To count calories or not is the looming question for people trying to lose weight. There’s no right or wrong answer. It’s more of a personal preference.
What calorie counting can do (it’s been helpful to me) is make you realize how much you do (or don’t) eat.
Most women require between 1,800 and 2,000 calories a day to maintain body weight and most men require at least 2,200 calories per day.
But all calories are not equal.
Let’s say you want to keep each meal at 500 calories or less. You could eat a 3-ounce baked chicken breast; sautéed or steamed vegetables, which include broccoli, squash, mushrooms and onions; and a baked sweet potato. That’s about 465 calories. Sprinkle on a little shredded cheddar cheese to round it up to 500 calories.
That’s a lot of food filled with good nutrition.
On the other hand, for about 500 calories, you also could eat two and a half Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts or a hamburger and small order of French fries from McDonalds.
If you’re logging calories, you may think it’s OK to eat a couple of doughnuts or grab a kids’ meal from McDonalds because they don’t fall outside of the 500-calorie per meal criteria.
But 500 calories of processed fast food or Krispy Kreme glazed donuts come loaded with fat, sugar and sodium. You’ll still feel hungry afterwards. It’s easy to binge because your body is craving nutrition and you just want to satisfy that craving.
Last year, scientists challenged the idea of “a calorie is a calorie” in a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
Researchers found that the “low-glycemic index diet had similar metabolic benefits to the very low-carb diet without negative effects of stress and inflammation as seen by participants consuming the very low-carb diet.”
For example, steel cut oats (instead of instant oatmeal) and stone-ground breads (instead of processed ones) digest slowly and keep the blood sugar level steady.
Although over a long period, it can become tedious to track every bite of food, it’s a great way to monitor what and how much you eat.
It’s especially important when you find yourself eating out. My Fitness Pal, a smartphone app and website that allows you to monitor your calories daily, is perfect for this. It also tracks carbohydrates, fat, sugar sodium and other things you may need to monitor if you’re on a special diet for medical reasons.
If you are counting calories for weight loss, you have to make the most of the fewer calories you take in.
Focus not only on quantity, but also quality.
It’s not to say you should eat 2,000 calories worth of broccoli, but, that if you go over your targeted caloric goal by a little, it shouldn’t matter as long as they came from good fats, good carbohydrates and good protein.
The idea is to not eliminate or drastically reduce any major nutrient group. And don’t avoid calories like the plague. You need them for energy. Just make sure they are a good source of energy and they’re not too many of them.