Why counting calories does not work

Content by: Guy Lawrence


I’ve recently been reading David Gillespie’s book – Big Fat Lies. It’s certainly a book I’m happy to recommend. It make’s some interesting points on counting calories, weight loss and the general public perception of it all (points that I happen to agree with I may add). This got me thinking as I have never counted a calorie in my life, and I have no problem with my weight or health.

So after walking through Sydney Central Station tunnel to meet my friend with David Gillespie’s book in hand, I was blown away by how many people had some form of diet soda in their hands. I’m quietly thinking to myself: are they drinking it because they think it’s healthy? Seeing my friend make the switch to diet sodas because they are ‘zero’ calorie (learn more about the switch here), got me thinking it’s very possible that they do.

It was good to see my friend had stopped the diet sodas after my last blog post. As he sat there drinking his herbal tea he started picking my brains about calorie consumption. The serendipity of me thinking about counting calories and my mate quizzing me was to coincidental.

After his ‘diet’ soda incident and aspartame he began to realise not all was as it seemed in the world of weight loss and calories.  Hence this blog post.

The myth of counting weight loss calories

The first thing I wanted to get straight in my friends mind was this. If you use the word ‘diet’, DO NOT think of it in terms of restriction. I know too many people who seem to be on some kind of ‘diet’ consistently, and their body shape never changes!

If you are on a ‘diet’, it will feel like somebody has gone and strapped a two foot chain around your ankle with a dirty 10kg cheeseburger on the end of it! The more you run the more it will follow you and weigh you down until you scoff the lot!

I then went on to explain to my friend:

a) You must think of the word ‘diet’ as in terms of I eat these foods in my daily ‘diet’ etc… Make sense?

b) Then think of your body as a car. Are you driving a high performance sports car that you throw around at high speed constantly, or are you commuting in a Citroen that barely gets above 40kmh and is parked in the garage for most of the day? The more demands you put on it, the more fuel it will require.

c) Are you putting in high quality fuel to get you through the day, or are you filling your tank with cheap and nasty stuff? Will your car be blowing smoke or purring smoothly? If your car is coughing and spluttering and struggling to get around, it’s only a matter of time before it’s going to need a service! Regardless of how much fuel we need, the better the fuel, the better it runs.

So lets get real here. Are you looking to be a competative bodybuilder or swimsuit model? Or are you like 99% of the population and just want to shake the love handles and stay lean and healthy?

It was the latter, so is calorie counting really necessary?

So why weight loss and calorie counting?

Think about this for a moment. In the US, 45% of women and 30% of men admit they’re trying to lose weight and are on some kind of ‘diet’ (in the hamburger & chain kinda sense). It is then estimated that 35% of men & women are on a’ diet’ to maintain their weight. That’s 4 in 5 people are on some kind of weight loss plan! (do you fall into this number?) That is one massive industry for diet!! So think about the marketing machine behind that one for a second!

I asked my friend if he was starting to see a bigger picture here. He was.

First of all, what’s a calorie?

We can certainly say a calorie is a household name! It is also food energy that is measured in, yep… calories.

Here’s the basic theory for weight loss calories

Put it simply, you will use a certain amount of energy (calories) to get you through your day. How much? That will depend on the car you drive and how hard you race it.

What the weight loss calorie industry is telling you is this. If you eat more energy than you burn, you will gain weight. If you eat less than you burn, you will lose weight. Technically, what they are saying is if you stay in calorie restriction you will eventually waste away and disappear. Have you seen this happen? Thought not.

Have you heard the of term empty calories?

An empty calories is simply a set amount of food measured in calories that has no nutritional value. For example, if we had a 100 calories of a chocolate bar and 100 calories worth of broccoli, which one do you think you are better off eating?

What the diet industry does is market products low in calories, so you automatically assoicate it with weight loss. What it doesn’t say is if those calories consist of sugar, preservatives, flavourings and chemicals etc. Believe me, if you are struggling with you weight and/or have little energy through your day, I can assure you these empty calories contain nothing that serves the body. They will actually do the exact opposite. They will be contributing to your weight and lack of energy in a big way!

