I’ve never really been a fan of counting calories for a number of reasons. First, it’s kind of tedious and it’s honestly hard to tell how much milk you just poured into your bowl of cereal and how much of that milk was absorbed into the cereal and how much you just poured down the drain, so your results are often inaccurate. Second, and most importantly, it oversimplifies the concepts behind eating well. For example, even if you’re only eating 1200 calories a day (which is less than I’d recommend) of nothing but sugar, you’re not doing your health or your waistline any favors.
What is a calorie?
There are a number of ways to define a calorie, but when we’re talking about diet and exercise, think of calories as energy. Your body needs a certain number of calories (energy) to keep your organs and bodily functions operating correctly. The number of calories you actually need varies greatly depending on age, size, muscle mass, activity level and other hereditary factors. When you eat, you are consuming calories, which provides your body with energy; and when you exercise, you are burning calories because your body is using its available energy.
There are 3 basic sources from which our body gets energy: fat, carbohydrates, and protein.
For each 1 gram of fat you eat, you are consuming 9 calories.
For each 1 gram of carbohydrates you eat, you are consuming 4 calories.
For each 1 gram of protein you eat, you are consuming 4 calories.
The Problem with Only Counting Calories
Counting calories may be a decent place to start, but the weight loss formula is far more complex than calories alone. To stay healthy, feeling full, and energized, your body needs a combination of fat, carbs and protein. If you’re only counting calories, you may not be getting a good balance of these macronutrients and your body will essentially be starving. When your body doesn’t have the nutrients it needs, it will respond by letting your brain know that you’re hungry, making it more difficult to stick to your diet even if you’re eating a safe number of calories.
Unfortunately, there is no simple way to explain what you should and should not eat, and you’ll need to do more research than just reading this section to effectively control your diet. However, there are a few simple principles to follow that I’ll touch on briefly.
First, fat is not bad for you. Limit saturated fat when possible and always avoid anything that has trans-fat, but monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat are very good for you and can actually help your weight loss routine gain momentum. These healthy fats are readily found in nuts and fish.
Second, you do need to eat a lot of carbohydrates (somewhere in the ballpark of 300 grams) daily to stay energized. When you eat carbs, opt for whole grain options like whole wheat bread or crackers. Also, fruits and vegetables are considered complex carbohydrates, meaning they are digested slowly to provide you with sustained energy. These are always good options.
Third, high quality protein is absolutely essential for weight loss. Unlike carbs or fats, your body can’t store protein for later, so you need to eat it every single day. Aim for at least 75 grams of protein daily, more if you’re exercising frequently.