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January 2022

Why Counting Calories Doesn’t Work

You may have heard that 3,500 calories equal one pound of body fat. Drop or burn just 500 calories a day and you should lose a pound a week, right? Well, theoretically—but it may not be as simple as the arithmetic suggests. Although paying attention to what you eat can help shed extra pounds, counting calories may not. In fact, this outdated strategy may be sabotaging your long-term weight loss success.

All calories are not the same

Many people wrongly believe that a calorie is a calorie no matter its source. However, our bodies don’t process all calories the same. For example, calories from refined carbohydrates (think pastries, packaged breakfast cereals, and white bread) are much more likely than protein to be stored as fat. In short: 300 calories of almonds will likely have a very different effect than 300 calories of cake.

Your body is unique

Ever wonder why your friend can eat whatever she wants without gaining weight? Every person burns calories differently. Your resting metabolic rate—how many calories your body requires with no activity—can dramatically impact how many calories you burn throughout the day. And individual hormone levels can impact hunger and fat storage.

What you can do

For successful weight loss, rethink your approach. Instead of counting how many calories you’re eating, take a closer look at your food choices:

 

  • Focus on a diet rich in protein, including eggs, fish, lean meats, poultry, and beans. Protein burns more energy than carbohydrates or fat and it helps keep you full.

  • Incorporate lots of veggies. Vegetables offer fiber and water. They contain disease-fighting nutrients, are low in calories, and fill you up\.

  • Avoid refined carbohydrates. They can greatly increase insulin levels and lead to weight gain.

  • Eat healthy fats. Avocados and nuts are examples of low-glycemic foods that can help you lose more weight and feel fuller longer.

 

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, BSN, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2019
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