To Count or Not to Count

That is the question…when it comes to counting calories.


I admit, I’m pretty oblivious to how much I eat.  I don’t count a thing.  I don’t even keep a ‘rough tally’ in my head.  I’ve tried counting before (usually when I would try to lose those pesky 10lbs that are non-existent), and it drives me crazy!

Since I was 20, I’ve weighed in the same 5lb “range”. I eat differently each day, so somehow my body is able to maintain in that range without me having to work hard in terms of calorie counting.

For your entertainment,  I’ll try to run down what I ate today and try to give my best guesses for calories in each meal…

Warning! — I’ve had no vegetables today.  Bad health blogger, bad!!


Large bowl of cereal (a mix of organic flax cereal, Kashi berry cereal, and organic peanut butter puffs…odd combo, I know. I’m a big fan of mixing). I would guess this was about 400 calories worth of cereal.

I also had roughly a cup of mixed berries and 1% milk.  Oh and I had coffee with low fat half and half..see, I’m already missing things!

Calorie Guess: 700


Everything flavor bagel thin with natural chunky peanut butter plus some rosemary triscuits and a laughing cow cheese.  I also had a bite of pumpkin pie (we had an office party), 2 Andes Candies, and a chocolate chip cookie. Phew! I was full.

Calorie Guess: 650


Homemade black bean dip with more triscuits, the rest of the pumpkin pie (small piece) and another small cookie….the holidays are here! 😉

Calorie Guess: 400


And I’ve yet to have dinner, but I’m planning on finishing up some leftover cheese pizza if I am  hungry later on tonight.  Two medium slices.  I should add some veggies to it…

Calorie Guess: 600

These are complete guesses and I really have no clue if I am close, but the grand total for today comes to 2350 calories. 

Just writing this made my head hurt.  However, from seeing my diet today it’s clear I need to go grocery shopping so I have no excuse not to eat my vegetables!  I need more whole foods in my life.

Our bodies do not require an exact number of calories each day

My point of writing my diet of the day out is that it’s hard to count calories. Even if you are diligently trying, it’s hard to be exact.   Can it work? Sure, it can if you are weighing and measuring every morsel of food you put in your body.


But remember that our bodies do not have a set number of calories we need daily.  It changes.  We could be extremely active one day, or lazy the next.  Or perhaps you decide to train for a marathon.

Your calorie needs change all of the time.  It may not be by a huge amount, but they do vary.  There are days I only eat 2 meals.  And days like today where I’ve had several.   But my weight stays in that same range.

I think counting calories can be useful if one is trying to figure out an estimate of what they are eating to lose weight.  It’s good to write out and see what you are eating (like I did today) and make changes.  However, when you are at a healthy weight and just becoming obsessive with eating a certain amount, then I feel it can become detrimental.

Here are some alternatives to counting calories from WebMD.  I think these are good tips for anyone, not just someone looking to lose weight.

Instead of counting calories, eat smaller portions.

It may seem like a basic concept, but it’s easy to forget that bigger portions have more calories. And when it comes to portion size, you can forget about the food pyramid. Most of us gauge a serving as “the amount we’re used to eating,” a recent study found. That would be restaurant food — where meals are served on platters, not plates. And the more we look at (and eat) huge portions of food, the more we see them as normalto the point of serving ourselves the same amounts at home.

Unfortunately, studies show that when we’re served more, we tend to eat it. When researchers from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign served subjects bigger helpings, people ate up to 45% more food. One caveat: there’s no reason to eat fewer vegetables; they’re much less calorie dense than other foods (they contain fewer calories per gram). A cup of raw broccoli, for example, contains only 31 calories, while the same amount of chocolate ice cream boasts close to 285. (**Cardio Pizza side note: OK, who compares broccoli to ice cream?! c’mon! 😉 )

Instead of counting calories, choose foods that use more calories.

Some foods require more energy than others to digest and metabolize, says John Berardi, PhD, CSCS, president of Precision Nutrition, and author of The Metabolism Advantage. We call this the thermic effect of food, Aldana says. The difference is very small, he cautions, just a few calorie’s difference, for example, to eat a slice of bread made from whole grains vs. one made from refined flour. (Refined flour digests easily, leaving you with the full 4 calories per gram, while whole grains use up part of their 4 calories per gram during the digestion process, he says.).

For example, if a woman were to start eating only foods that take a lot of work to digest (high-fiber, protein foods) she might save about 12 to 15 calories per day, the same amount she could expend by walking for about four minutes. But for some people — especially those stuck in sedentary jobs or crunched for time — it just may be worth it. Besides, foods that take more work to digest, like those high in fiber, tend to be those that are better for you. And choosing the best nourishment for your body is a much healthier food focus than counting calories.

Instead of counting calories, make sure you consume the right kind.

Nearly one-quarter of Americans’ calorie intake comes from sweets, desserts, soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages, research from the University of California, Berkeley notes. Another 5% comes from salty snacks and fruit-flavored drinks. Nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, contribute only 10% to the average American’s calorie budget. “When it comes strictly to weight loss, a calorie is a calorie, Klein says. However, when it comes to your health, it’s best not to blow your calorie budget on foods that lack nutrients. Nutrient-dense choices like fruit, vegetables, and whole grains can help prevent heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, while those lacking in nutrients, like candy, soft drinks and white bread can contribute to a whole host of health problems.

The bottom line? You don’t need to count calories, but you should make all your calories count.

I love the above quote! I need to listen to it and go home and make my calories count by adding veggies to that pizza 😉


Do you count calories daily? Why or why not?

9 responses to “To Count or Not to Count

  1. I used to count calories obsessively, but then I stopped. Only recently have I started counting calories again. The main reason is that a recent consultation with a dietician made me see that for my activity level, I wasn’t eating enough. So I want to make sure that I eat enough calories on the days that I am very active. And sometimes I have a tendency to eat too many. I am trying to lose weight, so I need to strike a good balance. It can get tedious though.

  2. I count cals (or at least a rough estimate)…just because I’m trying to lose those 10 lbs! And i recently realized i wasnt eating enough, so im trying to up them, too 🙂

  3. I used to count calories year ago and keep a food journal, but now I just don’t care to track down all my food. I eat mostly lean protein (high in protein which keeps me fuller longer) and whole foods (low in calories, high in fiber to keep my filled as well) so I don’t feel the need to track calories. I try to maintain around 1500 calories a day and that may vary depending on how intense my workouts are on any given day.

  4. Great post! I’m actually going to be writing something similar when i start sharing all my plans for how I’m going to get back in shape post baby.

  5. I keep a guesstimate at each meal of what I’m taking in. On the weekends, I’m more “free” but I still try to get in my veggies. It’s all about moderation and nothing is “off” limits.

  6. I’m not a calorie counter, but I do track macros which seems easier to me. I like knowing what’s going in!

  7. This is really interesting! I used to count calories religously – I was trying to figure out what a portion was, how much I needed, etc. I’ve stopped counting, but all of my recipes are in sparkpeople so I know that 3 450-calorie meals and 3 100-200 calorie snacks is where I need to be. I know on heavy workout days I need an extra snack or even a turkey sandwich! I’m enjoying not having to count EVERYTHING, and i’m finding that i’m maintaining just fine! By the way, I love that quote, too!

  8. I don’t count cals or macros or measure anything. I’d drive myself insane if I did! I just make sure I eat balanced amounts of what I need! 🙂

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