Calorie counting has both advantages and disadvantages. Certain health experts highly recommend the practice, while others do not. Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of counting calories can help an individual benefit from calorie counting while not necessarily needing the practice on a regular, long-term basis.
In order to maintain weight over the long-term, the calories one consumes must be equal to the calories burned from necessary bodily functions and physical activity. People often underestimate the calories they consume. Detailed calorie counting allows one to monitor the number of calories consumed each day. Additionally, the process of calorie counting brings decisions about food choices and portion sizes to light. Knowing what and how much an individual consumes can aid him in making healthier decisions.
On the downside, calorie counting can be a time-consuming task that quite frankly takes the enjoyment out of eating and drinking. It can also leave one feeling constantly hungry, especially if caloric intake is severely restricted. Additionally, it can be inaccurate as most individuals underestimate portion sizes and disregard calories from certain food items, such as beverages and cooking oils. Lastly, calorie counting often causes an individual to lose focus on the bigger picture: the importance of eating a wide variety of nutritious whole-foods that optimize nutrient intake. For example, individuals who are calorie counting often choose processed, prepackaged foods simply because they are more clearly labeled with exact nutritional content. These individuals thus avoid highly nutritious fruits and vegetables, which are more difficult to analyze for exact nutritional content.
Optimizing the Practice of Calorie Counting
If you are considering weight loss, detailed calorie counting for an initial period can be a good starting point to specifically evaluate your 1) overall diet, 2) current caloric intake, and 3) current caloric needs. Use this initial process to evaluate your diet and identify what specific nutritional changes can be made to better meet your caloric goals. Consult a certified dietician for help, if necessary. (See EMG’s Healthy Weight Loss Guidelines).
Eventually, you can begin to incorporate healthier nutritional practices and calorie counting alternatives that eliminate the need to count calories on a regular, long-term basis. (See How to Eat Healthy) For example, replace sweets, desserts, soft drinks, and processed foods with less-energy dense, more nutrient rich foods like fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, and lean meats. These foods fill you up more so you eat smaller portions, and they keep you full longer. Eating these foods helps reduce caloric consumption without the need for detailed calorie counting.
Calorie Counting: How to Count Accurately
Calorie counting can be a good starting point from which to evaluate your 1) overall diet, 2) current caloric intake, and 3) current caloric needs. However, common mistakes can lead to counting inaccuracies. Learn the most common mistakes to better avoid them.
- Underestimation of Servings in a Portion – Many individuals underestimate the number of servings in a portion, especially large portions. This leads to an underestimation of total caloric consumption. It is important to be accurate and truthful about the actual number of servings being consumed. Additionally, avoid larger portions, as it is more difficult to accurately assess the number of calories in a large meal than in a small meal.
- Neglecting Calories from Beverages – A sizeable portion of American’s caloric intake comes from beverages (soft drinks, juices, energy drinks, coffee drinks, alcoholic drinks). However, these calories are often overlooked or grossly underestimated while calorie counting. For example, certain deluxe coffee drinks contain 400-500 calories per drink. It is important to account for all calories consumed in beverages. Additionally, one must continue to account for the actual serving size. For example, a 20 oz. soft drink is 2 ½ servings not 1 serving.
- Neglecting Calories from Cooking Fats/Oils – While the calories from foods in a prepared meal (i.e. meat, whole-grains, and vegetables) may be accounted for, the cooking fats/oils (i.e. butter/olive oil) used to prepare the meal are often not. It is important to account for all the calories consumed from cooking fats/oils as fats contain the greatest number of calories per gram.
Calorie Counter Apps
If you are considering weight loss, detailed calorie counting for an initial period can be a good starting point to specifically evaluate your 1) overall diet, 2) current caloric intake, and 3) current caloric needs. Use this initial process to evaluate your diet and identify what specific nutritional changes can be made to better meet your caloric goals. Consult a certified dietician for help, if necessary. Eventually, you can begin to incorporate more healthy weight loss practices and calorie counting alternatives that eliminate the need to count calories on a regular, long-term basis. (See EMG’s Healthy Weight Loss Guidelines). The following calorie counter apps will help you to keep track of caloric intake.
Calorie Counter Apps
Calorie Counter by MyNetDiary
Price: Free (Basic); $3.99 (Pro); Monthly Subscription – $8.99
Calorie Counter by MyNetDiary allows you to track your daily calories. It includes over 230,000 foods entered by MyNetDiary and 300,000 foods entered by its users. It allows you to check and compare foods while shopping and in restaurants. Additionally, Calorie Counter lets you track the amount of calories you can burn from your exercise and activities.
LiveStrong Daily Plate
LiveStrong MyDailyPlate allows you to track your daily calories and exercise. You simply set your healthy weight loss goals, and then track your calories with online food journal containing over 1 Million foods. It breaks down caloric intake by carbohydrates, fat, and protein for easy analysis. Additionally, LiveStrong MyDailyPlate lets you track the amount of calories you can burn from your exercise and activities.
Price: Free; Yearly Premium – $39.99
LoseIt allows you to track your daily calories to reach a healthy weight loss goal. First, you answer basic questions about your height, weight, age, and how much weight you are trying to lose. The app then recommends a target caloric intake for you to reach your goals. The calorie counter utilizes a database of common foods and exercises to track your daily caloric intake as well as your daily caloric expenditure.
MyFitnessPal Calorie Counter
The My Fitness Pal Calorie Counter includes a database of over 3 Million foods, which lets you track your daily caloric intake. It also provides an optimal caloric intake based on your specific healthy weight loss goals, and it breaks down your consumption into the major nutrients including calories, fat, protein, carbs, sugar, fiber, and cholesterol. MyFitnessPal Calorie Counter also incorporates exercises and activities.
EMG’s Nutrition Homepage: How To Eat Healthy