The Truth About Calorie Counting

How do YOU define a healthy lifestyle?

Many of my clients come to me addicted to calorie counting. There is a palpable fear in them about going over a certain number. There is constant worry that maybe they got the number wrong. Maybe they should be eating even less. The result of all of this calorie counting is their worst fear of all: metabolic slowdown.

Calorie counting does not work. In school I learned all about how to calculate a person's daily recommended calorie intake. I heard about how many calories were in a pound. The mantra 'calories in, calories out' was pounded into my head. Even then, though, I could see this did not work out in real life. People were not reaching their goals by doing this. Not to mention that it is such a tedious way to live; people eventually just burned out and gave up.

People are not machines. The downfall of counting calories is that it is dependent on our bodies being very predictable. The metabolism fluctuates, though. Have you ever noticed being more hungry one day for no apparent reason. Another day you may not be very hungry at all. Many times people are trying to decrease their calorie intake while increasing the calories burned. Unfortunately this is very difficult because hunger is more extreme with increase activity. This is a losing battle.

My goal with my clients is for them to get to eat as many calories as possible and maintain their set point weight. Two people at the same weight may be eating 1000 calories different to maintain. I'd rather be the person eating more.

When you are counting calories, you are restricting calories. When you restrict calories, you slow your metabolism. You also guarantee a certain intake regardless of what your body may need on different days.

Okay, put down your calorie counter and repeat after me:

1. I will eat every 2-3 hours during the day. This will help maximize your metabolism. It will naturally decrease your urges to binge and overeat.

2. I will combine carbohydrates with protein and/or fat at each meal and snack. This will allow you to feel satisfied each time you eat. It will help keep you feeling full longer. It will regulate your blood sugar so that you feel more stable and energetic through the day.

3. I will begin to listen to my hunger cues to tell me when to eat. You have the ability to naturally regulate your eating. You do not need some artificial measure of how much you should eat. It may take a week or two of doing the first two steps to really start feeling your hunger cues. Soon, though, your metabolism should be booming enough for you to feel hungry every 2-3 hours. Ultimately your body knows what it is doing--just like you don't have to control when you breathe or pee.

4. I will stop when I am full. Your body knows how much it needs, and it is the best judge of when you've had enough. It is important to eat slowly enough for your fullness cues to register. Try to make meals last 15-20 minutes minimum.

You are better than calorie counting. You do not need to be your own prisoner any longer. It is scary to trust your body because our culture tells you it is not trustworthy. This message is a lie. The accepted views on how to regulate eating are only leading you further from your definition of success.

Throw your calorie calculator in the trash. Turn the nutrition label away from you. Remember that your need for control over your food is making you feel more out of control. Relaxing into a normal relationship with food will make you feel so much more stable in your eating. I promise you won't miss willpower one bit.

Read more about avoiding calorie counting :

Intuitive Eating , Hunger & Fullness

Biggest Loser

Carb , Protein , Fat

Eating Right , Healthy Eating , Portion Control

Food Nutrition Myths , Good Food Bad Food

Health At Every Size , Body Image

Healthy Eating Habits & Healthy Eating Sample Plan

Healthy Fitness , Cardio Workouts , Yoga

Nutritionist & Nutrition Counseling

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Contact us with any questions about eating and behavioral health issues. You or someone you know may be in need of outpatient or residential eating disorder treatment.

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Jennifer Pereira MA, RD, LD, CSCS, LPC - WISE Therapist & Dietitian

Do you have a problem?

1. Do you worry that you have lost control over how much you eat?

2. Do you make yourself sick (or use laxatives/exercise) if you feel uncomfortably full?

3. Do you currently suffer with or suffered in the past with eating issues?

4. Do you ever eat in secret?

5. Does your weight affect how you feel about yourself?


If you answered yes to any of these questions, or if you are not satisfied with your current eating patterns, contact us for more information.