Calorie counting has been around for decades, but do you really need to meticulously track? Find out why your health and weight has little to do with it.


For years, health professionals have tried to boil nutrition down to calories in and calories out, particularly when it comes to discussing weight. It seems appealing to make it that black and white, but is it an accurate theory?

In reality, it’s a gross oversimplification of nutrition, physiology, metabolism, and weight. There are far more variables in that equation than it’s accounting for. Here’s the truth behind calories and how they play a role in your health.

Accurate tracking is a fallacy.

The calories in vs. calories out theory operates on the assumption that there’s a precise way to count calories and that if you’re meticulous enough, you can manipulate your weight as you please. As it turns out, calorie counts are only estimates

Essentially, you may be hanging your hat on a very inaccurate system and trying to accurately track calories based on your food intake and activity will likely only drive you up the wall.

Nutrient needs will ebb and flow from day-to-day.

You may have heard that if you eat 100 fewer calories every day, you’ll lose 10 pounds by the end of the year. Or perhaps the opposite — eating 100 extra calories a day will cause you to gain 10 pounds by the end of the year. 

However, our bodies have a lot more wiggle room than that. Eating a bit more one day or a bit less another day actually only causes your metabolism to become more or less efficient. Contrary to popular belief, your body is constantly working hard to maintain your most optimal weight. Your body’s nutrient needs will ebb and flow from day-to-day and will depend on your level of activity, need for healing or repair, illness, growth, medications, and other life factors.

You can’t ignore genetics.

Even if we all ate the same and moved the same, we will still look vastly different. You inherited a genetic set point from your parents or a weight range at which your body functions most optimally. In particular, your body has a certain percentage of body fat that it wants to hold onto, which will be different for everyone. When your fat stores reach a point where your body feels its survival is threatened, it will adapt to maintain its genetically ideal weight range.

Unfortunately, the cultural narrative that we can look however we want if we just try hard enough in keeping a close watch on calories and our food intake is dangerous and irresponsible. It can lead people to fight against their natural, healthy weight for a weight that is not ideal for them.

Don’t forget about your hormones.

The production of hunger and fullness hormones (also known as leptin and ghrelin) adjust when someone loses weight through calorie restriction, which innately encourages increased food intake. The brain also becomes obsessed with food to avoid starvation, all of which can increase your genetically predetermined set point weight range. This is because your body’s primary goal is survival, not meeting an arbitrary BMI classification.

So what can you do instead of calorie counting?

Try to connect and listen to your body’s intuitive signals, and learn to respect your fullness cues. The ability to eat in response to body cues is innate; we were all born to be intuitive eaters. Lack of that skill isn’t a sign of a deficit or character flaw, it only points to a lack of practice.

Trust that your body knows how much energy it needs, and believe in its ability to communicate that to you. 

Remember, your job isn’t to count, it’s to listen.

Adapted from the original post.

Emily Fonnesbeck, RD, CD, CLT is a Utah-based private practice Registered Dietitian. Instead of creating unnecessary restrictions, Emily focuses on helping individuals become confident and in charge of their own well-being through Intuitive Eating and Mindful Living. She is a strong believer and advocate for helping people become capable individuals who are confident in taking care of themselves.  Make a visit and read more from Emily.

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