A person holds body measurement tape around their waist
Many people start calorie counting when they're trying to lose weight. But is it really effective?

Does Counting Calories Work?

I’m not sure how much time you’ve been spent in the dieting world in the past, oh, maybe twenty years, but there has been a lot of different diets out there.

Atkins, Weight Watchers, South Beach, Jenny Craig, even a baby food and a cookie diet, just to name a few… in fact, when I typed “diet” into Google, the first thing that popped up was “diets that work fast” – and no, I have never searched for that before.

What has been my major dieting crutch throughout the past ten years? Calorie counting.

I have dabbled in Whole30, which promises to eliminate certain foods that may be causing woes such as headaches and acne. I have attempted Weight Watchers, only to fail after a day or two because counting points got confusing (why do they need to change their program all the time?). Recently, I have tried a ketogenic diet because my migraines have been pretty bad – I’ve also heard it can help with weight loss. However, I didn’t get very far because I love a banana with breakfast.

But I have always fallen back to calorie counting. And guess what? I started calorie counting in college, and my weight has fluctuated up and down, about 30 pounds, since then. I have never consistently maintained the weight loss.

So, after ten-plus years of calorie counting here’s what I think of this “diet.”

The Advantages of Counting Calories

In all likelihood, you’ve perhaps dabbled in calorie counting yourself.

Perhaps you’ve downloaded an app on your phones, such as LoseIt! or MyFitnessPal. They’re pretty simple to use – you just input your height, weight, age, and activity level and TADA! Your daily calorie allowance spits out. And there’s more! When you exercise, you can input this data as well. For example, if you take an hour walk, you plug this into your app. Then, you’ve “earned” more calories and can score a treat!

Their simplicity makes them pretty awesome. It takes minutes - if that – to log a meal, and it is much less time – consuming to use an app that it is to log calories using a pen and paper.

It also keeps you accountable. For example, if you’re having qualms about entering a food choice into the app, there’s probably a good chance another option may be better for you, right?

Finally, calorie counting is effective. Just as long as you’re being honest with yourself about the foods and beverages that you’re consuming, as well as the exercises you’re performing, you’re likely to lose weight.

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The Disadvantages of Calorie Counting

Calorie counting, for me, taught me nothing about the value of the foods that I was eating. When I input my data, I was given a daily calorie allowance. What did that tell me? I could eat 1500 calories a day! Sure, I often filled it with healthy foods, but there were also days where I ate pizza, McDonald’s French fries, and cookies.

Guess what? I still lost weight. I was under or near my calorie allowance, which was my goal, but I often felt awful.

And I’m not here to say that I don’t eat junk food ever and that people who are on a diet can’t eat pizza, but this is what I consumed on a daily basis – and it made me feel like garbage every day. 

In addition, I began to have an “all or nothing” mentality. My app assigned me a calorie goal. If I went over this goal, even slightly, my mind told me that I “blew” the day, so then I overate on purpose.

This “all or nothing” mentality started to make me obsessive about the foods I was eating. I would try very hard not to go over my food limit daily – and then I inevitably did, causing the cycle to continue. And when this began to happen continually, I “fell off wagon” – which led to the weight gain.

And this same cycle has continued over and over, for the past ten years of my life.

Should I Count Calories or Just Eat Healthy?

For me, I’m working hard on breaking up with calorie counting. We’ve got to end our 10-plus year relationship. It has served its purpose at times, but it is time for me to work on other ways of weight loss, without my phone in hand.

If calorie counting works for you, and you can utilize it without becoming obsessive, it is a great tool for accountability. It is simple and easy to use, and I wish you all the success in the world.

If you are like me and are the proverbial yo-yo dieter, it is time to put down our smartphones. I’ll follow up in the spring and let you know how things are going!