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Why Calorie Counting Isn't Enough to Hit Your Weight Loss Goals

October 21, 2020
Why Calorie Counting Isn’t Enough to Hit Your Weight Loss Goals - Lark Health

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Are you ready to lose weight? It may be time to look up from the calculator for a second and stop scrutinizing every calorie. Here is how calorie counting can help you lose weight, but why it is only one of many tools in a weight loss program for long-term success.

How Does Calorie Counting Work?

The concept of calorie counting is simple. If you eat more calories than your body needs, you gain weight. If you eat fewer calories than your body needs, you lose weight. That means weight loss can happen if you eat less, increase physical activity to burn more calories, or do both. Counting calories can help you be more aware of the foods you eat and keep you thinking about your weight loss goals.

Calorie counting can even help you predict how fast you can lose weight. If you have an average daily deficit of 500 calories, you can expect to lose 1 lb. of body fat each week. Lark uses the concept of calorie counting to help you set and achieve weight loss goals and as a small part of its personalized nutrition coaching.

Why Calorie Counting May Not Work

The theory of calorie counting is a great one, but there is a "but:" Here's how it goes: "Calorie counting is good, but real life does not step aside." Here are some reasons why calorie counting is more complicated than it may seem.

It can make you crazy.

Worrying about each calorie that you eat, including measuring foods and logging each bite, can become burdensome. While it can offer valuable lessons on which foods may be helping or hindering weight loss, calorie counting can be unsustainable if it turns eating into a chore.

It can lead to working off calories.

A common problem with emphasizing calorie counting is getting in the mindset of working out extra to burn more calories so you can eat more, or working out extra to "work off" a cheat meal or cheat day. This can lead to a vicious cycle of obsessive exercising to compensate for overeating.

If you are considering extra exercise to burn off extra eating, consider this: it is not that easy! It would take a 160-lb. woman 70 minutes of swimming to burn off a banana split, an hour of brisk walking to burn off a slice of pizza, and an hour of bicycling to burn off two margaritas. 

The numbers may not be exact.

How do you know how many calories your body needs each day, and how many calories you are consuming? The truth is, you probably don't. You can make some pretty good guesses using widely accepted formulas - and Lark does, when counting calories and giving you recommendations - but there are variations. 

Factors that can change how much your body needs can include individual metabolic rate, what kind of and how much physical activity you do in a given day, and even things like your running or walking gait or which specific brand and model of machine you use at the gym. Unknowns on the "calories in" side can include estimates that food companies may make on nutrition labels and the exact efficiency at which your body may use certain nutrients.

Calorie counting can prevent you from listening to hunger cues.

Focusing on how many calories you are "allowed" to eat can make you forget to ask yourself whether you are hungry before you eat. 

What Else Can Get You to Your Weight Loss Goals?

Counting calories can help you stay focused on losing weight, but there is more to a weight loss program that is designed for long-term success.

Know which nutrients increase and decrease hunger.

It can be easier to lose weight when you are not so hungry, and certain foods can help you reduce hunger without getting too many calories. Protein, healthy fats, and fiber can reduce hunger, which is why Lark promotes foods such as:

  • Vegetables and fruit
  • Whole grains
  • Chicken, eggs, tofu, beans, and low-fat dairy products
  • Nuts, seeds
  • Avocados and olive oil

On the other hand, carbohydrates such as sugars and starches can contribute to increased hunger for a few reasons. They can increase cravings for more carbs. Plus, they can lead to blood sugar spikes followed by dips in blood sugar that make you feel hungry. Unhealthy fats can also lead to weight gain. Lark suggests eating less of foods such as:

  • Sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks.
  • Cake, cookies, ice cream, and other sugary desserts.
  • Fried foods.
  • Fatty red and processed meats.
  • Refined grains.

Eat a little less.

Eating less is the ticket to weight loss, and it need not involve intense calorie counting. One simple strategy is to take a little less of some foods, some of the time. This applies to the foods listed above that can promote weight gain. If you are worried about being hungry, just add a serving of vegetables or fruit. 

You might, for example, have less ice cream and fill the bowl with berries, take half the number of crackers you normally would and munch on raw veggies if your snack is too small, or serve a little less pasta and a little more veggie-packed tomato sauce with ground turkey or chicken. Without counting any calories, these swaps can reduce calories, starch, and sugar, while adding fiber and protein.

Check in with your body.

Who could be better to tell you about your body than...your body? If you are not used to listening to your body, it can take a while for your body to talk loud enough for you to hear it, but practice can solve that. 

A good way to practice is to look for hunger cues each time you are preparing to eat. Are you hungry, or are you eating because you are bored, lonely, happy, or angry? How hungry are you? Truly listening for the answers can help you become mindful of your body and give it the calories it really needs and no more.

Lark's weight loss coaching is a comprehensive program to establish small behavior changes for lasting weight. Lark counts calories for you when you log meals, but emphasizes other aspects of eating, such as nutrition and mindfulness. The goal is to form healthy relationships with food and your body that can last a lifetime!

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