Should You Track Calories?
Let’s talk about whether you should track calories.
This is always going to be a fun one for me because I have a lot of conflicting opinions, even in my own head.
Fundamentally, for any weight loss goal, it’s important to be in a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit is where you’re taking in or absorbing fewer calories than you’re burning off.
There are other weight-based goals too. But for now, I’m just going to focus on weight loss because that tends to be the most common weight-based goal.
What Are Calories?
In simple terms, a calorie is just the currency for your body’s energy.
If you deposit more of that currency than you spend, you’re going to build up your savings. So that is effectively building up stored body fat. Stored body fat is typically stored energy.
If you spend more than you’re depositing, then you’ll need to dip into your savings to be able to make up for that deficit.
That’s also a very, very simple analogy for how a calorie deficit works.
Like with your finances, keeping track of what’s coming in is also going to help you manage your outgoings.
Can You Lose Weight Without Tracking Calories?
For any weight loss goal, yes, a calorie deficit is important, but that doesn’t always mean that tracking those calories is going to be the right thing for you to do.
In fact, a lot of diets and eating plans actively promote the fact that you don’t have to track calories with them to get results.
Slimming World’s a good example of that. The keto diet is a good example of that.
That’s also what worked well for me.
When I first wanted to try and lose weight, I went to Slimming World and I lost my first 70 pounds without actually tracking any calories.
So I know from my own experience, it is possible to lose weight without tracking calories.
I choose that wording very carefully because saying it is possible to lose weight without tracking calories is not the same as saying it’s possible to lose weight without being in a deficit.
Benefits Of Tracking Calories
You may have heard the term before “what gets measured gets managed”.
If you’re not making the progress you want, it’s easier to be able to figure out what’s not working if you have a log or something you can look at and analyse. That way you can identify where any issues might be coming from or what you can do to improve that process.
Here’s another analogy for looking at it.
You can drive a car and never get a speeding ticket and never go over the speed limit, but checking your speedometer and knowing what speed you’re going at is going to help make that a lot more likely and a lot easier.
Downsides To Tracking Calories
What are the downsides of tracking calories?
Number one is that it’s time-consuming and tedious.
Or, at least it feels like it can be.
Some apps do have shortcuts, like storing your most common foods or barcode scanners, which can help take some of that burden away.
But it is still going to take time to actually get used to it. And it’s still going to rely on you being able to accurately track and report what you’re having.
It can also take away from the enjoyment aspect of food. You are allowed to get pleasure from food and not try and just reduce it down to seeing numbers on a screen.
And this one’s slightly nuanced, but if you are tracking calories, then it’s important to remember calories are not the only thing that matter. Your overall nutrition matters as well.
A good example I always give is that an Oreo cookie is going to be around 50 calories and an apple might be 70 or 80 calories.
The overall nutritional value of the apple’s obviously going to be a little higher than the Oreo, but if you’re looking strictly from a calorie point of view, you’re more likely to go for the Oreo because it’s got 20 or 30 fewer calories in it.
If your overall diet is balanced and varied and you’re getting all the nutrition you need, then of course have the damn Oreo.
But unless you’re aware of your overall nutrition, it’s much easier to go down the route of only looking at calories and that’s going to take away from the nutritional value of the food you’re having.
So Should You Track Calories?
When you’re looking at whether you should track calories, there are a few things to bear in mind.
It takes time to build up a habit. You need to make sure that you’re tracking accurately and you also need to make sure that you don’t diminish your relationship with food or nutrition.
If that’s all in check, then it might be a good way to help you with a weight loss goal.
If you have a pattern or history of disordered eating
or some other mental blocker that might make it a very stressful experience trying to track, then there might be other better options out there.
As I said, I lost around 70 pounds with Slimming World before I started tracking calories at all. So I know it’s possible from my own experience.
I was still in a calorie deficit overall because it did encourage me to have a lot more fruit and vegetables, and I still needed to track some foods, which I’ll cover another time, but I didn’t need to track calories.
So, as I said, there are a few things to bear in mind when trying to figure out whether you should track calories or not.