Why it's time to breakup with the calorie counter

Calorie counters are sexy in principle.

The idea of being able to see the numbers of what goes into food can be incredibly appealing. For someone looking to lose weight, many rely on counting calories. Because weight loss starts with a caloric deficit, it can be helpful for some to track their daily consumption to see if they're creating the desired deficit.

For someone looking to change body composition--gain muscle  lean out--a tracker is appealing in that will enable the counting of macronutrients, protein, carbs and fats. This is when they follow calculated percentages of the macros, and eat within these parameters. Often, these plans look at nutrient density of a food, and not just its calorie count. 


As helpful as these tools seem to be, they can do more harm than good. I've tracked both--calories and macronutrients--in two very different contexts. When I tracked calories, it was because I wanted to lose weight. When I wanted to "lean out," I followed a specific macronutrient plan. Now, I don't do it and wean my clients off of their trackers. 

But why? If these tools are so helpful, what's the problem? Food is no fun when you're constantly obsessed over the numbers. 

It's not reliable 
There is a margin of error on any nutrition label. The numbers represented in that sleek box are not always an accurate measure of the exact nutrition within a food. So, for one, there's that.

Secondly, when following a generic tracker,  these plans often are not tailored to your own individual needs. Some people naturally need more fuel--it's because we're all different. Every body needs something a little different and these blanketed plans don't work for all. So, when a calorie tracker spits out its suggestions as to what calories, proteins, carbs and fats you need, know that they were not created with your unique needs. Activity levels, heredity, hormones (or lack thereof), stress levels, and more all contribute to a person's unique dietary needs. 

When dieters started believer that we need 1,200 calories to lose weight, that number was created without  thought to a person's individual needs. (It is now known that we need far more calories than that.)

Pumpkin Pancakes 1

It removes the fun from food
When you're constantly uploaded numbers, recipes and every little thing into a calorie counter, food just becomes less fun. Being spontaneous and going out for ice cream isn't as fun when you're tied down to a little phone app that tells you the fat and calories will put you over your total for the day. 

Say goodbye to eating out at a restaurant. Most restaurants don't have nutritional information for your app, let alone nutrimental information for their menus. Because of this lack of information, it leaves the user in a feeling of limbo. They're more likely to eat "what they should eat" instead of eating something they truly want because they're too concerned with the numbers. 

Food becomes more about the numbers and less about the enjoyment and memories made. 

It's not intuitive
Continually tracking the numbers is not intuitive. When a person is continually tracking, they begin to lose track of their hunger and fullness cues, and their body's natural cravings. When their body is craving a veggie burger with sweet potato fries, but they don't have room for a small bowl of yogurt and carrot sticks, they suppress that craving and eat "within the plan." (And this subsequently removes the fun from food.)

And sometimes, when someone may not hit their desired numbers, they eat when they're not hungry to avoid a deficit. 

Unfortunately, you can't forget the calorie count of an egg, the amount of fat in a tablespoon of peanut butter or how many calories are burnt after running one mile. When we continually focus on the numbers, it creates a disordered way of thinking.

Easy Cheez Sauce

It takes time
In order for the counter to work, you need to input all of those foods. Think of everything you eat and drink within a day--that's a lot--and then image having to upload that information into some kind of app. That takes time! (Time better spent practicing self care or making memories with friends and loved ones.)

You have to type in what you're eating, find it within the app and repeat. Sometimes, you have to upload the entire recipe. Other times, you have to upload the specific brand that you use if you can't find what you're looking for. 

That's both time consuming and maddening!

While some people have found "success" uploading their foods at the beginning of the day, this then creates a plan of what should be eaten throughout the day. Although it's not set in stone, it leaves very little wiggle room. (And you guys know I hate the word should.)

It's stressful and not sustainable
It takes time, patience and effort to continually upload foods. Overtime, that constant uploading of foods into the counter becomes far too much. It can easily lead to burnout. 

And when you go over your desired numbers for the day, there's lingering stress, guilt and anxiety. Going over desired numbers elicits a feeling of "being bad." Getting burnt out or frustrated is common with these practices. 

Because of the time commitment, the emotional investment and how it changes a life, tracking nutrition information is not a sustainable practice. It's simply not something that someone can maintain for the rest of their lives. 

(There are some situations where counting macros or calories may be necessary. Talk to a dietitian, health coach or doctor if you have questions or are concerned.)

Ready to break up with your calorie counter? Let's chat!