Thursday, December 1, 2011

people can lose weight by counting calories

including me.

In 2003, I dropped 75lbs by counting calories, so don't tell me it doesn't work.

It's frustrating to listen to a paleo, primal, or low carb podcast or read a book on the evils of sugar or processed foods, and hear variations of "as we now know," "as we see," or "as has been proven," as a precursor to "counting calories doesn't work." It does work.

Whether they are lying, being disingenuous, or merely lazy with their speech we may never know, but what they mean to say, or should say, is that counting calories...
  • doesn't work for long because people get tired of it or get frustrated when progress slows
  • doesn't work because the math doesn't always work, and they don't know how to manipulate things to make it work
  • doesn't work because people might be eating the wrong things in the wrong amounts, leaving them hungry and unsatisfied
  • doesn't work because people fail to realize that those formulas are estimates or starting points, and not exact
...and so they eventually stop counting calories, stop dieting, and become a statistic that's improperly used to show that counting calories doesn't work.

In the end, counting calories does work if you keep counting them and realize that all the formulas and values are estimates and starting points. Work with them, be willing to adjust them, and they can work for you, as my 75 pound weight loss shows.

Do I think counting calories is the best way to go about weight loss and keep it off? No, but not because it doesn't work, but because it tends to be unsustainable. I no longer count calories, except out of periodic and rare curiosity. For years, it was fun and comforting, but after a while, it got old, so I moved on.

Eventually, you should consider weening yourself off of counting calories before you flip out and give up. You've already developed the good habit of healthy levels of eating and exercise, so never stop, just find a way to do it that doesn't make you want to quit.

One of my favorite sayings is "always know your next plan before quitting this one." If you're getting restless with any diet, that's the best time to start reading your next nutrition book or to start asking questions. In the meantime, keep on keeping on.

Are you getting tired of counting? Are you afraid to start dieting because counting calories is such a pain in the ass? Do you feel like all diets are doomed to fail? Let me know what's on your mind.


  1. I was using "" to track calories for my blog. For me, I had to drop it. I'm not anorectic, but my mother was, and I find I can lean that way. It is very educational and eye opening, but I also find it interesting that if you eat carefully, as in intuitive or mindful practices, you don't gain weight anyway. I agree that all these people that say counting calories doesn't work are really saying "it is very hard to be compliant with counting calories."

  2. This is one of my pet peeves as well. I lost 50 pounds on Weight Watchers. Because of my personality, it didn't really bother me to keep track of my food and count points. I learned what foods were more worth it for points and which ones were a waste. It was a good system for me and it worked and I maintained my weight for months after I hit my target weight. But I've seen WW give my sister and friends heck! They can't stick with it. I'm happy I made the switch to paleo which was really difficult for me to do in conjunction with WW (an avocado was almost a third of my daily allotted points!) And I do feel so much more freedom and ease around eating. I'm on a path now to eat more intuitively because I think I definitely have emotional issues around food. So I do write what I eat down but not to count calories but to get a sense of how I'm feeling. But yes, I totally agree with your post!


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