Counting Calories: Is it Worth It?

Hi there, Mamas! A question I often get is about counting calories. Mainly, people want to know if it’s worth their time since it can be such a big commitment.

My answer: I highly encourage logging calories… at least at first. Eating for weight loss is kind of like starting a new financial budget. It’s easy to tell yourself just to “spend less.” However, if you didn’t know what you were spending in the first place, how could you spend less? How would you know? You need a record of where your money is (or in this case, calories are) going. In my experience, the devil is in the details and it’s the little things that make the scale stay put.

Related: A Simple Breakfast Trick to Slash Calories and Boost Nutrition

Let’s See What Science Says:

Logging calories alone, however, might not give you your desired results. Yes, there have been experiments like the Twinkie Diet, where individuals have seen great weight loss and health benefits by eating only junk food. This implies that simply eating fewer calories can have a phenomenal impact on health status. However, it can be awfully hard to go that road alone.

In November of 2014, Obesity published a study that considered 365 young adults (ages 18-35). A third of them were told to use a weight loss app. Another third were told to use the app, plus received personal health coaching, and the final third were only given handouts on lifestyle changes.

At the six-month mark, the personal coaching group had lost 7 pounds, compared to only 2.5 pounds for the control [handout] group and less than 2 pounds for those only using the app.

I’ll come clean and tell you that there were no significant differences between any of the groups at the end of the 2 year study, so I looked into the study background a bit more. In this study, coaches met with participants weekly for six weeks, and then followed up with monthly phone meetings.

It seems like the more participants had frequent and consistent follow-up with coaches, the better their results. Also, because this was a research study, it required all coaching interventions to be the same, instead of tailored to each individual’s needs (as a non-research RDN would).

Related: Healthy Eating is as Easy as 1-2-3

Weight Loss Apps are a Great Tool

Apps like My Fitness Pal, LoseIt, and Spark People can all be great assets when eating for weight loss. However, simply using them doesn’t necessarily guarantee results. Just like an accountant can take a look at your budget and spending to let you know where you might be able to make some changes, an RDN can look at your food log and help determine where to trim the fat, so to speak.

The apps can give us an even clearer picture of long term trends, which can be harder to do with a written journal. They’re also great in helping to choose (or avoid) certain foods based on their micronutrients, like sodium or iron.  Getting enough fiber? Most people don’t – the apps can tell us how much individuals are getting, so they can tell us which types of foods to encourage, and which don’t need pressing.

Also, when people log calories, they become more aware of what they are eating. It can even cut down on errant snacking all on its own: I’d like some candy from the secretary’s bowl, but do I really want to add it to my log?

All in all, I think that counting calories is a great asset to someone at any point on a weight loss (or maintenance) journey. Seem too intense? Try the MyPlate method. Making half your plate vegetables (and fruits… but mostly vegetables) is sure to lead to weight loss and stop hunger in its tracks.


Tell me, Mamas: Do you count calories? Which apps do you like best?


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