Calorie Counting: Frequently Asked Questions
Calorie counting is one of the oldest weight loss methods around. It predates most of the fad diets that are so trendy today – such as Paleo and intermittent fasting – and remains a very popular method of dieting. I have always counted calories over the years to lose large amounts of weight, and still keep an eye on my calories to maintain it. Whenever I talk about counting calories in my videos, people have questions – here are some of the most common ones.
1. “How many calories should I eat to lose weight?”
1200 calories a day is generally considered safe and effective for weight loss, for an average height woman over 50 who is sedentary to moderately active. If you are very tall, or extremely active, you may be able to lose weight on more calories. For further information on calculating your calories for weight loss I suggest you watch this video: HOW MANY CALORIES SHOULD I EAT TO LOSE WEIGHT
2. “Does calorie counting work for everybody?”
Calorie counting is not an exact science. Everyone has a unique metabolism, diet history and lifestyle, and these factors will affect how you respond to different diets, including calorie restriction. Some people have metabolic imbalances which respond better to carbohydrate restriction, but the majority of people can lose weight on a calorie-controlled regime. It may take a little trial and error before you find the best calorie level for you, but 1200 calories is a good place to start.
3. “I lost weight eating 1200 calories for a few weeks, now my weight is stuck. Should I eat less calories?”
Eating less than 1200 calories is not usually recommended, except under medical supervision, because most people need at least that number to maintain basic bodily functions and stay healthy.
4. “How can I get my weight moving again, if I’m not supposed to drop my calories?”
Our bodies are very efficient, and over time may slow down metabolic processes in order to survive on less calories, making it harder to lose weight. If you are stuck on a plateau, try calculating your calories over a week, rather than daily, and mix it up so some days you eat less and others you eat more. For example, if you are aiming for 1200 calories a day this equates to 8400 calories spread over a week. You could eat 900 calories for two days, 1500 on another two, and 1200 for the remaining three days. Varying your calories this way keeps your body guessing and doesn’t give it a chance to adapt. Similarly, you can get in an exercise rut, where your body becomes too efficient at performing your workouts and burns fewer calories, so introducing variety into your exercise routine can also be helpful.
5. “Why do you like counting calories so much?”
Counting calories is not the only way to lose weight, but it is certainly one of the most effective. It is also one of the most flexible diets around, as there are no forbidden foods or whole groups of food that you have to avoid. What you eat is entirely up to you, although obviously it is advisable to choose mostly nutritious foods, and cut down on empty calories like sugar. Apart from the flexibility and freedom to eat from all food groups (hello, carbs!) the thing I really love about calorie counting is that I can have a little treat (usually chocolate or ice cream) every night and still lose weight. This keeps me happy and stops cravings from building up, helping to prevent binges.
6. “Do you drink alcohol?”
I make it a rule to never drink my calories – so that means no fruit juice, soft drinks, smoothies or alcohol. I find that liquid calories go down too quickly and don’t satisfy me like whole foods do. This doesn’t mean that you have to avoid alcohol to lose weight. If a glass of wine is something you really enjoy you can have it, as long as you factor in the calories (a small glass is about 100 calories.)
7. “I ate 1200 calories for weeks and didn’t lose weight. Why not?”
There have been numerous studies on the effectiveness of calorie counting, and in the majority of cases when people fail to lose weight it’s because they are underestimating their calories, sometimes by as much as a whopping 100%. This can be for two primary reasons. It may be that they have “calorie amnesia”, meaning they forget to count everything they’ve eaten – tasting food while cooking, eating the kids’ leftovers, sneaky nibbles here and there, etc. The other even more common reason is that they’re not measuring their portions correctly. If you’re estimating serving sizes, it’s very easy to take in hundreds of extra calories without realizing it, especially with calorie-dense foods like nuts, grains and breakfast cereal. The solution is to weigh or measure all your foods at first, until you can eyeball proper portions easily.
8. “How do I increase my calories and maintain my weight after I hit my goal?”
Once you reach your goal weight you will need to eat more calories, in order to stop losing and maintain your weight. Finding your maintenance calorie level is going to involve a bit more trial and error. A good technique is to use a method called reverse dieting. This is where you increase your daily calories by small increments of 50-100 for a week at a time, and weigh yourself at the end of each week to see what effect this has had on your weight. You may find you lose a little more weight at first, even as you’re slowly increasing your calories. Eventually your weight will start to creep up, and you’ll need to drop your daily calories again, by 50-100 each week. When you neither lose nor gain weight after a week you have found your maintenance calorie level.