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Weight Loss: Why Calories Matter

The truth about counting calories and weight loss

Do calories really matter or do you simply need to eat certain foods in order to lose weight?

Should you take the time to count calories or can you just count portions?

Do you need to keep a food diary?

Must you count calories for the rest of your life, and is that the price you'll have to pay for a better body?

You're about to learn the answers to these important questions and discover a simple solution for keeping track of your food intake without having to crunch numbers every day or become a fanatic about your food.

In many popular diet books, a frequently repeated theme is "Calories don't count". Other popular weight loss and fitness programs including Bill Phillip's "Body For Life" allude to the importance of energy intake versus energy output, but recommend that you count "portions" rather than calories.

In "Body For Life", Phillips wrote:

    "There aren't many people who can keep track of their calorie intake
    for an extended period of time. As an alternative, I recommend counting
    'portions.' A portion of food is roughly equal to the size of your clenched
    fist or the palm of your hand. Each portion of protein or carbohydrate
    typically contains between 100 and 150 calories. For example, one
    chicken breast is approximately one portion of protein, and one medium-
    sized baked potato is approximately one portion of carbohydrates.
Phillips is correct when he says that trying to count every single calorie can literally drive you crazy, and it is probably unrealistic as a lifestyle for the long term. It's one thing to count portions instead of calories - that is at least acknowledging the importance of portion control. But it's another thing altogether to deny that calories matter at all.

So yes, in a nutshell, calories certainly do count! Any diet program that tells you, "calories don't count" or you can "eat all you want and still lose weight" is a diet that will do you little good.

The truth is, that line is a fabrication designed to make a certain diet sound like it will be easier to follow. Anything that sounds like work, such as counting calories, eating less or exercising tends to scare away potential customers! But the law of calorie balance is an unbreakable law of physics: Energy in versus energy out dictates whether you will gain, lose or maintain your weight. Period.

I believe it's extremely important to understand and respect portion control and the law of calorie balance, but I also believe it's an essential part of proper nutrition education to learn how many calories are in certain foods you will eat on a regular basis. - This includes how many calories are in the foods you enjoy when you eat out at restaurants.

Here is the law of calorie balance:
    To maintain your weight, you must consume the same number of
    calories you burn. To gain weight, you must consume more calories
    than you burn. To lose weight, you must consume fewer calories
    than you burn.

If you only count portions or if you haven't the slightest clue how many calories you're eating, it's a lot more likely that you'll eat more than you realize. (Or you might take in fewer calories than you should, which triggers your body's "preservation mode" and causes your metabolism to slow down).

So how do you balance practicality and realistic expectations with a nutrition program that gets results? Here's a solution that's a happy medium between strict calorie counting and just guessing:

Create a menu using an EXCEL spreadsheet or your favorite nutrition software. Crunch all the numbers including calories, protein, carbs and fats. Once you have your daily menu, print it, stick it on your refrigerator (and/or in your daily planner) and you now have an eating "goal" for the day, including a caloric target.

That is my definition of "counting calories": creating a menu plan you can use as a daily guide, not necessarily writing down every morsel of food you eat for the rest of your life.

If you're especially ambitious, keeping a nutrition journal for at least 4-12 weeks is a great idea and an incredible learning experience, but all you really need to get started on the road to a better body is one good menu on paper. If you get bored eating the same thing every day, you can create multiple menus, or just exchange foods using your one menu as a template.

Using this method, you really only need to count calories once when you create your menus. After you've got a knack for calories from this initial discipline of menu planning, then you can estimate portions in the future and get a pretty good (and more educated) ballpark figure.

So what's the bottom line? Is it really necessary to count every calorie to lose weight? No. But it IS necessary to eat fewer calories then you burn.

Whether you count calories and eat less than you burn, or you don't count calories and eat less than you burn, the end result is the same - you lose weight. Which would you rather do: Take a wild guess, or increase your chance for success with some simple menu planning? I think the right choice is obvious.

About the Author:

Tom Venuto is a Certified Personal Trainer, natural bodybuilder and the author of the #1 best selling diet ebook, "Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle.

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