To count calories or not to count calories—now that’s a good question. First off, what is a calorie? Calories are simply a tool used to measure proteins, fats and carbohydrates (or, as some people like to call them, macros) in food. Most people start counting calories when they’re trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. But is all the effort really worth it? Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of tallying the numbers.
Counting calories has the instant effect of making you more aware of what you’re eating. If you’re a mindless muncher, keeping track of what you’re consuming throughout the day will help you to identify bad eating habits and get them under control. Try writing down what you eat in a food journal. Chances are, after just a few days, you’ll notice where your diet needs improvement.
While you may think you’re doing a good job with portion sizes, seeing the amount of calories you’ve consumed in a chopped salad or cupful of crackers could open your eyes to mistakes being made. To keep calorie consumption under control, measure out servings of the foods you eat (ideally lean proteins, complex carbs and heart-healthy fats) daily. You may find this step is necessary for only a short time when starting a diet or healthy eating plan, but it’s worth doing as a learning experience.
Planning meals is an ideal way to set yourself up for a successful day of healthy eating. You’ll also find that calories can be controlled more easily when food choices are planned—you don’t have to worry about decision making or counting on the spot. You may even find yourself becoming more knowledgeable about nutrition and food ingredients—a definite bonus whether or not you’re concerned with your weight!
Counting calories can be time consuming, and it does require commitment. You’ll spend time reading labels, checking ingredients and keeping track of numbers throughout the day. Motivation to keep up with this can dwindle after a while, and your diet may be derailed if you’re not careful.
All calories are not equal
A hundred calories in a serving of vegetables is not the same as 100 calories in two cookies! Nutrition counts when you’re dieting. Starving yourself all day in order to eat all of your daily calories in a huge dinner is terrible for your metabolism and can cause you to feel lethargic and grouchy. If you’re only focused on eating 1,500 calories in a day and don’t care where they come from, you might want to reconsider counting calories at all.
The low-calorie trap
Choosing foods labeled “low calorie” seems smart, if you’re watching calories…right? Not so fast. You might reason that you can eat more, because a food is low calorie, and stay within your daily allotment. But these types of foods are often overly processed and filled with artificial sweeteners and other chemical ingredients to provide flavor—and they offer little nutrition. Read labels and make smart choices whenever possible. (Skip the low-cal/fat mayo, for example, and spread mashed avocado – filled with healthy fats and nutrients—instead.)
Remember, every body is different. Just because your friend is on a 1,400 calorie-a-day diet doesn’t mean you should be. Your body, activity level and goals are likely different than hers. Do your research and learn how many calories are required for your needs. There are many apps and online programs available to help with calorie counting if you want to watch your daily intake.