By Nick Nilsson
Author of The Starting Monday Diet
Is it necessary to count your calories to lose fat? The answer is yes...and no.
Calorie-counting is one of those things that you either love or hate.
You either feel like you HAVE to do it in order to get results or you feel like there's NO WAY you'll ever be caught dead doing it. It's rare you find somebody who sits on the middle ground in this one.
As most people know, in order to lose fat, you've got to have a caloric deficit, taking in fewer calories than you burn on a daily basis. No surprises there.
Now here's the thing...in order to consistently achieve that caloric deficit and lose fat, you must be AWARE of your calorie intake.
The real question we should be asking here should not be "is calorie-counting necessary?" but "is calorie-AWARENESS necessary?"
So if, in order to be aware of how many calories you're taking in, you need to specifically COUNT them (by weighing food and referencing food charts), then THAT will be what you have to do to get results.
If you've already GOT a good awareness of how many calories you're eating in a day and you know what you need to eat (or not eat) in order to achieve that caloric deficit, then calorie counting is NOT necessary for you.
The key here, again, is awareness.
You see, the big problem with not counting calories arises when a person THINKS they're aware of their caloric intake but they really are NOT.
It's a fact that most people dramatically under-report their caloric intake when they are asked to estimate how much they eat in a day. When they keep a food diary and have to write down every little thing that goes in their mouth, in some cases their TRUE caloric intake nearly DOUBLES.
So even if you don't want to count calories, it may be time for a quick compromise. It's a temporary calorie count/reality check.
If you're not losing fat right now and you feel like you're not really eating much, here's something you can try in order to test your "caloric awareness":
Step one, write down how many calories you THINK you're eating every day.
Now for the next full week, write down everything you eat. And I do mean EVERYTHING. Every little taste and every little snack. EVERYTHING.
Just write down foods and portion sizes - don't try and look up how many calories each thing has and don't suddenly change your diet because you want to make yourself look good - just keep doing what you've been doing.
At the end of the week, go to a food chart and research everything you ate. Add it up and divide by 7. This will give you your average daily caloric intake.
If you're within a few hundred calories of your original estimation, congratulations! You've got good "calorie awareness."
If you're off by a significant margin, this will give you some very useful feedback on what you need to do to get fat loss moving again.
To be clear...calorie counting, no matter how careful you are, is not 100% accurate.
No two pieces of food are alike. When you buy a steak at the grocery store, they don't charge you per steak, they charge by the pound. And even when they charge by the pound, two steaks of the same cut can have DRAMATICALLY different composition - one could be lean and one could be fatty.
However, if you look at a calorie chart, you'll see "3 oz sirloin steak - 100 calories"...or something to that effect.
Even if you weigh and chart every single piece of food you put in your mouth, you're STILL going to be off by a fair margin. That's just a fact.
And while how MUCH you eat has an impact on fat loss, WHEN you eat it and what foods you eat together makes a HUGE impact on your results. "Calories are calories" is true only up to a point.
For example, if you eat a big meal after a workout, most of that will get used for recovery purposes and replenishing nutrients. If you eat that same big meal when your body's "storage" capacity is already full, much of that meal could be stored as fat.
Here's my step-by-step solution to the calorie-counting question...
1. If you like to count calories and it gets you results...keep it up.
2. If you like to count calories but you're NOT getting results, either eat less or make sure you're writing down EVERYTHING you're eating AND are being as accurate as possible with your charting.
3. If you DON'T like to count calories and you ARE getting results...keep it up! Calorie counting is NOT necessary if you're aware of how many you're taking in AND you're getting results.
4. If you DON'T like to count calories and you're NOT getting results, it's time to take one week to count your calories and improve your caloric awareness. It's only a week and it'll give you a MUCH better idea of what you're actually taking in. This will pay off BIG in the long run because once you get a feel for your TRUE intake, you can very easily keep yourself honest and ADJUST on the fly.
The bottom line on calorie-counting is results.
If you're NOT losing fat, then you're not getting the results you want...simple as that. Your approach should be focused on doing what you need to do to get those results.
Developing your caloric awareness is the key to long-term success with fat loss. And if you have to count calories to do it, then that's what you've got to do.
If you're serious about counting calories, I definitely recommend having a look at the EatSmart Nutrition Scale. It allows you to weigh your food AND it allows you to input exactly what kind of food it is, so that you get custom results.
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