. The fun part goes away and you’re left glaring at your digital scale or spreadsheet.
Counting calories is a good idea in the short-term. If you have no clue how many calories are in different foods, and you’re new to dieting, you should spend some time monitoring your calorie intake.
However, here are seven outstanding reasons you probably shouldn’t count calories all of the time.
1. Calorie counting can make it hard to eat when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re full.
In other words, counting calories often creates a disconnect between your hunger levels and how much you eat.
You often become far more worried about hitting your calorie goals than satisfying your hunger. Let’s say you plan a meal with 500 calories, and you’re still hungry afterwards. You have to suck it up and be hungry till your next meal.
On the other hand, let’s say you’re not very hungry, but you have a meal planned and feel like you need to hit your calorie goals. If you know that your next meal is several hours in the future, it’s tempting to make yourself eat even though you aren’t that hungry.
Over time, this can often set people up for binging and restricting. You’re either a little hungry or a little too full, but rarely satisfied. Eventually you say “Hell with this” and either binge, or if you’re like me, just stop eating so you don’t have to think about it.
Letting yourself eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re satisfied is a much easier, less mentally draining experience.
2. It’s socially restrictive.
Counting calories is not easy when you’re at a party, a dinner, or any kind of social event.
If you’re weighing and/or measuring your food, then it’s almost impossible to maintain your system in any kind of social setting.
I’m about as obsessive as it gets, and even I haven’t been able to make myself weigh food at a restaurant. Deep down, there’s a polite little voice in my head screaming “You Fucking Weirdo!”
At that point I have two choices: either be a weirdo and weigh my food at a restaurant, or don’t go. In the past, I virtually always chose the latter option.
While eating purely for social reasons is generally not a healthy habit, you should be able to go to parties, dinners, and other events without feeling anxiety because you can’t count calories. You shouldn’t be thinking “How am I going to figure out how many calories are in this casserole?” when you’re having dinner at a friend’s house.
You should be able to enjoy your food and your company, without obsessing about how much you’re eating.
3. It encourages obsessive thoughts about food.
As Georgie Fear puts it, “Counting calories makes you look at them as a scarce resource.”
On the one hand, that’s a good thing. Your calorie intake should be slightly “scarcer” when you’re trying to lose weight.
However, the problem is that this also means it’s hard to stop thinking about:
- Whether or not you could substitute one food with a lower calorie option.
- When your next meal is.
- What you’re going to eat next.
When you know that your calorie budget is dropping throughout the day, the value increases, and you think about food more and more.
You should enjoy your diet, but it shouldn’t hijack your every waking thought. When your diet is a constantly evolving math equation of managing your calorie intake, it’s impossible to think of much else besides solving that “problem.”
4. It’s generally unsustainable.
Learning to count calories is like getting text messages from strangers on your first cell phone.
It’s fun for the first month or two, and then it becomes progressively more annoying.
I counted every gram of food I ate for almost five and a half years. Even I have my limits, however. Eventually, it became a part time job.
There are ways to make calorie counting much easier, but in the end it usually becomes more trouble than it’s worth.
5. It makes travel a total pain in the ass.
Measuring your food on the road is one of the most frustrating and annoying experiences you can imagine. It’s almost as bad as dealing with TSA employees in airports.
Instead of enjoying your trip, you’re frantically asking yourself questions like:
- How am I going to find low-calorie foods when I arrive?
- How am I going to plan meals?
- How will I count calories at restaurants?
- How will I ignore food at social settings?
- Will they have grocery stores nearby?
- How should I pack my digital scale?
- Will it run out of batteries?
… and other mind-numbingly odd, obsessive questions.
Part of the fun of traveling is trying new food. If all you can think about is measuring and/or avoiding calories, you’re going to be a silent nervous wreck most of the time.
6. It sometimes gives people an excuse to eat more junk.
There are some people who look at calorie counting as a way to squeeze in another handful of M & Ms, knowing that it’s within their calorie goals.
Usually, they eat fewer fresh fruits and vegetables and meat as a result. This is one of the main reasons only eating less of your current diet often doesn’t work very well. If you don’t also change your diet quality, it’s generally going to be a lot harder to stay lean.
You can be perfectly healthy eating small amounts of junk if the rest of your diet is pretty good.
However, you shouldn’t use calorie counting as a license to eat tons of candy or fast food.
This probably isn’t a major problem for you, but it’s worth remembering.
7. It’s unnecessary for most people.
If you want to stay lean in the long-term, you need to make as few changes to your diet as possible to lose fat.
After you’ve been counting calories for a little while, you’ll probably realize that your diet doesn’t change that much. Most people tend to gravitate toward the same foods on a daily basis, and calorie counting becomes largely redundant.
Even if you enjoy counting calories and weighing your food, is that really the best thing you can do with your time?
Is punching numbers into an app or spreadsheet really something you enjoy?
What if you could use that time to hang out with your friends, learn a new hobby or sport, train more, or read a book?
20 or 30 minutes a day of calorie counting adds up quickly, and there are probably more important things you could be doing than counting calories.
Calories count, but you don’t need to count them forever to get lean.
If I have to make a hard decision, I’ll often imagine another person I trust looking at my situation and making the choice for me. In this case, that person would probably have disowned me for being such an obsessive weirdo about counting calories.
It’s time for a change.
Calorie counting works. It’s a good idea to check your food intake sometimes. However, you can stay lean without counting calories, and it will be much easier.
For the reasons listed above, it’s time to stop. The truth is I’ve hated calorie counting for a long-time, but I didn’t think I could reach my goals without it.
So can you.