Fad diets come and go. Paleo. Atkins. Vegetarian. Vegan. South Beach. The list really never ends and every year, another handful of new ones hit the market. And that’s just what many of them are: marketing tools intended to sell something.
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This article is about none of those – it’s about good old fashioned calorie counting.
While a lot of my close friends know much about my weight loss journey, I haven’t written much about how I achieved and maintained a healthy weight. So how did I do it? A lot of folks assume I lost weight because I took up running, but the real key was that I counted calories.
I remember the first time I visited my doctor and I was 30 pounds lighter than I was at my previous visit just 4 months earlier – that’s a loss of 13.6 kg for those of you not in the US. Now I’m a short guy, 5’5″ (1.65m) so that much weight is quite a bit on someone who’s not very tall.
My doctor looked at my weight chart and said, “you’ve lost 30 pounds in 4 months… please tell me that was on purpose because otherwise, you’re sick.” I explained to him how I started counting calories and set myself at a 500 calorie deficit per day in order to lose about 1 pound per week.
That was when he told me that every study he’d ever looked at showed that calorie counting was the most effective way to lose weight and maintain that loss long-term.
Calorie Counting – The Right Way
I view calorie counting the same way I view personal finance; if you never check your bank account balance and continue to spend money, eventually you’re going to overdraft it.
Similarly, if you never check our calorie needs and continue to eat whatever you want, eventually you’re going to over do it.
Now that doesn’t mean you have to go buy a scale and start weighing your food. While that can help, just going with what’s on the food labels and keeping a good visual track is a great way to get started.
In addition, the healthiest way to generate a calorie deficit is not by eating less, but by exercising more. You should be aiming to exercise enough to create the calorie deficit rather than starving yourself.
Calorie counting has many benefits over other types of fad diets. These are just a handful of the ones I refer to regularly in my weight loss conversations.
1. You Can Eat Whatever You Want
Unlike other fad diets which all revolve around permanently removing something from your diet, calorie counting does nothing of the sort. You want ice cream tonight? Sure! You want pizza for dinner? Sure! All you have to do is make sure you account for the calories those meals contain and adjust your other meals and exercise regimen accordingly.
As a lover of all foods unhealthy, I can tell you this: it’s a lot easier to not eat ice cream tonight, knowing that tomorrow after I do my long run, I’ll have enough calories in the bank to eat it without feeling guilty.
And that’s the big problem with diets that make you remove specific foods from your diet forever. Say you can never eat pizza again and you’ll probably end up eating more pizza than you ever have – not right away, but a few months down the road when you’re really wanting it.
Calorie counting requires none of that nonsense. It’ll allow you to eat pizza and also encourage you to eat a smaller portion of it once you realize that 2 slices is 1/3 of your calories for the entire day!
2. You Can Have a Bad Day and Not Feel Like You Should Give Up
This is huge. Let’s say today I totally blew my calories out of the water because my wife and I went out to dinner and splurged. It’s okay, because tomorrow I’m going to start back at 0 calories and it’s a new day.
You’re allowed to have bad days when you’re calorie counting… you just have to have more good days than bad ones and you’ll lose weight. You can even count your calories over a longer period, say a week and then you can allow yourself to make up for it another day.
3. Calorie Counting Encourages More Exercise
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into the living room and said to my wife, “we need to go for a walk, I went over my calories today”. If I wasn’t calorie counting, I’d have gone over my calories anyway but also had no idea that I needed to go for a walk to burn some of it off.
It’s almost like working extra hours at your job because you know Christmas is coming (back to my personal finance analogy). If you don’t pay attention to what you’re spending, you won’t focus on making enough money. The same concept applies to weight loss.
If you know you’re going over in your calories, it helps to motivate you more to go out and do that extra workout or that walk around the neighborhood and over time, those small differences can add up to great success in your weight loss journey.
4. You Get to Eat More After You Meet Your Weight Loss Goal
I don’t believe there’s really another weight loss program that actually allows you to just eat more once you reach your weight loss goal… forever. How does that work you say?
Well consider this: during my weight loss journey, I had an average daily calorie deficit of 500 calories. This deficit is enough to cause a weight loss of 1 pound per week. But once I reached my goal weight, I no longer had to eat at a deficit; I just had to eat to maintain. That means I actually got to add 500 calories back into my diet!
Wondering how the math works on that? Well let’s do it real quick… when I was 165 pounds, I needed to eat 2180 calories per day to maintain that weight. My goal was 1600 calories per day which allowed me to lose 1 pound per week. Each time I lost weight, my calorie needs were recalculated so by thee time I reached 135 pounds, my calorie allowance each day was 1500 (instead of 1600). When I reached that weight, my goal weight, I was no longer trying to lose weight and could eat the amount of calories to maintain it – which was 2000 calories.
5. It’s Compatible with Lots of Other Weight Loss Plans
Because every type of food has calories of some sort, you can use the calorie counting method of weight control regardless of your other dietary guidelines.
Even other restrictive types of diets such as intermittent fasting, can be worked alongside calorie counting. In fact, a diet that includes fasting is really just helping you hit that calorie deficit by zeroing your intake for a long period of the day which increases the likelihood that you’ll meet your calorie counting goals.
Final Thoughts on Calorie Counting
Calorie counting has regularly been proven to be one of the most effective weight loss strategies. It requires very little sacrifice, but plenty of discipline to actually remember to account for everything you consume.
If you stick with it, it will become part of your normal dietary habit and you’ll have great success achieving your goal weight and maintaining it long into the future.
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