Mainstream health and fitness culture has, for decades, deemed calorie counting as a fat loss strategy to be out of vogue. Indeed, most popular fad diets that have come and gone over the years have enthusiastically promised that you don’t have to count calories, that you don’t have to eat less, or maybe that you don’t even have to think about calories at all because “calories don’t actually matter.”
This long running bias against “calorie conscientiousness” is very unfortunate, for two main reasons:
- The science shows, quite clearly, that overall calories do primarily matter for fat loss.
- Inherent bias against and preemptive rejection of any viable fat loss strategy ultimately limits your potential options, which is needlessly counterproductive.
The main – and fairly commonsensical – goal is simply to figure out the optimal strategy for achieving and maintain your ideal health and fitness. You do this by giving fair consideration to all possible strategies, objectively comparing their relative pros and cons, such as they perhaps situationally apply to your lifestyle. If you preemptively reject any possibly strategy because of an inherent emotional bias against it, all you’re doing is potentially rejecting what may be in fact the best strategy for you.
There are indeed several highly underrated benefits of calorie counting as a fat loss strategy, so underrated because of said strong bias against calorie counting in the mainstream health and fitness discussion.
This post will serve to expound these underrated benefits, so that you can objectively decide whether or not calorie counting may in fact be optimal for you. And I do believe that many people have realized and will continue to realize that it is indeed optimal.
Clickable Table of Contents by Section
- 1. Calorie Counting Is The Only Fat Loss Strategy That’s Virtually Guaranteed To Work
- 2. Calorie Counting Completely Removes Decision Fatigue
- 3. Calorie Counting, Even If Only Done Once Temporarily, Is An Invaluable Life Long Learning Experience
- 4. It’s Great To Have Calorie Counting As Fall-Back Strategy, Just In Case
- 5. Calorie Counting Can Decisively Illuminate Nutritional Shortfalls
- 6. Calorie Counting Doesn’t Impose Unnecessary Food Restrictions
- 7. Calorie Counting Is Almost Certainly Required To Take Leanness To The “Next Level.”
- Concluding Points
1. Calorie Counting Is The Only Fat Loss Strategy That’s Virtually Guaranteed To Work
Said again, the science has made it decidedly clear that calorie restriction is what ultimately causes fat loss, and, equally important, that little else matters much beyond that. It stands to reason, thusly, that if you deliberately count up the calories you eat and target them to be a percentage less than your calculated calorie requirement, fat loss basically *has to* occur.
Though there are certainly other viable fat loss strategies, none of them can come close to making that same claim. Furthermore, any of them only work insofar as they, indirectly at least, also ultimately facilitate calorie restriction over time.
This is the primary and most obvious benefit of counting calories and macros – in exchange for a little bit of work, you get a fat loss strategy that’s basically foolproof.
2. Calorie Counting Completely Removes Decision Fatigue
Decision fatigue is the mental exhaustion that results from expending mental effort on making daily decisions. It’s an underlooked yet insidiously massive health and fitness saboteur.
Consider the average dieter, who abides to vague guidelines such as “eating cleaner, healthier, and more natural foods.” This person has to constantly question what they can or can’t eat, day in and day out.
This incessant questioning, second guessing and, self-doubt, something which is so common amongst dieters, is utterly exhausting. And in the short term, too much decision fatigue will cause mental burnout that renders impulse irresistible.
This perpetually impending burnout is all the more exasperated by stress, social conflict, and other such normal types of adversity that we all regularly have to deal with.
A major advantage of calorie counting is that it can completely remove decision fatigue. All diet related decisions become a quick and clear yes or no — it’s either “within budget” or it’s not, end of story.
Eliminating dietary decision fatigue is, quite frankly, an immense relief. You simply follow the system, and your diet essentially goes on autopilot.
3. Calorie Counting, Even If Only Done Once Temporarily, Is An Invaluable Life Long Learning Experience
A major problem, currently, is that a lot of people simply have zero idea of just how many calories they’re actually consuming. Though it has become increasingly common knowledge that junk food can be dangerous because it’s calorie dense, non-satiating, and easy to overeat, it’s also the case that many popular “health” foods are insidiously calorie dense too, and can thus be highly detrimental to the goal of fat loss, specifically
That organic fair trade trail mix that comes in endearingly rustic packaging seems healthy… until you actually count it up and realize that, mindless handful after handful, you’ve just munched down thousands of calories.