Put yourself in the companies shoes for a moment:

1g of carbohydrate is 4 calories

1g of fat is 9 calories

Hence fat has more calories. This is no good to a company that touts weight loss calorie counting. So they come up with the great idea of removing the fat and replacing it with sugar/carbs and voila! You have now halved the calories and have a fat free low calorie meal. You may as well eat the packaging while you are at it, because it will probably be as nutritional!

As far as I’m concerned, there is no concern for health here. Just regurgitated marketing with maximum profit in mind. Whatever happened to win/win?

Wouldn’t you rather eat a calorie that is packed full of nutrients that your body would really appreciate?

So how many calories for weight loss?

I grabbed a pen and paper then asked my friend to imagine that we could see a calorie for a moment. Then I drew these two circles:-

180 Nutrition Calorie Diagram

Which kind of calories do you eat mainly?

As you can see, if you had a choice of a calorie to eat, which one would you choose? If you are on a calorie restricted diet, short term you may lose weight, but long term you will not be doing your body any favours. The likely hood is that the weight you’re losing is not fat but muscle. That is no use to anyone.

The problem we are faced with now in todays modern society is this: Most people are starving themselves in an overabundance of food.

We eat plenty of food daily, but if we are not getting the nutrients, this will actually starve the body over time and compromise health. Ever wondered why you are still hungry after you’ve eaten?

I then went on to draw these very simple graphs. I explained to my friend that many people eat food that I call fillers. They feed the appetite but not the body.

Graph 1/ Lots of volume but little nutrients

180 Nutrition Calorie Diagram 1

I then went on to explain that if you are to eat nutrient rich food daily, you will generally eat less food anyway, as the body has been fed correctly and is not craving the nutrients it lacks.

Graph 2/ Lots of nutrients but less volume

180 Nutrition Calorie Diagram 2

Don’t count calories, make it count what goes in your mouth!

I’ve meet so many people that struggle with their weight/health it’s not funny. As humans we generally wait until we are almost at breaking point and only then do we decide to do something about it. Then of course we want instant results which usually lead to frustration and failure.

Think long term lifestyle! I know it sounds a little cliche but it’s the way to overall happiness and success. Counting calories for weight loss/health does not work long term. This will just add to the frustration. So don’t ask yourself how many calories for weight loss. Simply ask yourself is the food you’re putting your mouth of quality.

Note: If you are on a low calorie weight loss shake of some type, check the ingredients. Do you recognise them? If not, seriously question the product. Better still pick up the phone or email a naturopath &/or nutritionist and ask their opinion. Check out the facts first and get a professional opinion. If anyone asks me about our 180 Superfood, I’ll always encourage this first.

The key is to simply start to eliminate processed foods, sugars etc and increase your natural fat intake with every meal (I’ll be blogging more on all this). Eat as close to the source as possible as often as you can. If you combine this with a sound exercise plan you are on to a winning strategy.

180 Nutrition’s success has been based on providing a healthy all natural alternative when short on time. Simply replacing a processed breakfast with 180 Superfood in the morning would make the world of difference.

Good health needn’t be a struggle, just simply doing the basics well. If you are on a weight loss plan, remember this when reaching out for the preservative/sugar packed low calorie meal: Don’t count calories, make it count what goes in your mouth!


Guy Lawrence

This article is brought to you by Guy Lawrence. Guy is a qualified fitness trainer with over 10 years of experience in the health industry. Guy worked at the UTS Fitness Centre in Sydney Australia where he specialised in exercise nutrition and obtained his Certificate in Exercise Nutrition and Certified... Read More

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19 Replies to “Why counting calories does not work”

Superb blog! Thank you for articulating so many of the things I’ve been thinking for so long 🙂
I’ve just shared with the fans of my Facebook page Getting Lean and Curvy.
Keep up the great work!

180nps says:

Thanks for dropping by & thanks for the FB share! Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

Pepita says:

Fantastic article, reinforces everything I’m learning about and the negative effects of sugar. We need this to get out to the masses. Thanks for your insight!

