Counting Calories, Not Worth It

At GYMGUYZ Mid St. Louis County, clients consistently come to us with a goal of weight loss. It is said that diet can be 80% responsible for weight loss. The answer is simple yet complicated. Owner and Operator Katie Mackenzie says, “In order to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you take in; to achieve this, one must either eat fewer calories or increase exercise or more likely do a combination of the two.” This sounds like a very simple formula for success; track your daily calorie intake and subtract the calories you body burns each day. If that number is negative you should be losing weight. Like many things in life, it’s not that easy. There are many other factors to take into account for one to accurately calculate these two numbers.

Counting the number of calories our body burns each day is extremely hard to do with complete accuracy. Humans are designed to store fat for energy and the body calls upon that energy for when it needs it for survival. While our conscious minds know when our next meal is, our cells aren’t built to know this information. Our cells are designed, through thousands of years of evolution, to store energy for times when food is scarce. Because of this, when we diet or cut calories our body’s metabolism slows down and burns less calories to help the body survive longer without food. This makes knowing exactly how many calories the body uses in a day difficult to calculate as it is constantly changing.

Making things even more complicated, body composition has a large effect on how the body utilizes calories. Muscle requires more energy than fat; meaning higher percentage of muscle mass translates to more calories the body burns. Also the type of movement and exercise performed varies the number of calories the body utilizes. For example: 1 hour of resistance training (i.e. weight training) verses 1 hour running. Resistance training does not burn a significant amount of calories while being performed. But by nature it damages muscles, the body needs to work overtime to repair those muscles and utilizes more calories for up to 48 hours after the training is completed. Running on the other hand needs more calories in that initial hour. When the body stops the body does not continue burning additional calories. Again making it difficult to calculate the actual calories used by the body.

The other issue is that counting calories of the food consumed. In order to calculate the calories of you meals, one would need to measure and weigh every ingredient used in the meal preparations. The truth is most people don’t have the discipline to do this and those that do still miscalculate the number. Then there are meals that you don’t prepare yourself like at restaurants or at friends' and families' houses. While one could ballpark some guesstimates, there’s no way to know exactly how many calories are in most meals. To top it off, the calories printed on menus and on food labels can be off by as much as 30%! There are too many obstacles to accurately count all the calories you’re taking in on a given day.

I know what you’re thinking; yes, there are many apps and formulas and technology that can be used to help calculate the calorie requirements for individuals. The fact is, that these are based on averages and are not calculated for your unique body. Some of these counting methods take into account your daily activity level; however, each day is unique and you’re not going to burn exactly the same number each day. Also the formula needs to continue to evolve as the body composition changes. In reality, these are only providing a ballpark figure for an individual based on averages. Even those calories counters on the cardio equipment or that heart rate monitor you’re wearing are averages and can be significantly off from what you are actually burning. This is especially true if you haven’t tested for our heart rate zones; and if you have been, how regularly are you updating those numbers?

Instead of counting the calories you burn and consume each day, try keeping a detailed journal of your food each day. Make sure to include as many details as possible including the food, how it was prepared, quantity, time of day, etc. The next morning review the previous day and rank your day's overall food consumption from 1 to 5 with 5 being the best. Occasionally look back over your ratings and see if there’s a pattern. If you had a 1 yesterday, make adjustments to ensure that today is better and aim for a 5. Also, make better healthier choices for each macro (Carbohydrates, Fats, Proteins). For carbohydrates choose brown rice or quinoa over white rice and pastas. Fats use olive or vegetable oils over margarine and vegetable shortening. Proteins consume lean meats like chicken and turkey verses fatty meats like pork belly, rib-eyes and sausage. Keeping an honest journal and reviewing it regularly will keep you more focused on what you’re eating and if you’re making healthy food choices verses spending hours and getting overwhelmed in numbers that can't accurately be calculated.

While this is much easier and will not drive you insane with measuring and calculating everything you put into your body; the issue with this method is most people are not disciplined enough to do this on their own consistently. Most people also have trouble really knowing what food are bad or good and how to put an overall rank on their days. Having a personal trainer like GYMGUYZ helps with accountability. We will review and guide you with your diet, educate you on nutrition and help you achieve better healthier eating habits.