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Counting Calories: Is It Necessary?

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  Published on February 24th, 2021
  Reading time: 5 minutes
  Last modified April 15th, 2021

With all the talk about calories, you might be wondering if you need to count your calories on a ketogenic diet. Calories are units of energy. Many people lose weight on keto without counting calories, while others find it useful and find it prevents overeating on their weight loss journey.

Even if you’re trying to lose weight, you don’t necessarily need to track your calories. Let’s dive into calorie counting and the pros and cons.


Pros of Counting Calories

If you reach a weight loss plateau, you might experiment with calorie-counting. Some people report calorie counting helps them stay on track, stay aware of how much they’re eating, increases accountability, and other positives.

The popular concept of ‘calories in vs. calories out’ revolves around the idea that calorie-counting is a key part of the weight loss picture. The ‘calories in vs. calories out’ model is based on the idea that to be more metabolically healthy and maintain a stable body weight, the number of calories you consume needs to match the number you expend in energy.

Calories in refers to the calories you get from your food and calories out are the number of calories you burn as energy. With this model, you should achieve weight loss if there’s a calorie deficit and you consume less calories than you’re burning for energy. On the other hand, if you’re consuming more calories than you’re burning for energy, you might gain weight, according to this model.

Nutritional requirements and caloric needs vary because each individual’s metabolism, body, and lifestyle are unique. The standard daily intake is typically 2,000 calories based on the estimated nutritional needs of most adults according to the 2015-2020 dietary guidelines.

Depending on activity level, adult women require an estimated 1,600-2,400 calories daily compared with 2,000-3,000 calories for adult men. Some people might require more calories, such as pregnant women and adolescents. 2,000 calories per day would exceed the calorie needs of some people and might result in weight gain.

Certain apps and websites, such as My Fitness Pal or Lose It, can help you track your calorie intake and calculate the right number of calories for weight loss. The app calculators add up the number of calories needed for daily activity based on a formula called the Mifflin St. Jeor equation and your personalized lifestyle information, such as your height, weight, age, and gender.


Keep in mind, it’s not safe or practical to reduce your calories too low, and it could backfire and hinder your goals as your body goes into starvation mode.


You should also try to be realistic about your weight loss goals and your ideal body weight. Your ideal weight might not match up with your healthy weight. Working with a keto doctor or weight loss professional can help you achieve your weight loss goals safely and improve your general health.




Cons of Counting Calories

counting calories vs nutrientsSome people find counting calories is just an extra hassle and just another thing to think about on the weight loss journey. Countless people lose weight just by swapping unhealthy, carb-loaded foods with keto-friendly options.

Consuming foods with fiber and protein can help you feel more satiated when you’re cutting your calories. It’s also helpful to remember that each macronutrient gives you a specific number of calories, with fat providing more than twice as many calories as carbs.

Weight loss definitely isn’t as simple as calories in vs. calories out, and different foods have a different metabolic effect on your body. The same number of calories in a sugary granola bar and a head of broccoli doesn’t have the same metabolic impact on your body.

Part of the problem with this model of ‘calories in vs. calories out’ is that it doesn’t consider the type and quality of food you eat both in terms of weight loss and long-term health. Some foods, such as fructose, also tend to increase levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin more than other foods. The insulin hormone also further complicates the efficacy of the model.

How sensitive your body is to insulin and your insulin levels might influence whether you burn or store calories. Gary Taubes dives deep into these issues in his revolutionary and extensively researched book Good Calories Bad Calories.

Put simply, weight loss also involves insulin and hormones, the impact on your metabolism and the thermic effect of food, your gut bacteria (microbiome), and several other factors.

The thermic effect of food (diet-induced thermogenesis) refers to the increase in metabolic rate that occurs after eating. Your metabolic rate is the rate at which your body burns calories. When you eat food, your body uses some of this energy to digest, absorb, and store the available nutrients.

Some foods require more work to digest, absorb, or metabolize when compared to other foods. This is called the thermic effect of food. The higher the thermic effect of a certain food, the more energy required for metabolism. Protein has the highest thermic effect of food.

The quality of your food is also crucial, and a growing number of health and nutrition professionals now point to the quality of food rather than the number of calories when it comes to weight loss and human health.

When you’re following a well-formulated ketogenic diet, you should feel more satiated and be less likely to overeat and consume too many calories. Low-carb diets frequently outperform low-calorie and low-fat diets for weight loss, even when low-carb eating isn’t calorie-restricted.

You can also try other methods to help you lose weight, such as exercising, reducing your stress, getting plenty of sleep, and drinking more water.



Concluding Thoughts

Calories are a part of weight regulation, but they’re definitely not the whole picture, and they need to be considered within the context of human behavior, hormones, and more.

Many health and weight loss experts believe it’s more important to focus on eating natural, unprocessed foods that promote the release of hunger-suppressing hormones and keep you feeling satisfied and fuller for longer. Don’t overdo the high-calorie, high-reward foods that are easy to overindulge in, such as nuts and cheese.

Go for quality over quantity, and rather than obsessing over counting calories, make sure all your calories count by eating nutrient-dense, filling, and well-balanced low-carb meals.

Ultimately, it’s up to you if you want to count calories. You don’t necessarily need to count your calories if you’re trying to lose weight, but many people consider it a useful tool.


Do You Count Calories on Keto?

Share your top calorie-counting tips with other keto dieters. Do you use the calorie-counting apps to help you keep track? Comment below and share your best calorie tracking tips with the community!


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