At some point in our lives most of us have attempted—however successfully—to count calories. We’ve all experienced the helter-skelter of emotion that is picking up a chocolate bar in the supermarket before flipping it over to read the back, only to realise those six or seven bites of bliss will take two hours of spin class to burn off.
Calorie counting is a tricky, often frustrating business, yet many dieters seem to swear by it.
But does calorie counting actually work?
As with many aspects of maintaining good health, the answer is… sort of. The notion of calorie-counting originated at the beginning of the twentieth century, born from measuring the energy released when burning different foods in a specialised machine.
Different foods burned produced different levels of heat, which later gave rise to the understanding that all foods contain an energy potential which our bodies then ‘burn’ as fuel. If we pack our bodies with too much, we can’t burn it all, and we gain weight.
A large part of successful calorie counting comes from understanding the difference between food and drink groups. While some foods have relatively few calories per gram (protein-rich foods, carbohydrates, fruit, veg), others are packed to the rafters (fatty foods, alcohol). An imbalance between these food groups naturally leads to weight gain. At least… that’s the idea.
Counting calories to lose weight: the theory versus reality
It sounds great on paper, of course. Aim to eat fewer calories than you usually would and watch the weight drop off. In practice, for most people counting calories is a messy, inexact science, reducing what is an extraordinarily complex process (i.e. the method in which your body consumes and processes food) down to a little number on the back of a frozen pizza.
For starters, most people, when asked, have no idea how many calories they consume on any given day, or even how many their bodies actually need. Everyone is different, and there is no single answer.
Meal size can lead to errors in calorie counting, and for even seasoned experts, estimating how many calories are present in a particular meal can lead to wildly incorrect guesses. It’s common for us to miscalculate the number of calories in our meals enormously, sometimes estimating as low as half the number of calories present in reality.
Done in this erroneous manner, it’s not surprising that some people can in fact gain weight through attempting to calorie-count.
Balance is key when counting calories
In theory at least, counting calories works. However, in order to maintain a healthy body, in reality, the best option is to be aware of your caloric intake without obsessing over it, or relying on the numbers too strongly.
Factors such as metabolism and levels of daily exercise blur the picture, and along with our own tendency to grossly underestimate how much we consume (for example, listing breakfast simply as ‘toast’, when in actuality the toast in question was doused with butter – whoops), a more holistic approach is sensible.
Rather than fret over the numbers on the back of food packaging, there are several easier, healthier ways to watch your figure, while still employing the knowledge of what calories are and how they impact us.
Shrink your portion size
When we pile our plates high with food, we’re far likelier to over-eat. Portion sizes can easily increase when cooking at home and stacking a plate with a restaurant-esque heap of food. We easily forget that eating in restaurants is a treat, rather than the norm.
As our plate sizes increase, we are far more likely to miscalculate the amount of food we’re consuming, whereas when eating smaller portions we can do this with relative ease; it’s far easier to tot up the calories in a salad bowl than a sprawling medieval banquet.
Eat more fibre and protein
Changing your diet in this way may not see you shedding pounds in a matter of days, however, choosing to eat more foods that are slow to digest can help your body expend more energy over the course of the day.
If you’re strapped for time or lack the means to exercise for any reason, this can be a simple, healthy way of watching your figure. Protein-rich or high-fibre foods take a lot of work to digest, which uses up more calories—and besides, they’re often better for you than many easily-digestible foods in the first place. Praise fruit and veg!
Focus on eating the right kind of calories
Almost 30% of the caloric intake of the average American is made up of sugary snacks and drinks, crisps, and alcohol. That’s… pretty wild. It’s all well and good counting these calories and ensuring you don’t go over your daily limit, but simply opting for healthier foods can mean you don’t even need to worry how much you eat.
For example, while a packet of crisps weighs around 35 grams and contains 184 calories, 100 grams of broccoli will contain a mere 34. It’ll also be far more filling, plus packed with beneficial nutrients.
Upgrading your snacks in this way can lead to you not only being fuller for longer, but also ensuring your body gets the nutrients it requires to function at 100%. Plus, broccoli is delicious and goes well with… pretty much everything.
So, should you count calories?
Ultimately, calorie counting is an interesting, appealing method of losing weight and staying in shape, however in reality, it reduces a complex issue to numbers that can potentially mask the reality.
By all means count your calories, but do it as part of a balanced diet, along with plenty of exercise; if you get the latter two right, you won’t have to worry about counting calories at all!
However, if you’re bored of calorie counting and looking to lose weight without counting those pesky calories, why not try PhenGold? Our carefully selected ingredients help you lose weight faster and easier than ever before. So it’s time to kick snacking to the curb and go for those goals, ladies!