One of the most interesting thing you learn when you actually count things up is that certain foods, though they very well may be perfectly healthy and nutritious, are just not all that conducive to fat loss because they’re not satiating on a per calorie basis. Think avocados, peanut butter, fruit juice, etc…
On the other hand, certain other healthy foods are excellent choices for fat loss because they’re high in volume, low in calories, and are very satiating on a per calorie basis. A heaping plate of beans and potatoes, for example, might merely amount to a few hundred calories.
Even if you only count calories just once, say for a month or two, you will learn a great deal about what’s actually going on with the food you eat. What’s more is that this experience will make “intuitive” eating much, much easier to do effectively.
4. It’s Great To Have Calorie Counting As Fall-Back Strategy, Just In Case
I would actually argue that maintaining fat loss results for the long term can in fact be more stressful than achieving them in the first place. Loosening things up to “maintenance mode” can indeed be insidiously scary – what happens if the weight creeps back on and all that hard work ends up being for nothing?
To reiterate point #1, effective calorie counting is the only fat loss strategy that’s virtually guaranteed to work. That said, if you utilize it successfully, even just once in your life, you will find great solace in the fact that you’ll always have that strategy in your back pocket, ready to go at a moments notice if you need it.
Instead of chronically worrying about creeping weight gain, you’ll know that you can quickly nip any backslide in the bud with a quick, say, one month cut. To take it further, you might even allow yourself to enjoy extended bouts of gluttony – a vacation perhaps – because you know you have the ability to easily reverse it later on.
5. Calorie Counting Can Decisively Illuminate Nutritional Shortfalls
Nutrient deficiencies are pretty rare in the first world these days, but they can happen. Food diary apps like Cronometer, which are a fundamental tool for calorie counting, also provide a comprehensive nutritional breakdown of the food you eat:
You just might realize you’re missing something important or even critical in your diet.
6. Calorie Counting Doesn’t Impose Unnecessary Food Restrictions
If a diet is more rigid and complicated, people have a harder time sticking to it. Research shows this, and it’s just plain common sense.
Here’s the insidious problem with so many of these fad diets: Though they enthusiastically promise relief via not having to “obsess over calories,” they ironically induce more stress by imposing excessive food restrictions that cause friction with normal life.
Have you ever been on a branded fad diet and felt stressed out about an upcoming holiday dinner party? What do you do, you think to yourself, if the food isn’t, say, Atkins or Paleo approved?
Simple calorie counting, in contrast, doesn’t impose any unnecessary food restrictions that make going to a restaurant or a family dinner a stress inducing pain. Instead, you just have to make sure that whatever you do decide to eat is curtailed to reasonable moderation.
(And no, by the way, you don’t have to be totally accurate with your calorie counting all the time, just reasonably close enough)
Furthermore, even with a really good ad libitum plan, you have no choice but to be careful about eating high calorie foods with low satiety. Indeed, our favorite foods are usually the easiest to accidentally overeat, and thus need to be limited or even excluded in some cases when eating ad libitum. On the other hand, with calorie counting, you have an additional check-safe in place to ensure you don’t overeat, thus you can likely indulge in your vices more and get away with it. In reasonable moderation of course.
7. Calorie Counting Is Almost Certainly Required To Take Leanness To The “Next Level.”
Most people are fine with achieving a medically acceptable bodyweight, but for those who really want to get “shredded,” there will most likely come a point where calorie counting will be required to close the final fat loss gap.
- This is not a “pro” calorie counting article – this is (as all my articles are) a pro “consider all viable strategies” article so you can objectively pick the best strategy for you.
- Calorie counting has many underrated upsides, the most notable of which is that, in exchange for a little bit of extra work, it basically guarantees fat loss.
- Even if you only temporarily count calories once, ever, it will make “intuitive” eating by feel much easier to do effectively.
- Preemptive bias for or against any given possible strategy is ultimately counterproductive because it needlessly limits your options.
- The one and only sensible goal is always the same: what is the best strategy to achieve the goal/ideal at hand? Nothing more, nothing less.
Is this to say that calorie counting is necessarily the best strategy or that everyone should do it? No, absolutely not – there are of course downsides that always go along with upsides, and calorie counting is no exception. That’s covered in the next post, here.
Further Reading: If you’re convinced to give calorie counting a try, see my full guide on how to do it as easily as possible here.