Counting calories, does it work?

For many the word weight loss is synonymous with calorie or kilojoule counting.

For some weight loss is about measuring and monitoring each morsel of food that goes into their mouth.

Does this work?  Does being vigilant on calories / kJ give you the focus you need to shed the kilo’s or manage your weight?

There is a prevailing view held by some that ultimately weight loss and managment boils down to counting the number of calories or kilojoules you put in your mouth.  That it is all about energy in and energy out.

Of course, together with a range of factors you do need to consider the amount and portions of food you are eating.  Because yes, the food we eat is converted to energy and is used by the body to run its 11 major body systems.

However I believe calorie or kJ counting in itself is NOT the way to healthy weight loss.


Because I believe by focussing primarily on calorie / kJ counting:

  1. You can become obssessed with what you eat to the point that the enjoyment of food and life begins to evaporate.
  2. What works for some does not work for others.  Clients have told me couting calories down in and out is stressful.
  3. You can lose sight of the bigger picture.  Yes you want to lose weight, but after a chat it becomes clear you want to run after your kids, have more energy, sleep better, limit the advance of symptoms of poor health or have more vitality to enjoy your life.
  4. A focus on calories ignores the nutrient density of the food eaten.  You can choose to eat an apple or a few squares of chocolate.  The health benefits from each vary significantly.
  5. There are other things in food other than macro (protein, carbs and fats) nutrients.  Two of these key substances are fibre and antioxidants.  Foods rich in fibre can fill you up leaving you feeling satisified and happy to your next meal.  Foods with little or no fibre can have the opposite effect.
  6. There are many other factors underlying your physiology that influence your weight and health.  They include hormones, age, health status, stress levels, microflora, genetics and health conditions.
  7. The body has natural inbuilt mechanisms that you can accidentally trigger.  We know eating an insufficient number of calories over time will slow the metabolism.  The result is that weight loss often stallss.  And your body receives a signal to begin storing fat, in particular abdominal fat.
  8. Counting calories does not take into account the symptoms you may be experiencing.  You cannot assume that once you lose weight your symptoms will be resolved.  There are people in a healthy weight range that are unhealthy.

And … what I consider most sad is the promotional material I see that seeks to instil a belief that once you lose weight your life challenges and issues will disappear.  That you will become happy simply by losing weight.  That happines equates to being thinner.  Life does not work like that.  Despite what many weight loss solutions promise.  Challenges in life will still be challenges in life and what you weigh will not make them disappear.

Ultimately I believe if you are taught to eat healthy and to live a healthy life, you will not need to count calories.  I know changing eating and living habits is not easy.  However it is possible.

I would like everyone to enjoy their food, to nourish their bodies and tantalise their tastebuds.

I encourage you to see eating food as a sensual experience – eating engages sight, taste, smell, touch and hearing.  See eating as a journey into the senses and you will come to over time see the eating experience quite differently.  And I assure you it will be much more fun.

Wishing you enjoyment in eating.

ciao Jan