- For a long time, people believed that counting calories could help with weight loss because it tracked calories in versus calories out.
- By focusing on caloric values you may lose sight of essential nutrients that promote a healthy metabolism, such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
- You can stop calorie counting by deleting calorie trackers from your phone, cleaning out your social media accounts, and making nutrition changes with a registered dietitian.
Choosing foods solely on caloric values doesn’t account for vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients you need to stay healthy.
You could be missing high-quality foods that are beneficial to your metabolic health, such as healthy fats and protein.
In this article, you’ll learn why calorie counting isn’t effective for most people, and what you can do instead to meet your health goals.
How to Stop Counting Calories
You can nourish your body without counting calories. Instead of tracking your intake, prioritize making balanced meals with foods and flavors you love.
For most people balanced meals will include half a plate of vegetables, a quarter plate with starches or carbohydrates, and a quarter plate with lean protein.
Delete all Food Trackers
An instant way to stop counting calories is to delete calorie-tracking apps from all smart devices, including your phone, watch, and tablet.
Although these apps are meant to provide helpful data about your eating patterns, 2021 research has shown that many people tend to feel worse after using these apps and they may exacerbate disordered eating.
Researchers suspect this is because most calorie-tracking apps focus exclusively on weight loss and normalize calorie-restricted diets.
Eliminating the visual cue to track can help you stop counting calories.
Avoid Reading Nutrition Labels
When looking at a food nutrition label you may be influenced to buy a product because of its low caloric value.
However, a lower-calorie item doesn’t mean it’s healthier than other foods.
For example, avocados and nuts are energy-dense options, but they are also loaded with nutrients and fiber that your body needs to stay healthy.
If you’re trying to stop counting calories you may want to avoid reading nutrition labels the next time you go grocery shopping.
Trust Your Hunger Cues
Your hunger cues help you identify when you’re hungry or full, not the amount of calories you consumed.
Eating slower permits your digestive system to communicate with your brain through hormone signaling.
If your body needs more fuel, your hunger sensations will prompt you to keep eating.
Signs you are still hungry can include:
- Hunger pangs.
- Grumbling stomach noises.
- Thinking about food.
You can increase your hunger cue awareness by self-checking how you feel before and after meals.
Consider What You Really Want to Eat
When you stop counting calories you can include foods that were once restricted.
Examples of these foods can be high-calorie snacks and even some fruits, such as figs or dates.
Intuitive eating principles help you build an eating plan without dietary restrictions.
The core themes of intuitive eating include rejecting diet culture and learning how to nourish your body without feeling guilty about your food choices.
You can work with a registered dietitian specializing in intuitive eating for more support.
Avoid Comparing Yourself
Cognitive-based therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based approach to psychotherapy that can target anxious thoughts.
You can use CBT skills to change your thought process to situations in daily life.
Another person’s nutrition journey is highly individualized. Focus on your own nutrition goals and avoid comparing yourself to others.
Clean Out Your Social Media
Delete or unfollow social media accounts that make you feel you should be counting calories.
It can be hard to progress with your nutrition goals if you’re watching people online who engage in behaviors you’re trying to address.
You don’t have to delete your social media but being more selective about the accounts you follow can be beneficial.
It also helps you avoid misinformation that can make nutrition confusing.
Take it one meal at a time
Making dietary changes takes time, so remember to be gentle with yourself as you try to stop counting calories.
Focus on one meal at a time and book regular check ups with your registered dietitian to discuss your experiences.
They can offer accountability and a reliable support system which can make it easier to comply with your nutrition care plan.
What Is Calorie Counting?
Calorie counting is a tool frequently recommended in weight loss programs.
There’s an intense focus on calories in the weight loss industry because overconsuming calories can lead to weight gain.
People following weight loss programs are advised to track their calories to ensure they stay within the recommended intake.
Where Do Calories Come From?
Calories are found in food, sauces, dips, and beverages. Once consumed, they are metabolized into smaller, easy-to-use forms of energy for your body.
Macronutrients provide your body with calories, with fat being the most energy-dense. The calorie values of macronutrients are:
- Fat - 9 calories/gram
- Protein - 4 calories/gram
- Carbohydrates - 4 calories/gram
Are all calories the same?
Although all calories provide energy, the nutritional quality of the food has a significant impact on your metabolism.
For example, a 300 calorie food with fiber will be digested slower than a 300-calorie food without fiber.
The slow breakdown of fiber has several positive effects on your metabolic health, including a gradual effect on blood sugar levels as well as greater satiety or fullness after eating.
Even though the caloric value is the same, the fiber-rich option would be considered a better choice for your metabolism.
Does Calorie Counting Work for Weight Loss?
Diligent adherence to calorie tracking and maintaining a calorie deficit can help some people achieve long-term weight loss success.
However, following a calorie deficit is unlikely to produce the same weight loss results for everyone.
A 2017 article found that calorie restrictions did not contribute to significant weight loss results for people living with obesity.
Calorie counting may not be effective because underlying factors can affect metabolism and weight. These include genetics, environmental factors, stress, and overall health.
Also, researchers have found that infrequently recalling your food intake can make remembering your meal difficult, and you may underreport or overreport your total intake.
This data can influence your nutrition choices for the rest of the day.
Will I gain weight if I stop counting calories?
It’s unlikely you’ll gain weight if you stop counting calories.
Incorporating high-calorie or energy-dense foods into a balanced eating plan should not lead to weight gain.
Some foods that are high in calories are also rich in nutritional value, such as nuts, which offer heart health benefits and improved insulin resistance (insulin is a hormone that influences blood glucose levels).
If you need help learning how to consume these foods in moderation, you may want to follow all foods fit philosophy.
It promotes an approach to eating that includes balance, moderation, and variety.
A Link to Disordered Eating
Calorie counting is not appropriate for everyone. This publication from 2018 reviewed the effects of the My Fitness Pal Calorie tracker and eating disorders.
73% of users reported the app was contributing to their eating disorder.
Additionally, preliminary results from a 2017 study reported similar findings; online calorie-tracking applications contributed to eating disorder symptoms.
Calorie counting is not a helpful nutrition practice for most people.
Tracking apps can exacerbate stress at meal times and promote disordered eating behaviors.
Remember that food offers more than just calories and energy.
A healthy diet includes a variety of foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and fibers. Brightly colored foods contain antioxidants, powerful health compounds that prevent chronic disease.
If you want to lose weight safely, consider meeting with a registered dietitian.
Asking For Help
A registered dietitian can teach you how to lose weight safely. Book your first virtual appointment with a Nourish dietitian today.
Frequently Asked Questions
See a Registered Dietitian with Nourish
- Covered by insurance
- Virtual sessions
- Personalized care