Is Calorie Counting the Answer?

Calorie counting seems like a simple way to lose weight, but it can be hard work. Portion sizes need to be accurately measured, food labels looked at and it can be difficult finding the time and the inclination, to log all your food and drink in a food diary. In addition, simply counting calories does not take the nutritional content of the food into consideration, so doesn’t necessarily help you stay fit and healthy.

Food abacusHowever, you cannot lose weight without thinking about your food so knowing your calories can provide a useful framework for weight loss. Even diets that claim to work without calorie counting such as the 5:2 Fasting Diet, require you limit your calories to 600 over the fasting days. Many diets depend on the principles of calorie counting in some way.

Calorie counting for weight loss is a very good place to start but it is not the end of the story because you have to make choices on how and what you are going to eat.

It is important to eat food that helps you stay fit and healthy but depriving yourselves of all treats is boring and monotonous. There has to be a healthy balance that is not strictly about calories alone.

Some of the best and most successful methods of weight loss are those that allow you to live on a healthy diet and lose weight in a way that can be maintained. That way you are more likely to stick at it. The NHS recommends around 2lbs or 1 kilo per week as a safe and sustainable rate of weight loss.


What is a Calorie?

A calorie is a unit of heat energy and is a measurement unit that applies for any type of heat and not just food. However, because our bodies run on food, the food that we eat is calculated in calories and refers to the amount of heat energy that each foodstuff provides.

Fats, carbohydrates and protein, provide calories and if you fail to eat enough, like a car without fuel, you will run out of gas and stop! The problem is that most of us take in too many calories for our energy needs. When calories are not burnt off by the body for exercise they get stored as fat.

The calorie content of food does not differentiate between the types of food that you eat or whether it is healthy and nutritional, or junk. You could follow a calorie-controlled diet, eat nothing but cakes, and still lose weight, if you stayed within the daily amounts. There are no good calories or bad calories because it is just a unit of measurement.

In some countries, kjoules are used instead of calories but it can lead to confusion especially when both kjoules and calories are both present on food packaging.

So What is a Kjoule or a Joule?

This metric measurement is a bit like the difference between miles and kilometres. Kilojoules are the metric equivalent of calories and the KJ is a smaller unit of measurement.

1 KJ equals 0.2 calories.

Some countries, including Australia, South Africa and many European countries, calculate in KJs. The dietary advice in Australia for example is that a daily intake is around .8700 KJ.

The USA and UK use calories as the unit of measure. Usually both measurements are given on packaged foods and within the EU, all countries must list both kilocalories (usually abbreviated to calories) and kilojoules.

So for example, 30g of Kellogg’s cornflakes contains 113 calories or 481 KJ.

How many Calories Should You Eat Each Day?

The amount of calories you need each day will depend upon your gender, activity levels, age and other factors. An average man will need about 2,500 calories (10, 500kj) per day and a women around 2000 calories (or 8, 400kj) a day. This is only a rough average because we are all different. According to the NHS;

If you’re gaining weight, it usually means you’ve been regularly eating and drinking more calories than you’ve been using through normal bodily functions and physical activity


It Is Not Just About The Calories

Counting calories is only one thing to consider when trying losing weight and a healthy diet is not just about restricting the amount that you eat compared to what you burn off in energy.

You could lose weight by eating unhealthy snacks each day and staying within your calorie count. However, it would be bad for your health and you would be left feeling hungry because of the lack of nutrition. Here is an example of a calorie-controlled menu of a diet that not helps you achieve a safe and healthy weight loss!

  • One popular chocolate bar 260 calories
  • One small packet of crisps 169 calories
  • 20fl oz glass of Coca cola (non-diet variety) 240 calories.
  • Total = 669 calories.

Do this three times a day and you have reached 2007 calories without actually eating anything! When you consider the things that you eat and drink as part of the day’s total, calorie counting will help you identify the fattening foods.

These figures were taken from the MyFitnessPal database.

A Balanced Diet is Important For Successful Weight Loss

As well as the calorie content, it is important to have a balanced diet. According to the FDA, you can divide all the foods that you eat into five categories.

Ensuring you eat healthily means that you will not have to go without food while you are keeping to a calorie-controlled diet.

