Weekly Fitness Tips

from Jerry Pitman

Does Counting Calories Work?

The word “calorie” has apparently gained a negative undertone in many folks’ ears today. They think that calories mean being held down by the shackles of the system of religious tracking and meticulous calculations.

Once a gal came to me for help and immediately began to tell me that she’ll never, ever “count calories” again. She told me that she wanted to be able to lose weight but didn’t want to have to track calories. She asked if she could still lose weight but through some other way. Well, sure, there are ways. But, there are no easy ways, or “easy outs,” either. Let me just make this point for you and hopefully you’ll give it some deep thought.

A “Calorie” is just a unit of measurement. It is a simple unit by which we’ve chosen to measure how much energy we’ve consumed or is in a given amount of food. Indeed, if we continually take in more energy than we have a habit of burning from day to day, we’ll gain weight. Over time, this adds up far too much. This is how our weight “sneaks up on us” with age. Did you know that as little as 25 to 30 lbs overweight can mean all the difference between being “normal” weight and actually being full-on obese?

A gal weighing in at 180 at 5 ‘ 5 ” tall is not just overweight, but is actually right in the obese range. Where just 25 bls less at 155 lbs and she’s at much closer to an ideal weight and probably even normal weight if she’s over age 30 (not that normal = healthy, mind you, just that it’s the “norm”). At 149 lbs, she’s now beginning to be at much closer to picturesque weight for great health. Keeping in mind, this is provided she’s not particularly muscular which is, in actuality, quite rare! Most think they “probably have built a lot of muscle” but that’s almost never true even when they’ve been lifting weights regularly. Learn to crucify your excuses early on, so you’ll succeed later.

We can easily add a few lbs each month to our tally. Unnoticeable at first, but over a period of a few short years this can mean 30, 40 and 50+ lbs heavier! Think of what you weighed back in college. For nearly everyone, they’ll see that it was indeed considerably lighter. This is absolutely not due to aging as most think; it’s due to lifestyle and food availability. It’s only human nature to take advantage of what is available to us often, even to a point of abuse. Consider this: China is now having problems with obesity, even among their young. CHINA! Why? They no longer have the problems with food scarcity they did 20+ years ago. They are now much more economically like the States which, seemingly, they’ve been trying to emulate, fiscally speaking, for years now. Well, they finally caught up. Congratulations, this is what happens.

But, back to topic, a calorie is at least some measurement of the amount of energy we are consuming. We need to know. A measurement is a good thing. Calories are nothing to be feared but perhaps something to befriend. The enemy isn’t a “unit of measurement.” Our enemy is not knowing how much energy we’re taking in on a regular basis, not knowing how much we’re actually burning off day to day… and being totally comfortable with all of it.

If you don’t want to count “the dreaded” calorie, then you should certainly have a substitute system in place to ensure you’re not eating more than you’re going to burn from day to day. Or, inversely, that your energy burn via daily activity will override your rate of calo… um, “food energy” consumption.

2 Responses

  1. Jeremy

    Jerry, I see a lot of stories like this about calorie counting working, and other stories where it fails because it s just too mentally exhausting. I remember reading an article where he talks about rules dieters who do well counting macros, vs freedom dieters who do better with general guidelines on what to eat. Do you think the success or failure of calorie counting has more to do with your personality or with the system you use?

    1. The short answer is that both CAN work. It’s just that generally, especially where significant amounts of weight need to be lost, those who simply follow general guidelines and don’t hunker down on the fine details don’t get quite as good of results on average. But, the reality is that both are fine if one is simply not ready to throw the kitchen sink at their problem.

      To answer your question, it’s both. I have a way of reaching people, but they still have a tough road ahead both scientifically and emotionally. The dynamics created by the training do the most in creating an avenue for change, but it doesn’t happen overnight. People are extremely tough to change; indeed, if they aren’t truly ready, they won’t. Imagine trying to change your biggest vice forever, or perhaps trying to change several personal vices at once (The tendency is to have luck for a while, many months even, but generally return to bad habit within a very short time). I’ve even known a couple of people who have trained, exercised and lost weight very successfully for an entire year only to get right back off the fitness wagon at the end of that year. Which always amazes me that they’d dedicate so successfully to the lifestyle for so long and yet still somehow manage to stop training. That is plenty enough time for a habit to be formed solidly, yet it didn’t seem to be for those folks (and I’m sure many billions more). So, it is of course always significantly more likely to change ourselves with good help.

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