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Should I Count Calories?

Natalie
Stein
June 2, 2022
Should I Count Calories?
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In this article:

  • Calorie balance determines weight loss. You need to use more calories than you consume if you want to lose weight.
  • Research shows that people who log their meals tend to lose more weight. Meal logging helps increase accountability and awareness.
  • Calorie counting isn't always accurate, and there are other ways to achieve a negative calorie balance for weight loss. For example, you can take smaller portions of high-calorie foods, and choose lower-calorie, more filling foods instead of higher-calorie, less filling foods.
  • When you track your meals with Lark, the focus isn't on calorie counting. Lark gives personalized feedback to help you make healthier choices that will get you to your weight loss and health goals.

Is calorie counting the best way to lose weight? The answer depends on a few things. For example, how you count calories and what you do with that information affect weight loss and health. Here's what you should know about counting calories and how to make it work for you.

Calorie Balance and Weight Loss

Calories are a unit of energy in food. Protein, fat, carbohydrates, and alcohol are sources of energy for your body. Your body stores extra energy as fat. That means you gain weight.

When you use more energy than you take in from food, you lose weight. You can do this by:

  • Reducing the amount of calories you take in.
  • Increasing the number of calories you burn, such as by exercising more.
  • Doing both of the above.

Mayo Clinic says that weight loss is always about calorie balance. That's true no matter your approach, whether you focus on calories or carbohydrates, you take smaller portions, you increase your physical activity, and/or you select more filling, more nutritious foods.

Benefits of Meal Logging for Weight Loss

Logging what you eat can be a good idea for weight loss. Studies have shown that people who track their meals tend to lose more weight. These are some reasons why meal logging may help.

  • It increases awareness of what you are eating.
  • It increases accountability.
  • It helps you focus.

Meal logging can include calorie counting, but it doesn't have to be the same as calorie counting. Lark's food tracker counts calories, but emphasizes other aspects of what you eat. For example, Lark looks for healthy choices such as lean proteins and vegetables.

Drawbacks of Calorie Counting

Calorie counting has some drawbacks. First, it's not always accurate. These are some reasons why.

  • The calorie count on nutrition labels on food packaging may be wrong.
  • The portion size, or amount of food you eat, might not be measured precisely.
  • You may not always know exactly what you ate, such as if you ate a dish prepared at a restaurant.

Also, Harvard Medical School says that not all calories have the same effects.

  • You may have a different metabolism as someone else. That is, you may have the same height, weight, and activity level, but your body may require a different calorie level than the other person. 
  • You may consume more calories when they come from processed foods compared to unprocessed foods. The same is true for drinking caloric beverages compared to eating foods.
  • The profile of bacteria in your gut can affect your body's use of energy and your weight.

A risk of focusing too much on calorie counting is losing sight of making healthy food choices. Calorie counting can also lead to an unhealthy tendency to try to "exercise off" the calories you consume.

In one study, participants who were trying to lose weight said they didn't like calorie counting apps. Instead, they wanted motivational support. The study was published in Internet Interventions. Lark is more than a calorie counting app, as it is also designed to provide feedback and increase motivation.

Healthy Eating Approach to Weight Loss

It's possible to include calorie counting in a healthy weight loss plan without letting it become an obsession. Harvard Medical School says you can choose a weight loss approach that works for you. That might be calorie counting as part of a larger strategy that also includes eating healthier foods and taking smaller portions of higher-calorie foods, such as bread, pasta, sweets, and fatty foods.

Mayo Clinic says that the bottom line is that you have to shift your calorie balance to lose weight. But you don't have to count every single calorie.

These are some ways to get started.

  • Choose lower-calorie alternatives to your usual foods. 
  • Choose more filling foods with more fiber, protein, and/or water.
  • Eat food instead of drinking caloric beverages.

These are some examples and an estimate of the calorie reduction they have.

  • 8 ounces of unsweetened almond milk instead of whole milk (130 calories)
  • 3 cups popcorn instead of 1 ounce of potato chips (70 calories)
  • 4 ounces of skinless chicken breast instead of 4 ounces of chicken with skin (70 calories)
  • 2 slices of thin crust pizza with light cheese instead of standard crust pizza with regular cheese (200 calories)
  • 1 large orange instead of 12 ounces of orange juice (100 calories)
  • 1/2 cup of tuna salad made with yogurt instead of 1/2 cup tuna salad made with mayonnaise (160 calories)
  • 2 tablespoons of vinaigrette instead of ranch dressing (60 calories)
  • 1 cup of plain Cheerios instead of 1 cup of granola (290 calories)
  • 1 cup of grapes instead of raisins (410 calories)
  • 1 whole-grain English muffin instead of 1 large bagel (140 calories)

If taking smaller portions of high-calorie foods leaves you feeling hungry, try adding vegetables or other low-calorie foods. For example, if you take less pasta, try adding a salad or some grilled vegetables to your meal. Or, if you usually have 1 cup of ice cream, try having just 1/2 cup and adding sliced banana or berries to your bowl to make it fuller. 

Calorie counting can work, but it's not the only way to lose weight. When you log your foods with Lark, you can get personalized coaching on good choices for weight loss and health. You can establish healthy habits that last a lifetime.

Losing weight and eating well can have big returns. They can boost health, energy, and confidence. And they can be part of your daily routine. You can even eat your favorite foods and lose weight.

Lark makes weight loss and healthy eating simple. With Lark, weight loss and healthy living happen when you make small changes that fit into your lifestyle. Lark offers tips, tracking, instant feedback, and friendly suggestions. Over time, small healthy changes can become habits for long-term success. Your personal Lark coach is available 24/7 through your smartphone so you can get expert tips, track meals, physical activity, and weight loss. 

The entire program may be available at no cost to you if your health insurer covers it. Click here to find out if you may be eligible for Lark! You could be minutes away from taking the first steps to hitting your weight loss goals and improving health.

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