Counting calories is not the way to lose weight. Distracting you with numbers rather than focusing on what you’re actually eating. All calories count implies that all calories are the same, as they all have an equal amount of energy per calorie. This is entirely false, but let’s go with it for now. Assuming that all calories are the same, you can eat the foods you love like pizza, fries, and burgers so long as you’re within your daily calorie limit. Sounds believable, but that is not how calories work in your body and this method of counting calories for weight loss is not the best approach.

How Are Calories Used?

Calories are the energy source you get from food. Excess calories are stored in three locations, the liver, muscles, and fat cells. Excess sugar is converted into glycogen and stored in the liver and skeletal muscles for quick energy that’s easy to access. Energy stored in fat cells is hard to get to and nearly impossible to burn off, especially if insulin levels are high in the bloodstream.

“Calories In-Calories Out” Theory

Losing weight with the “Calories In-Calories Out” theory suggests that so long as we lower the number of calories we eat, we will lose weight. This is simply not the case, as it would imply that the number of calories you burn in a day remained the same. “Calories Out”, known as the basal metabolic rate, or BMR, is the number of calories you burn daily at rest, which fluctuates. Your BMR includes automatic bodily functions like breathing, digesting food, pumping blood, and repairing internal damage, which requires energy, or calories, to run. If you stop eating or significantly cut calories, all of these automatic functions slow way down as a survival mechanism, thus slowing your metabolism.

Cutting calories slows your metabolism! Fewer calories for energy means that your metabolism decreases so you reduce your “Calories Out” and conserve energy. However, the process of reducing metabolism is a little delayed and often triggered by weight loss. This means traditional dieting and calorie-cutting will work at first, until it doesn’t. The worst part, your metabolism doesn’t speed up again once you stop dieting, it continues to run at a slower rate allowing the weight to return even faster. This is the exact reason why you lose weight initially, plateau, and typically gain the weight right back, because Diets don’t work.

200 calories of kale are not the same as 200 calories of cake.

MYTH: A Calorie is a Calorie

All calories are not the same! Healthy calories from whole foods are used fast and stored less, compared to unhealthy calories that trigger the hormonal release of insulin and end up being primarily stored as fat. Insulin is the fat-storage hormone, so while insulin levels are high in the bloodstream, you cannot burn fat from your fat cells.

Given the fact that dietary fat has more than double the calories of protein and carbs, it would make sense that you would gain more weight by eating fat. That’s if we were following the “Calories-In, Calories-Out” Theory, but we already know this isn’t accurate. Truth is, healthy dietary fat does not cause more weight gain. Sugar causes more weight gain. In fact, eating a high intake of sugar is the fastest way to make new body fat.

“Calories Out” is not a fixed rate, nor do we have much control over how many calories are burned each day, as exercise is just a portion of calories burned.

The Real Scoop on Weight Loss

Energy balance is not calories in-calories out.

Everyone burns and stores calories differently given their genetics and their gut health. More specifically, your gut microbiome is the collection of organisms responsible for proper digestion and absorption of food. Physical activity and increased muscle mass can burn more calories on a daily basis, but we still don’t have total control over how many calories we burn in a day. We can influence it by a few 100 calories if we eat well and exercise, but the rest of our 1000 calories are used for bodily processes that are out of our control.

Weight loss isn’t really about calories. Crazy, right, but counting calories isn’t the best method because it’s not the number, but the type of calories you eat that causes a hormonal response in your body that directs where and how much fat to store. Foods high in sugar stimulate insulin the most, so if you eat and drink a lot of sugar, elevated insulin levels are blocking your fat-burning potential, no matter how much you workout.

Count Chemicals Not Calories

If you’re stuck in the calorie counting loop, try switching to counting Macros. Counting Macros allows you to track the type of calories you’re eating so you can hit your daily targets for protein, fats, and carbs. It’s not about the number of calories so much as it’s the nutrients you’re getting from those calories. Many processed foods, even the ones marketed as “healthy”, contain chemicals, fillers, and other junk that contributes to poor health outcomes. So while you’re looking at the calorie contents, glance at the ingredient list and if you see more than five names you aren’t familiar with like monosodium glutamate (MSG), acesulfame potassium, and maltodextrin, skip it, it’s not worth your health.

If you need more diet tips for your weight loss plan, check out how to Avoid These 5 Mistakes in Your Weight Loss Plan.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. This information should not be used to diagnose or treat any health conditions without consulting your healthcare provider. Information used is based on experience and opinion, not 100% evidence. Always consult with a health care practitioner before relying on any information in this article or on this website. Some links in this article may contain affiliate links.