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Why Calorie Counting Is Not the Best Way to Lose Weight

July 15, 2021
Why Calorie Counting Is Not the Best Way to Lose Weight - Lark Health

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Calorie counting is a common strategy for weight loss. The concept is simple, as you just need to check the calories in the foods and beverages you consume in a day and add them up to make sure you are staying under your daily calorie goal.

Many apps are available to assist, but these are 7 reasons why calorie counting may not be the best way to lose weight.

1. It discourages listening to biological hunger cues

"Eat when you are hungry, and stop when you are just starting to feel full."

That is sound advice for weight control! To lose weight, you can reduce hunger and increase fullness by consuming more fiber and protein, and less refined sugar and starch. With calorie counting, the focus is not on mindful eating and filling foods, but on eating the right number of calories. 

For example, you might, at some point, have 200 calories to "use" and stay under that limit by choosing 2 slices of white toast with jam. You might feel hungry soon afterward due to the high content of refined carbohydrates, and low amount of protein, fiber, and fat.

Eating a slice of whole-grain toast with peanut butter and strawberries instead might keep you full for longer because of its fiber, healthy fat, and protein. Plus, foods such as white bread and sugar are linked to higher diabetes risk, while consumption of foods such as whole grains, peanuts, and berries is linked to lower risk for diabetes, as summarized by the National Institutes of Health

2. It does not consider nutrition.

The calorie content of a food is only one part of its nutritional profile. Foods also have vitamins, minerals, protein, and different types of fat and carbohydrates.

Calorie counting may not lead you to choose foods based on their content of nutrients that can have effects such as on blood sugar or blood pressure, risk for nutritional deficiencies, bone health, brain health, energy levels, and other important aspects of health. 

3. It can inhibit nutritional balance.

A long-term goal for weight management and health is to have balanced meals that are healthy and filling, but calorie counting does not steer you in that direction. Instead, it may lead you to limit healthy fats because of their high-calorie density, while replacing them with lower-calorie options that are higher in sugar or starch.

Going through a store, you may read labels instead of looking for nutritious foods that your body wants. Meals can be less filling, making weight loss harder, and health risks can increase.

4. It encourages "exercising off" calories.

While a "2,000-calorie diet" may be a commonly cited figure, the truth is that your calorie needs depend on many factors, including your activity level. If you choose a calorie counting app that accounts for physical activity when calculating your recommended calorie goal, you will quickly see that when you exercise more, your calorie limit increases.

That can lead you to "exchanging" exercise for extra food, say, walking an extra mile so you can have a cookie. That is not a healthy behavior, and it can get out of control. 

5. It can trigger obsessive behaviors

Along with increasing the chance of leading you to exercise with the sole purpose of increasing your calorie limit, calorie counting can lead to obsessing about food. It can change your mindset to focusing on calories instead of enjoying different nutritious foods and the food environment while you eat your meals.

In an extreme case, calorie counting can trigger disordered eating or thinking about calories all day, as a review article published in Eating Behaviors discusses.

6. It may not be that accurate

Nutrition labels and calorie databases are not always accurate. In addition, you may encounter foods that you cannot measure precisely or whose ingredients you are not certain of, such as at a restaurant. Putting all your eggs in the calorie counting basket just may not make that much sense if you cannot be certain of your intake.

7. It can get boring, fast

Calorie counting is just that: counting. It does not involve learning about foods, and you may even end up eating the same foods every day because you already know which ones in which amounts fit within your calorie limit. Add to that the stress of worrying about precise portion sizes and nutrition labels, and calorie counting just may not be that sustainable.

Eating healthier and losing weight are some of the most important steps you can take for your health, and nutrition tracking can help. Tracking your foods and beverages can hold you accountable with your good intentions and make sure you know exactly what you are eating and how much.

A good nutrition tracker can fit right into your lifestyle without weighing you down, and it is not hard to find one. Lark offers intuitive tracking features, such as recognizing favorite foods and keeping a history of your choices. Plus, Lark's nutrition coaching includes instant feedback to celebrate the good choices you made and guide you towards any possible improvements next time.

Lark's nutrition tracking is part of the entire coaching program for weight loss and improved health. The program may be available to you at no cost if your health insurer participates! 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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