  • Group 1 Carbs – Breads Pasta Rice Cereals Potatoes.
    These types of food should take up a third of your plate size at mealtime. Carbs fill you up and convert to energy and if you swap refined white flour or bread with whole meal, you will feel fuller longer because of the fibre content. Fibre takes longer to digest so stays in your system for longer and you get more value from the calories you eat. To get the same effect you would have eat more refined products and so would need a greater number of calories to have the same effect upon your appetite.
  • Group 2 Fruit and Vegetables.
    Five a day is good for health and the calorie count is extremely low. Fresh green veg is essential for vitamins and antioxidants and as a high source of fibre; it is satisfying because it enables you to eat a lot of it without adding to weight. Even naturally sweet fruits are low in calories. For example, 100 g of fresh strawberries is only 32 calories whereas the same size in chocolate ice cream is around 180 calories.
  • Group 3 Dairy Products.
    Milk, low fat yoghurt, cheese are all good sources of calcium and for maintaining health. The recommended serving size for cheese is no larger than a matchbox! Dairy produce can be very fattening so counting your calories can help you identify the correct portion size. Watch out for yoghurts advertised as “healthy “and “low fat” because in some cases they have a high fat and calories content so you need to look carefully at the label.
  • Group 4 Meat Fish and Protein such as Eggs or Pulses.
    You should ensure you eat protein twice a day according to the FDA but if you are watching your weight and health, portion sizes are important.
    They advise that a piece of meat or fish should be no larger than a pack of playing cards. When you consider the size of the average portion, this recommended size is small by comparison.
  • Group 5 Fatty and Sugary Foods.
    You do not need these for health and foods containing sugar, refined fats and salts should only be eaten sparingly. You need to be sure that you don’t miss out on the food that does you good in favour of these fatty and sugary foods.

Missing meals is not advisable either because it just makes you feel hungry and more likely to snack.

It is no point counting calories and expecting to lose weight if you do not make changes to your diet. You need to avoid Group 5 foods as much as possible and either cut down or find a healthy alternative with less calories. Always read the labels and beware of snacks that appear to be low in calories and fat because this can be a misleading impression.


Portion Sizes

One of the major benefits of calorie counting for weight loss is that it enables you to set guidelines to what you should be eating but a major issue here is with portion sizes.

Most of us simply eat too much. If you are going to succeed, you need to be scrupulous about your portion sizes of protein, carbs and the fatty sugary foods in particular. A piece of meat the size of a playing card? A lump of cheese no bigger than a matchbox? Weigh it out and measure it.

Hand measure portion sizes

Calorie counting will only work if you pay attention to the amounts you are eating. One tip is to “fill up” at meal times with low calorie vegetables and whole meal bread. That way you will feel satisfied and less likely to succumb to cravings. Another tip is to try eating from a smaller plate. That way the servings will look bigger and you are more likely to be satisfied with eating less.



Once you start counting calories, you may find that your otherwise low calorie diet is being derailed by what you drink. Drinks can add hundreds of calories a day to an otherwise healthy diet. Alcohol in particular is fattening and if you enjoy a couple of glasses of wine, you do need to check portion sizes. Likewise, if you take sugar in your tea or coffee or enjoy fruit juice or sodas throughout the day.

Drinks can be the forgotten danger of watching your weight and many people find that until they start counting calories they simply forget about their drinks. Water of course is calorie free and there are sugar free sodas and drinks available too. Beware of some flavoured water drinks. They look as if they should be calorie free but Volvic Lemon and Lime for example contains 175 calories per large glass serving.

How to Count Calories Successfully

There are lots of handy tools that can help you to count calories. We covered some of the best diet Apps in a previous article and downloading a portable calorie counter will help you keep track of what you eat. Apps such as My Fitness Pal, which is free, and My Net Diary, which is very inexpensive, also provide nutritional guidelines that relate to your fibre, sugar and salt intake.

Always read food labelling. Once you start looking at the packaging on food – you will soon see how many calories are contained in some surprisingly small snacks. Even so called healthy low fat foods may be crammed with extra sugars and calories.

Read our article on five easy to use mobile diet apps.

So Is Calorie Counting the Answer?

Eating well balanced mealsThere are disadvantages to losing weight simply by counting calories and it has gone out of fashion in recent years. It can be inconvenient as well as inaccurate. Portion sizes are crucial to note and if you cook from scratch, you will need to calculate each ingredient and add it up to reach the final total.

Slimming clubs – in particular Weight Watchers have moved from calorie counting and instead allocates points to foodstuffs based on calories, healthy content and fibre. This is more convenient for users and results in a healthier diet.

According to some nutritionists, counting calories is a simplistic way of looking at the problem. They have found that food affects the hormones in the body and according to Dr Bowden, a nutritionist speaking in an interview with WebMD.

some hormones say ‘store that fat’; others say ‘release sugar’; others say ‘build muscle’

In addition, some studies have shown that diets based on the same amount of calories, but using different proportions of fat, protein and carbohydrates, result in different amounts of weight loss.


In Conclusion

Despite this note of caution, calorie counting is a good place to start when you are trying to lose weight. You can do it yourself and it doesn’t require you to join or buy anything. Counting calories is easy and you don’t need know all the effects that food has on hormones, mood or waistline.

You can use calorie counting to support an exercise plan or use a diet supplement to help your progress, and for many people this combination works well.

One of the best factors about counting calories is that it enables you to assess your diet and identify your weight gain culprits.

It may be a simplistic, but counting calories does help you lose weight!

Disclaimer: Our reviews and investigations are based on extensive research from the information publicly available to us and consumers at the time of first publishing the post. Information is based on our personal opinion and whilst we endeavour to ensure information is up-to-date, manufacturers do from time to time change their products and future research may disagree with our findings. If you feel any of the information is inaccurate, please contact us and we will review the information provided.

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