Why counting calories doesn’t work

counting calories

If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you’ve probably tried counting calories. And if you’re a woman, you’ve probably fixated on consuming 1,200 calories per day.

Where did that come from?  Many women I’ve spoken to about how many calories she thinks she should eat per day say 1,200 but can’t really city WHY this is the appropriate number. It’s one of those things we’ve heard over the years on the internet that we’ve come to believe, kind of like:

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result!” (It’s not. It sure SEEMS like insanity, but it’s not. We’ll discuss this another time…)

So, here are some reasons why calorie counting doesn’t work:

  1. You probably don’t know your RMR (resting metabolic rate). This is what your body needs to function and stay alive. Without this baseline, everything is just guessing.
  2. Food labels are off by as much as 25% in either direction – that’s a HUGE variance!
  3. Your gym equipment and exercise trackers are also inaccurate with how many calories they’re telling you you’ve burned. Between this and the food labels we could be off by quite a bit on the “how many calories I’ve burned today” side of the equation.
  4. We all process and absorb food differently.
  5. Not all calories are equal. Refined carbs and refined sugar impact your body much differently than non-industrialized foods, so the “all I have to do is burn 3,500 extra calories to lose one pound” approach may not work for you if you’re eating a lot of processed foods.
  6. A steep and sudden drop in calorie intake (in other words, “dieting) causes your body to react to the decrease in energy consumption by adjusting it’s metabolic demand downward to compensate.

When you’re counting calories it’s a simple math equation. And when the math is on your side (you’re burning more than consuming) but you’re still not losing FAT the way you want to it can feel like you’re doing “everything right” and still not losing the weight. Very discouraging!

This can impede our sense of “self-efficacy” and make us think our metabolisms are broken, or we decide to resort to cutting even MORE calories, useless and unhealthy supplements, or even HCG injections.

Here’s what you need to know:

  1. The more you crash diet or lose and gain weight, the less calories you need to survive,so essentially your RMR goes down. Your body is adaptive like that. So no more crash dieting, ok?
  2. Focus on eating protein, fibrous carbs like fruits and veggies, good fats, and a few high quality starchy carbs. Not only will you naturally decrease the number of calories you’re consuming while staying more full, but you’ll simultaneously increase the number of calories your body actually needs to digest the food! And by naturally limiting refined sugar you’re less likely to have to deal with the insulin response which can end up storing fat, especially dangerous visceral fat in your belly.
  3. Unless you’re training for an endurance competition, you don’t need carb loading, special diets, or body-defeating workouts 6 days per week to lose weight. You need the right, consistent efforts over time and a little patience.
  4. Don’t compare yourself to others. The body is a crazy unique thing, so what your friend is doing likely won’t have the exact same effect on you…expect it and focus on YOU.
  5. Weight loss truly occurs through a balance of good nutrition, strength and cardio training (I’ll show you how to do them together in minimal time!), proper sleep, stress management, hormonal balance, and hydration. So unsexy but so true.

It’s tough for me to watch so many people struggle because of the wrong approach.

Self-compassion also plays a HUGE role in fat loss, so be sure to speak kindly to yourself always. Research shows that using shame and guilt against yourself don’t work as motivators, they actually work against you and promote further sliding into unhealthy behavior.

So remember; counting calories rarely works effectively. Learning how to balance your meals and portion sizes, how to space your meals out for ideal results, proper exercise type and volume, habit-building, the value of sleep and stress management; these are the keys to success!

P.S. If you would like more information on our upcoming 28 Day KICK START and MyZone Challenge, click on the link! Registration is open and filling up quickly!

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Jonathan Aluzas is co-owner of Arena Fitness, a fitness center that offers group training in Encino as well as personal training in Northridge.