The Effectiveness of Calorie Counting: Fact or Fiction?

May 13th, 2022 by

The Effectiveness of Calorie Counting: Fact or Fiction?

Of course, when we are talking about weight loss, it all comes down to burning more calories than we are consuming daily fundamentally. As a result, some advocate counting your calories each day to ensure you are consuming the appropriate amount. But is this really the best way? Is it healthy? Is there a better alternative?

Therefore, in this blog post, we’ll be exploring:

Estimating your weight loss calories

Cons of counting your calories

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Estimating your weight loss calories

Weight loss calories are not the same for everyone. You may be aware that generally, men have to intake more calories than women. Still, other variables come into the equation for weight loss calories, such as age, weight, and activity level. For instance, a 20-year-old male would need a different number of calories than a 70-year-old woman for weight loss.

As a result, it’s necessary to do the math in order to find your personal weight loss calories. This can be done by first figuring out the calories required to stay at your current weight. Then by subtracting an appropriate number from that for weight loss- make sure that it is a number low enough to see significant progress over time while being high enough to avoid daily fatigue, cravings and, most notably, health deterioration.

Finding your weight maintenance calories requires two steps- calculating how many calories are burned by your metabolism (BMR [basal metabolic rate]) as well as how many calories you burn through physical activity approximately every day.

If you would like to watch a video that shows you how you may do so here:

To find your BMR, you will need the Mifflin-st Jeor equation:

  • Men:

10 X weight(kg) + 6.25 X height (cm) – 5 X age (y) – 5

  • Women:

10 X weight(kg) + 6.25 X height (cm) – 5 X age (y) – 161

Once you have figured this out, then you will take your BMR and multiply it by how active, on average, you are weekly:

Sedentary = 1.2

Lightly active = 1.375

Moderately active =1.55

Very active = 1.725

Extra active = 1.9

As an example, if you were highly active both at work and in your free time, you would multiply your BMR by 1.9 and then have your maintenance calories.

When it comes to weight loss, it is advised to consume between 500 and 700 calories below your maintenance calories for safe and effective weight reduction.

So how much weight loss would that equate to weekly, I hear you asking?

Well, this is a tricky question to answer as, again, everyone is different, and the more overweight someone is, the more they will lose weight in the initial stages. But once weight loss stabilizes, it is generally said you can expect to lose around 1 lb of weight weekly from a 500 calorie deficit.

Cons of counting your calories

One disadvantage of calorie counting is that it can be deceptive when it comes to the overall quality of your diet. Having a set number of calories you need to take in daily can’t tell you the sorts of food you should consume for health and make the overall process of cutting your calories easier by intaking more foods that enhance feelings of fullness and fewer foods that promote hunger.

Another one, which in my opinion, is a concerning point that is overlooked when it comes to this weight loss strategy, is that you could obtain an unhealthy relationship with food. What can happen is that you may start to feel like it’s all or nothing, meaning that you’re either tracking your calories and losing weight or, alternatively, not tracking and consequently not losing weight. It’s easy to see how someone would get burnt out by this and remember any weight loss goal should be sustainable over the long-term as this is most often the time period you need to reach your ideal body weight, let alone keep it.

So then, what other option do we have? 

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Well, to be clear, we are not saying that counting calories is entirely wrong, as again, it can help us have a better idea of what to eat, or not eat for that matter. We are merely suggesting that going overboard with calorie counting can be an issue. Instead, why not just take note of the calories of the foods you regularly consume for a better understanding of what is helpful for your goal?

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In sum, any effective strategy for weight loss is only one that can be kept for the long term. Calorie counting is not only time consuming but also can be deceptive in terms of the best foods for us for health and weight loss and increasing the likelihood of an unhealthy mental relationship with food. That said, when you are first starting out on your diet, it can be a great tool to use casually as an educational opportunity.


Colm Diver has a MSc in Weight Management from the University of Chester. With a passion for nutrition and previous experience working in Ireland, the UK and Canada, Colm uses his knowledge and skills to help people achieve their ideal weight via counselling, personalised diet plans, health promotion and exercise and nutrition education. You can visit him at