It’s a common question for dieters: do I really have to count calories? As a personal trainer who counsels clients on nutrition, I feel that obsessing over numbers isn’t healthy. Knowing how your body feels, on the other hand, is. We’ve been programmed to think that fewer calories equals weight loss. In reality, it’s not just about calories—it’s about portion size, the types of foods you’re eating and many other factors. Eating a balanced diet that includes lean proteins, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats will not only support healthy weight loss, it will help you with a realistic, long-term healthy eating plan.
It’s very easy to underestimate or overestimate numbers when calorie counting. If you don’t read labels or measure incorrectly, your totals may be off. In addition, food preparation needs to be taken into consideration. Cooked food, for example, may contain more calories than raw food if oils, juices or sauces are used. Slight differences in numbers add up over time.
What’s your body type?
It’s important to remember that the more muscle you have, the more calories you’re going to burn. This means that if you have a muscular physique, you naturally have higher caloric intake requirements. If you’re regularly doing resistance training and working toward improving muscle strength, you’ll also burn more calories, even when at rest. In this case, limiting calories can harm muscle-building efforts.
Quality over quantity
Just because something is only 100 calories and contains zero fat doesn’t mean it’s the better choice. Read your labels! Often, when fat calories are removed, they’re replaced with sugar. I always compare no-fat/low-fat (and sometimes regular fat) products and find the no-fat version contains more sugar and artificial ingredients. Choosing natural is always best, but be on the lookout for versions of products that contain the least amount of sugar.
Calories provide energy
It’s simple: you need calories for energy to get through your busy day. Eating the correct portion sizes of whole foods and not worrying about calorie count will help you to fend off fatigue and allow you to continue thinking clearly. If you’re tired because you’re not getting enough calories, how will you have the energy to exercise and burn the calories you’re consuming?
In the long run
Counting calories may work for you on a short-term diet plan. But eating proper portions, consuming five to six small, healthy meals a day and listening to your body will keep you on a healthy-eating plan forever. Eat until you feel satisfied and comfortable, not overly full. If you’re not very hungry for a meal, eat less (don’t skip meals!). And if you feel especially hungry when it’s time for your next meal, increase the portion size slightly. Listen to your body—it will tell you what it needs.
IFBB figure professional Melissa Transou, a fitness expert, wife and mother, blogs about the unique sports and nutrition needs of women and female athletes exclusively for Vitacost.com. Learn more about Melissa in this recent RXMuscle.com spotlight article, connect with her on Facebook or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.