Why I Don’t Recommend Counting Calories to Lose Weight

Steph Wagner

August 7, 2013

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The Ask Steph Question today! Why don’t I recommend counting calories for weight loss?

If you’ve ever worked with a dietitian, nutritionist, trainer, etc…you have likely been put on a calorie based diet.

Or if you have been a member of WeightWatchers you learned the process of counting points.

I’ve done both. Met with a trainer- yep. Went to WeightWatchers- yep.

Not only that, I was the dietitian who would put you on a calorie counting diet.

Through years of dieting and counting calories myself, I grew exhausted of counting. Frustrated when I couldn’t reach it. Decided I’d already “blown it” if I was 100 calories over so I’d just kept eating. I wasn’t seeing any progress. I started to become a slave to the numbers. The calories. The points. I started hating them.

Just the thought of a piece of paper that says “1200 Calorie Diet” on the top sends chills down my spine. It’s like it reminds me of prison or something. Note: Outside of touring Alcatraz Island, I’ve never been in prison. 

But it’s science isn’t it? How can you lose weight if you don’t watch your calories?

It’s such a new way of thinking to get away from counting…that I understand if you feel a bit baffled. Surely they will take away my dietitian license for saying you don’t have to count calories.

We have a hard time wrapping our brains around it because it seems like such simple math:

Calories In – Calories Out

Eat more calories than you burn? Weight gain.

Burn more calories than you lose? Weight loss.

Eat what you burn? Stay the same.

Maybe that’s why we tend to like it. It’s a simple theory. Clear cut. Makes sense.

But if it’s such an easy equation, why aren’t we losing any weight? Why is our nation getting larger? Why when I do lose some weight, it comes back on?

Sometimes simple thinking isn’t the best for our minds. It’s good to look at something from a totally new angle.

So here is how I look at weight-loss. My own weight-loss (and now maintenance) and when I coach someone to his or her weight loss goals:

  • Yes, it is calories in – calories out. But where those calories come from really do matter. Some calories make you hungry faster. Some stay with you longer. Which brings me to my next point, instead of counting the calorie…focus on what the food is. Not the number:
  • Focus on QUALITY of the food rather than QUANTITY. Restricting your portions really isn’t a good idea. Overeating past the point of fullness is absolutely a bad habit to break. But stopping your meal too soon because you are afraid of the calories? You’ll end up hungry sooner and back in the kitchen…which may or may not lead to a bad choice. I tell clients all the time “I’d rather you eat an entire hamburger patty than half of the hamburger with the bun.” Why?
  • Make a lean protein the star, non-starchy veggies the supporting role. And breads/pasta/rice/potatoes…well they didn’t make the cut. They waste the space in the stomach you need for something more filling like dense protein and fiber from veggies. What about the fiber in the whole grain bun? Not worth the carbohydrate intake. Skip the bun, eat the whole hamburger patty with toppings and a side of (non-fried) veggies.

“Steph…so what you’re saying is…don’t count the calories or points in the meal, just eat the meats and vegetables until I’m full?”


Sounds simple doesn’t it? Does it sound more simple than calories in – calories out? It does to me. It means I don’t have to count. It means I can look at a plate of food and feel freedom in enjoying it instead of guilt knowing this is going to be hard to stop.

Food really is a beautiful gift and not one to make us feel shameful. God created the world and everything in it. Including the soil and the crops and the animals (yes I went there) and he created man to rule over it all. The next time you sit down to a meal take a moment and think about how it got to you. Take a moment to feel thankful and feel freedom to eat well. Over time you’ll stop counting, you’ll start enjoying…and you won’t be as bummed out about not having a starch on your plate : )

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