Why Counting Calories Doesn’t Work
It’s a popularized method for managing weight, but counting calories doesn’t make sense for a lot of people. In fact, unless you’re an elite level athlete or figure competitor, counting calories may be counter-productive to your goal. This is due to the following reasons:
- Calorie recommendations are based on your theoretical metabolism
- Calorie counting isn’t a sustainable practice
- Energy needs can fluctuate on a daily basis
In this article, we’ll show you exactly why that is, and why you might achieve greater success once you put down the calculator and fancy calorie app.
Calculating Your Metabolism
There are a host of different ways to calculate your resting metabolism. Your resting metabolism is simply how many calories your body burns at rest. Various methods include the simplest ways such as using your current weight and activity level, or more complex variations such as smart watches, or even costly metabolic machines.
The issue is that in large part these devices have a user error that ranges upwards of 40%. This becomes an issue when trying to lose or maintain weight. How can we possibly identify where we want to go if we don’t know where we are starting? But don’t worry, there is much simpler approach to understanding your metabolism. We call it the 20/80 principle.
The 20/80 principle is as simple as it gets, but it doesn’t mean that it’s easy. What you’ll do is take 20 minutes to eat each meal, and during that 20 minutes you’ll eat until your 80% full. For some of you, this can feel like a daunting task. What we’re going to advocate that you do is start slowly and add time to your meals over time. In addition, just getting started with paying more attention to how your body feels while you eat your meals. Understanding what 80% full is can be tough, so try to imagine what 100% full or 120% full feels like and working backward can be helpful.
The reason for the 20/80 Principle is it takes our bodies roughly 20 minutes to communicate to our brains when we’ve had enough food. In addition, because our stomachs can expand, it can be difficult to lock down when we’ve had enough food, unless we’re paying close attention. If it’s been 20 minutes, you’ve eaten until 80% full, and you’re still hungry, then eat! Just be sure to take your time and pay attention to how you feel.
Better Way to Count Calories
Counting calories can be extremely stressful, time consuming, and not as accurate as we may think. In fact, counting calories can lead us to be off by as much as 20%, due to errors in package labeling and miscalculations on our end. Again, if trying to lose or maintain weight, that 20% can mean the difference between success and failure.
It’s for these reasons that we regard calorie counting unsustainable for 90% of people. But don’t worry. we have a much easier way to measure your food that anyone can stick to. Overtime, you’ll get much better at simply eye-balling what your portion sizes look like.
Protein Portions: Palm of Your Hand
1 Palm for Women, 2 for Men at each meal
Carbohydrate Portions: Cup of Your Hand
1-2 for Women, 2-3 for Men at Each Meal
Vegetable Portions: Your First
1 Fist for Women, 2 Fists for Men
Fat Portions: Your Thumb
1 Thumb for Women, 2 Thumbs for Men
These guidelines are fairly generic, but will get you going in the right direction. Just remember you don’t have to finish everything on your plate. Always revert back to the 20/80 Principle. For a more in depth look at a typical portion size based on your body type, check out this document.
Your Needs Can Change
Probably the best reason you shouldn’t focus on counting calories is because your caloric needs differ on a day to day basis. They can also change quite dramatically over time as your weight fluctuates, so being stuck on one number can put us in a compromised position.
Instead, pay attention to your body. If you’re hungry, eat, if you’re not, don’t. If you struggle with self awareness, which many of you might, here are some cues to look for:
Signs of Hunger
- Angry or short tempered
- growling stomach
- feeling faint or light headed
Sings of Over-Full
Signs of Satiety
- Mobile and functional
In addition, use a hunger scale from 1-10, 1 being not hungry at all, 10 being very hungry. Our goal is to stay in the 3-5 range for the majority of the day, avoiding the extremes. The extremes are what cause us to overeat, over-indulge, and not feel our best.