Marcus says:

interesting Article.

*Edit*1g of carbs contains 4 calories, 1g of fat contains 9.

180nps says:

Thanks Marcus! Think I’d been staring at the screen too long! 🙂

Aris says:

Ever since I was a kid I had been confused about the duality of sugar:: Do you burn it or does it become fat?

The answer is that it is both. Sucrose is glucose, you burn that, and fructose, which makes you fat.

Been fructose free for two months now.

Celina Sargent says:

Hi there

I have been eating as you have described for the last 3 months. I’ve lost 11 kilos and feel great. Im definitely eating more protein and that is working for me. I enjoyed reading this post

180nps says:

11kg! That’s fantastic Celina! Thanks for dropping by and sharing… Really great to hear it’s all going well for you!

Debra says:

I have been eating high fat low carb now since Jan 1st. I have had many lapses along the way but have come out the other end much stronger having won the battle with sugar addiction.
Love your posts and I can assure everyone that eating this way gets you so much more energy and eating only 3 times a day because you’re never hungry. Sometimes I have to make myself eat so it keeps my metabolism going.

180nps says:

Nice work Debra! Once the body kicks the habit of running on processed carbs and sugars, it’s amazing how much better one can feel, especially when increasing their natural fat intake.

Marie says:

A good succinct read. Thank you. The more I read this stuff the more it goes in and the more I can apply it day to day.

Angeline says:

A great read Guy, very easy to understand and spoken with true passion. We need to educate the masses that their is no quick fix, it’s a lifestyle choice that only has benefits 🙂

180nps says:

Thanks Angeline! I’m trying to do my bit one blog post at a time 🙂

Isn’t it amazing how many over weight people we see walking around sucking down an energy drink, a sports drink, diet soda, or milk shake. Calorie dense you said for sure. Great article.
Interesting one is the fresh juice both nutrient and energy dense, generally they have too much fructose (natural sugar) from fruits cause they tasted sweet and provide lots of juice.
Point to note juicing isn’t bad you just need to go for a green juice with things like kale, celery, ginger, cucumber, baby spinach, green apple, lemon and mint, parsley, or coriander. Nutrient dense, detoxing and calorie light. Awesome

180nps says:

Hey Michael… Good point about the juicing too. A couple of months back I actually wrote an article on my thought regarding weight loss and fruit here. And thanks for the feedback… Appreciate it!

Nice one. Too many people thinks it’s all about calories in = calories out. If only it were that simple! Your body isn’t a lab or a machine, and it doesn’t respond to every calorie in the same way, each calorie from a different food source will have a different hormonal and nervous system response from the body – insulin response, leptin response… etc, etc. So a calorie doesn’t really equal a calorie – I mean, they see this all the time in studies where people are eating the same amount of calories on vastly different diets and losing/gaining different amounts of weight on each diet (different macronutrient ratios, whole foods, etc). Even studies have shown that rats fed full cream milk and pure cream stay lean, whilst rats fed skim gain weight, even though obviously they are consuming less calories with the skim. But the nutrients are absorbed and utilized in a very different way and illicit a different hormonal response from the body.

180nps says:

Thanks for the reply Kate… And so true! I’ve experimented with myself and calories in many ways, and it’s always came back to what I ate, not how much!

Matt Shearer says:

Really, you guys should be encouring people to count calories, and macronutrients. Its the only real way to learn whats going into the engine. Calories is the liters, the macronitriens is the octain rating. What you can’t measure you can’t manage and allthough calories have differences, once you measure whats going into your own body and how your own body responds to the amount and type of calories you put into it you are much better off. Measuring calories for at least a period of time is highly educational and a decent part of the equation, if any person is eating the correct ratio of macronutriens for their requirements calories counting will work to lose gain or maintain weight. You guys should know better.

Guy Lawrence says:

Thanks for the feedback Matt,

I struggle with the concept of having to carry a calculator around at mealtimes as we know that all calories are not created equal.

We put the question to Professor Grant Scholfield from the Auckland University of Technology, have you seen this:

Cheers – Stu

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