Is Calorie Counting Essential?

Want to improve your body composition? Hannah discusses the role of calorie counting

Is calorie counting essential for body composition change?

Put simply, no it's not.
But being mindful of calories and being aware of the composition of certain foods can certainly help the process.

Whats the difference between calorie counting and being mindful of calories?

Counting calories often requires the use of some kind of technology to track and record the calorie content of every food that is eaten. This may involve using an App such as MyFitnessPal or NutraCheck and more often than not the individual using it will be working towards a calorie target each day (or an average across a week).

For some people this is great, it allows a level of accountability as you have to log your food intake each day and become more mindful of choices. It can highlight occasions throughout the day where calories may be frequently over consumed and can also flag up any times when actually someone may be under consuming.
It can also give weight loss results relatively quickly and give a sense of ownership and pro-activity over the process.

Some people however may find that this kind of monitoring creates a restrictive mindset and can create a more negative relationship with food. When looking at just calories alone it is also easy to forget the health benefits of all the other nutrients in foods and some nutritional dense foods may be avoided as they are naturally higher in calories.
It may also become tempting to rely on pre-packed foods as they are easier to log or low calories, highly processed foods may start to be seen as the healthiest choices, which is rarely the case.

If counting isn’t for you then here are 4 tips to be more mindful of your calorie intake without getting too bogged down by the numbers

1. Try to assess why you are eating. Is it hunger or is it boredom, stress or procrastination promoting your food intake. Eating frequently for reasons other than hunger can increase overall calorie consumption and therefore encourage weight loss/make it harder to lose

2.  Be aware that each of the macronutrient groups have a calorie content associated with them.

Carbs = 4kcal per 1gram
= 4kcal per 1gram
= 9kcal per 1gram
(not a macronutrient but worth noting) = 7kcal per 1 gram

From this we can assume that meals that are based around carbs and proteins are going to be lower in calories than those which contain high amounts of fat. This means building meals from a variety of veg, starchy carbs such as rice or wholegrain pasta and protein is a good place to start.

This doesn’t mean however that fats should be avoided, things like olive oil, avocado, and nuts/seeds are really important in a healthy diet but should be consumed in moderation.

Alcohol as well can quickly add up and contribute heavily to your total daily calorie intake.

3. Focus on health first. Low calorie doesn’t mean healthier just as higher calorie doesn’t mean unhealthy. For example you will get much more nutritional value from a handful of almonds compared to a 10 calorie jelly pot. If you aim to build most meals from a variety of fruit and veg, lean proteins and high fibre carbs then its unlikely you’ll over eat. You’ll feel much better too

4. Be aware of energy density Vs Nutritional Value. Not all calories are created equal and its worth being aware of high calorie, low nutrient foods such as chocolate, sweets, fizzy drinks and deep fried foods. These are high energy, low nutritional value. The flip side of this are foods such as vegetables, fruit, beans, pulses, legumes and high fibre carbs. These are low naturally low in calories but high in nutrients and will contribute to a much better state of health.

Take home message: Being aware of calories can help achieve body composition goals but it’s not always necessary to count every mouthful. If you are interested in this topic or want to know what you should be consuming then I would highly recommend discussing this with a professional…and I’d be more than happy to help!


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