Are you a committed calorie counter? Do you get excited when your macros align perfectly with your daily goals? Does seeing a green number in your calorie budget bring you joy?
What about the days that your numbers aren’t quite right? Do you get down on yourself when you’re a little off? Does disappointment set in when those green numbers turn red?
Calorie counting is common. It’s a simple approach to managing your daily food intake, and one that many choose to take. However, common solutions aren’t always the best solutions.
While calorie counting has its benefits, it also has its drawbacks, which is why it’s not the approach we take.
Here at OnPoint Nutrition, we’ve helped thousands of people lose weight and improve their health without counting a single calorie.
Now that doesn’t mean we are not conscious of what we’re taking in and we don’t track anything. We have developed a system that we feel is far more successful, and can help you reach your goals, both short-term and long-term.
In this article, we’ll dive into why we don’t count calories, including four common pitfalls of calorie counting. We’ll also explain our nutrition philosophy and why it can help you find lifelong success.
Why We Don’t Count Calories At OnPoint Nutrition
Calorie counting is one of the most common approaches to controlling food intake and losing weight. However, it’s not always the best choice to reach your goals.
Four Common Pitfalls Of Calorie Counting
1. Quantity, Not Quality
Calorie counting solely accounts for the quantity of food you are eating.
While how much you eat is important to balance your intake, it is not the only factor to consider when striving for optimal health.
The quality of your diet matters, too.
The best way to explain this is with an example. If your daily calorie goal is 2000 calories, you can eat those calories in endless different ways.
- You could choose to eat 2000 calories worth of cookies and call it a day.
- You could also just eat 2000 calories of broccoli and cauliflower to fulfill your goals.
- You would more likely choose to eat a variety of food from a variety of food groups to hit your 2000-calorie goal.
While all of these options achieve the goal of consuming the “correct” number of calories for your body, they are not all created equal.
The cookies will give you more sugar and fat than you need in the day and leave you low on protein, vitamins, and minerals. The veggies will give you an abundance of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, but leave you low on protein and fat.
Simply looking at calories, or even calories and macros does not paint the full picture of what is needed to maintain your healthiest body.
Calorie counting alone ignores both macronutrient and micronutrient intake.
Calorie and macronutrient counting still ignores micronutrient intake, and vitamins and minerals are essential for health.
If you are eating simple meals and preparing food at home, calorie counting is fairly easy.
You can search for foods or scan barcodes and know the calorie values within seconds.
However, what happens at restaurants, social gatherings, and holiday meals?
What about when your mom makes your grandma’s homemade macaroni and cheese that you love, but there isn’t a concrete recipe to use to calculate the calories?
What do you do when your friends want to split appetizers at happy hour but you can’t determine your precise portions?
Calorie counting is not always practical.
It’s also important to consider what happens in these situations:
- Do you give it your best guess and feel alright knowing that it’s close, but not perfect?
- Or do you stress that your numbers aren’t 100% accurate?
- Do you consider just not eating the foods that you don’t know how to track, even if it feels like you’re missing out?
This leads us perfectly to our next point.
3. Disordered Eating
You may hear the term disordered eating and think it sounds a little bit dramatic to describe the behaviors of many people who count calories. However, disordered eating and calorie counting often go hand in hand.
So what is disordered eating exactly?
Disordered eating describes a range of irregular eating behaviors that may or may not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder.
Signs and Symptoms of Disordered Eating:
- Frequent dieting
- Anxiety associated with specifics foods or skipping meals
- Chronic weight fluctuations
- Rigid routines surrounding food and exercise
- Feelings of guilt and shame associated with eating
- Preoccupation with food, weight, and body image
- A feeling of loss of control around food
- Using food restriction, fasting, exercise, or purging to make up for “bad choices”
Calorie counting is a form of dieting and often causes anxiety, guilt, and shame if you are not meeting your daily goals.
The routine of tracking food so specifically is rigid and can lead to preoccupation with food, including constantly thinking about what you’ll eat next and how it will fit into your daily goals.
No one is perfect, and expecting perfection sets us up for failure.
Likewise, going over a daily calorie budget often causes a compulsion to restrict your food intake to make up for it. Over time, the restriction can lead to overeating, binge eating, and losing control of food.
The final big concern with calorie counting is the lack of sustainability.
The goal that is motivating you to count calories is likely to lose weight. However, the unspoken part of that goal is to keep the weight off.
This is where most calorie counters go wrong.
Calorie counting is usually only sustainable for a short period of time. You will feel motivated to make changes and excited to have a plan. However, tracking every calorie you eat for the rest of forever is not sustainable.
This can loop back into the practicality of calorie counting.
Think about vacations and holidays, the classic times when dieting goes out the window. Is it realistic for you to track everything you eat (and drink) during these times? I’m not sure about you, but it’s not for me!
The other part of this discussion is the level of restriction you are implementing with calorie counting. Often when you set up your app to get your daily calorie goal, the app will put you into a very large calorie deficit to try to lose weight as quickly as possible. This may seem efficient but it is far from sustainable.
One problem with too large of a calorie deficit is that restriction often leads to overeating. If your daily calorie goal is so low that you feel, consciously or unconsciously, restricted, your body will signal your brain to seek more food. This often leads to overeating, which, as discussed above, can be a slippery slope into disordered eating patterns.
The other problem is that weight loss will inevitably plateau at some point in your journey. You will stop losing weight, and have to make adjustments. If your calorie intake has already been drastically reduced, you don’t have much room to make adjustments to continue losing weight while still eating enough to give your body all of the nutrients it needs daily.
The long and short of it is calorie counting may work in the short-term, but not in the long run.
The OnPoint Nutrition Philosophy
We are here to help you achieve your health goals while maintaining a positive relationship with food.
We focus on whole foods from six major food groups and teach you to make better choices every day. Your nutritionist or dietitian will work with you to determine how to structure your meals to include all food groups so you feel satisfied and energized all day.
Instead of counting calories, we focus on holistic health including:
- Meal and snack choices
- Daily food group targets
- Water intake
- Daily reflections
- Progress toward your personal goals
Where To Go From Here
If you are reconsidering calorie counting and would prefer an approach that will carry you through the rest of your life, we are here for you.
To learn more about our daily food group targets and the system we use to practice our philosophy What Are Daily Targets? Why Track Targets, Not Calories? breaks it all down for you.
If you’re ready to dive into the world of improving your health without obsessively counting every calorie, our team is here and ready for you.
Schedule a free consultation today to learn more about OnPoint and how we can work together to achieve your goals.
Liz has been reading nutrition labels since she learned how to read. Growing up with severe peanut and tree nut allergies she learned that it’s important to know what you are putting into your body. She made her first big lifestyle change as a freshman in high school, when she decided to become a vegetarian. However, it wasn’t until she took a food class in Italy as part of a study abroad program in college that it clicked in her mind that she wanted to make food and nutrition her career. Liz graduated from Penn State University in 2015 with a bachelor's degree in Nutrition, as well as a bachelor's degree in Marketing. She completed her dietetic internship with Aramark in Philadelphia, and her master's degree at Northeastern University shortly after.