Calorie Counting: Legendary or Lame Sauce?

I’ve been around the nutrition and fitness circles long enough to see several trends come and go…and come back again.

Right now we are in what I believe to be the tail end of a phase that shuns calorie counting. My prediction is that in the next 5 years you will start seeing more and more people return to food logs and monitoring methods to get results because complete avoidance of logging and monitoring is not getting desired results.

[Tweet “Nutrition Prediction: a return to food logs and monitoring tools.”]

For most of my practice I have discouraged counting calories. I find the practice not only agonizing but detrimental, as it perpetuates a simplistic view of weight loss and drives disordered thinking and behavior. That said, I am also finding that strict avoidance of monitoring tools is too simplistic for some people and can impede results.

Some of my clients find that a weight loss plateau is quickly turned around when they start logging food intake. Most people choose to use an online calorie counting tool like My Fitness Pal or Calorie King whether or not they are looking at calories simply for ease of use. While they may be doing a stellar job at getting vegetables, fiber, and protein they may discover that their portions are yielding a total intake that is detrimental to progress. For instance, chicken breast has 35 calories per ounce while pork shoulder has nearly double that yet both hold similar protein amounts. This does not mean we need to avoid fattier cuts of meat, as some find them far more effective at preventing cravings. What it does mean is that just as we cannot lump all calories as being equal we cannot lump all foods within a group as being equal. This may be stating the obvious, but it’s easy to forget when focusing on a few simple guidelines.

[Tweet “Simplicity for the sake of implementation cannot be to the detriment of results.”]

Simplicity is highly desirable in this information overloaded world we live in. However, it must be taken as a starting point and not an absolute. If you find you are doing the right things and not seeing results, a first place to go may be a food log. If you have a history of self-judgment and recrimination you will want to do some mental prepwork and have a support system to help combat negative thinking. Consider yourself an anthropologist studying the eating habits of a newly discovered organism. Review your data with an impartial eye and look for possible foods that may be sneaking in and derailing results. Do you finish the kids’ dinner in addition to your own? Do you notice you eat past fullness? If nothing obvious stands out here, consider using MFP or Calorie King to monitor calories for 3-4 days. You may find the reason results are elusive is that there are fattier cuts of meat or the peanut sauce on your favorite zucchini noodle dish is way more than you ever thought it could be! Use the information as power to adjust portions or choose differently, not as a tool for shaming and judging.

If you are not yet mentally at a place where a food log feels like a safe and effective exercise, there are many other ways to increase mindfulness and determine if there is an unconscious behavior inhibiting success. Read more here:

The Importance of Mindfulness


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