Why Calorie Counting Still Works Best for Weight Loss

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For some time, popular diet books and weight loss websites have asked us to count grams of fat or carbs. But what about calories? Does this trend mean that calories don't count anymore? Nope. No matter which way you cut it, calorie counting is still one of the best ways to lose weight.

Calorie Counting as the Foundation of Every Diet

Counting calories is often panned by trendy diet experts. But the fact is that creating a calorie deficit is the foundation of every diet. That's right — every diet. Every. Single. One. If a weight loss program works, it is because you've reduced calories enough to create a deficit.

Consider carb-cutting diets. The carbs you cut are usually refined carbs, like bread or white rice or baked goods. What makes refined carbs the enemy? Refined or processed grains are basically sugar. They provide calories without good nutrition. So you end up getting hungry again quickly after eating. That means that you end up consuming more calories. If you exchange those bad carbs (or refined carbs) for good carbs (like nutritious whole grains or vegetables) you're likely to eat less because your body is getting the nutrition you need. You consume fewer calories and you'll lose weight.

Of course, you could simply estimate the calorie difference between this good carb/bad carb exchange. But smart dieters will look at the real numbers to find out how many calories they save with the swap. And guess what? That's counting calories.

The bottom line is that if you eat more calories than you need, you'll gain weight. Any successful weight loss method comes down to taking in fewer calories and burning extra calories with exercise. The rest is just a new spin on an old concept.

Put Counting Calorie Claims in Perspective

We've all met someone who claims they can eat anything they want without weight gain. There are a few rare people out there for whom that is true. But very few of us can eat anything in any amount and not gain weight. It just can't be done.

For example, a McDonald's double cheeseburger contains 440 calories. To burn off the calories in just that one sandwich, the average 150-pound person would have to do moderate-intensity aerobics for an hour or more. That's doable, right? But add a shake and order of fries and you might as well cancel any plans you had for the half-a-day you'll need to spend at the gym to undo that one meal.

Consider Your Caloric Goals

The average recommended caloric intake for losing weight depends on your size and gender. Some women can follow a 1,200 calorie per day diet to slim down. An average weight loss calorie goal is about 1,500-1,700 calories each day, but it does vary according to your weight and activity level. This easy-to-use weight loss calorie goal calculator can help you assess your caloric needs.

Once you do this, you can begin identifying ways to cut back on the calories. But be careful; many people may assume the more weight they need to lose, the more calories they should cut. It's actually the other way around: The more you weigh now, the more calories you can, and should, eat. As you lose weight, you should cut more calories.

For example, a 210-pound person cannot subsist on 1,500 calories a day. But if that person continues to lose weight, she can eventually cut down to that level.

A Word From Verywell

While you may find a number of very low-calorie diets around, it's important to remember that cutting your calories too low may actually lead to weight plateaus.

There is a "starvation mode" phenomenon that happens where your body actually withholds the calories you take in for later use; basically, it saves them up because it "thinks" you're starving. You could end up eating much less and weighing the same, and you could do serious damage to your health. Plus, if you're hungry all the time, you're less likely to stick to it and more likely to binge.

If you consider following a diet that includes less than 1,200 calories a day, talk to your doctor or to a qualified registered dietitian to make sure you preserve your health while you slim down.

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