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Counting Calories: Good Idea or Bad Idea?


Whether your fitness goals revolve around getting jacked and walking around like the second coming of Arnold Schwarzenegger, or shedding fat and getting the chance to show off your abs and cheekbones, there is one practice which can make all the difference in helping you manage to get to where you want to be.

It’s called “counting calories”. But is it worth doing, considering how much time and effort it could take? And are there any downsides to keep in mind?

Let’s take a look.


Calorie Tracking Automatically Raises Your Awareness

The first benefit of tracking your calories is the simple fact that doing so raises your awareness of food and nutrition dramatically.

There are many ways that plans for “healthy eating” can go wrong – often due to misjudging exactly how many calories are in a certain “healthy” snack or beverage, or by failing to take into account the impact of different treats and exceptions.

Say you’ve read about the health benefits of honey, and that’s led you to swap it in as a substitute for sugar in your home. Then let’s say you have several cups of tea a day with a healthy teaspoon of honey in each.

Health benefits aside, you may be missing the fact that just 10ml of honey contains around 30 calories.

By tracking your calories, you bring your nutritional habits into the light where they can be examined.


Calorie Tracking Provides Clear Targets

It can be hard to execute a weight loss plan when you’re not really sure of where you stand, or where you’re heading, other than knowing that you want to lose a few pounds or hit a specific target weight.

What do you do with your diet to make it happen? Without calorie tracking, the answer’s up in the air. Maybe you’ll opt to reduce all your portion sizes, but is that going to get you the results you want? Maybe you’ll skip breakfast, or eat only salads for a week, or just starve yourself in some other creative way.

In any case, you don’t really have clear nutritional targets to stick to. You’re just winging it and hoping for the best, and waiting to see if your strategy works out for you or not.

Tracking your calories removes that uncertainty and gives you clear nutritional targets. You know exactly how much you’re supposed to eat, and you can tell at the end of every day whether you’re on target or not.


Calorie Tracking Makes You Better at Estimating Portions

One interesting benefit of calorie tracking is that it makes you better at predicting just how many calories are in each meal you eat, without tracking them.

Think of it this way – if you’ve never tracked your calories before, you really have no way of knowing how many calories a given plate of food is likely to have. After you’ve spent a while familiarising yourself with the calorie content of various food types, as well as how different serving sizes look on a plate, you’ll intuitively be better able to guesstimate these things going forward.

Even if you have no plans to make calorie counting a long-term habit, there are some serious benefits to doing it for at least a month or two, just for the perspective it’ll give you.


Calorie Tracking Is Pretty Much Guaranteed to Work

The world of diet and nutrition is a perilous place, with an almost infinite number of different “cutting edge strategies” and products promising to help you lose half your body weight on a daily basis. For the overly trusting dieter out there, this path can lead to plenty of pain, frustration, potential health problems, and some serious wallet-lightening, as different systems fail to live up to their promises.

Calorie tracking, as long as you’re calculating your calorie needs and deficit accurately, is basically guaranteed to work.

Though there are other metabolic systems and factors that come into play, “calories in vs. calories out” is still the king of weight loss doctrines. With a sufficient calorie deficit, everyone will lose weight. And with proper calorie tracking, everyone will be able to hit that target.


Potential Problems

So, now that you’ve had a good run-down of the benefits of calorie tracking, it’s only fair to highlight a couple of potential negatives that you should be aware of, so that you’re able to work around them.


  1. Everyone’s Calorie Needs Will Be Different

If you’re going to track your calories, you’ll need to know that there’s no “one size fits all” number that’ll be ideal for weight loss, or muscle gain, for everyone. There are different scientific calculations used for individuals to work out their own calorie needs – and web-based calorie tracker apps will rely on these.

At the end of the day, though, you’ll have to go through a process of trial and error. If you find that you don’t seem to be shedding fat or gaining muscle after a couple of weeks at a certain calorie count, you’ll have to tweak the numbers to find your sweet spot.


  1. Calories Don’t Cover Nutrients

Calories are all about the total energy you’re taking in, but just counting calories alone doesn’t mean you’ve got a handle on your macronutrient intake (protein, carbs, fats) or your micronutrient intake (vitamins and minerals), both of which are essential for good health as well as overall fitness.

Always calculate and stick to recommendations for nutrient ratios and intake. Good calorie tracking apps will factor this in for you.


  1. It Can Be Time Consuming

No one said it was going to be easy, right? To count your calories reliably, you need a scale, an app or notepad (if you really want to do it the hard way) and you’ve got to spend the time weighing and cataloguing everything you eat. It won’t always be fun.

The good news is you’ll get better and faster at it as time goes on.


Click here to read on and find out 'How much should you be eating' by Nutritionist and Gym Manager, Hollie Miles.

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