Is Calorie Counting the Best Way to Lose Weight?

CICO, or Calorie In Calorie Out, is the most basic and effective way to lose weight.

Essentially this follows the formula that if you consume fewer calories than you expend, you will lose weight. This method does not consider the quality of the calories, only the quantity, but it is a starting point for weight loss for many people.

Our bodies use the calories we consume for energy.

When we consume more calories than we need for energy, our bodies store the excess as fat. In order to lose weight, we need to create a calorie deficit or consume fewer calories than we expend.

Calorie counting is not the only way to lose weight, but it is a helpful tool for many people. If you are struggling to lose weight, consider speaking with a credentialed practitioner such as a registered dietitian to create a plan that is right for you.

What are calories?

A calorie is a unit of energy. Our bodies use calories for energy. When we consume more calories than we need for energy, our bodies store the excess as fat. In order to lose weight, we need to create a calorie deficit or consume fewer calories than we expend.

Calories come from the food and drink we consume. The calorie content of a food or drink is measured in kilocalories (kcal).

Calories are also a measure of how much energy we burn. 

The majority (~60%) of
calories our bodies burn are actually done at rest, to simply keep our bodies alive and keep our metabolism functioning referred to as BMR or your basal metabolic rate. 

The other ways your body burns calories are through exercise(~10%), performing daily tasks like standing and fidgeting (~20%), and energy needed to digest food (~10%). 

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How does calorie counting for weight loss work?

Calorie counting is a method of weight loss in which you track the number of calories you consume in a day.

By tracking your calorie intake, you can make sure that you are not consuming more calories than you are burning.

This will help you to create a calorie deficit and help you lose weight.

There are a few different ways to count calories. You can use a food diary or calorie tracking app to track the calories you eat in a day.

Some apps also allow you to track the calories you burn through physical activity to get a more accurate picture (be aware that these are not always very accurate).

Don't know where to start? Try using a calorie calculator to estimate the number of calories you need to consume in a day. This can be helpful if you are not sure how many calories are in a particular food or drink.

How is counting calories different from tracking macros?

Marcos are the three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. "Macro" is short for macronutrients. Macros are the nutrients that provide calories while micronutrients provide vitamins and minerals.

Counting macros is a way of making sure you're eating a balanced diet, and it's a popular method for people who are trying to lose weight, burn fat, gain muscle, or just eat healthier.

This is different from simply counting calories, which is a method of tracking how much energy you're taking in from food and drink.

It's helpful to think of macros as the building blocks of your diet, while calories are the energy that those building blocks provide.

When you're counting macros, you're paying attention to the types of foods you're eating, as well as the amount. You're not just looking at the calorie content of a food, but also the amount of protein, carbohydrates, and fat it contains.

For example, if you're trying to eat 100 grams of protein per day, you might track the macros of the chicken breast you had for lunch (26 grams of protein, 0 grams of carbohydrates, and 3 grams of fat) and the salmon you had for dinner (24 grams of protein, 0 grams of carbohydrates, and 9 grams of fat).

Instead, when counting calories, you would just add up the total number of calories from the chicken breast (120 calories) and the salmon (360 calories), for a total of 480 calories.

Does calorie counting help you lose weight?

Absolutely, if done correctly. CICO is a basic and effective weight loss strategy.

Since your body use calories as energy, if you burn more calories than you consume, your body will need to tap into the fat stores for energy, leading to weight loss.

However, too much focus on counting calories can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food, so it's important to find a balance.

It's also important to not starve yourself, as your body will switch into survival mode. If you're not eating enough your metabolism may slow, and your body may start holding on to fat stores if it thinks it's not getting enough food.  Not eating enough can also put you at risk for micronutrient deficiencies, hormone imbalance, and other dangerous consequences.

It's also important to note that while weight loss can be simplistic for some, for others it may be more complicated. Hormone imbalances, comorbidities, lifestyle, and other factors all contribute to the weight balance equation. 

There are several other approaches to weight loss that don't focus on calorie counting such as the 80/20 rule, intuitive eating, and intermittent fasting that doesn't focus on counting calories. These can be more sustainable approaches for some people, as they don't require tracking and can be easier to stick to in the long term.

How do I track my calories?

The Trifecta app is the perfect, all-in-one solution for tracking your calories and reaching your weight loss goals. With the app, you can easily track your food intake, exercise, and weight loss progress.

Trifecta's pre-portioned meal plans make it easy to eat healthy, delicious food and reach your calorie goals. Plus, our community support and expert nutrition coaching will keep you motivated and on track!

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Who could benefit from calorie counting?

Anyone with a weight-focused goal may benefit from counting calories. It's a simple and effective way to create a calorie deficit that is necessary for weight loss or achieve maintenance or surplus calories for other weight-focused goals. 

However, people who have an unhealthy relationship with food or who are prone to disordered eating may want to avoid this method, as it can lead to unhealthy behaviors.

If you want to calorie count but it seems like too much work or overwhelming to commit here are a few suggestions:

  1. Try counting just 1-2 days a week- this can help you build the habit of tracking as well as gain an understanding of your calorie needs and intake are without having to track 7 days a week.
  2. Start tracking until you find a routine and gain a good understanding of the general calorie ranges and portion sizes of foods you eat regularly and then you can stop or reduce the frequency of tacking. Track your weight if you have a weight-focused goal and if the scale starts moving in a direction you don't want you can go back to tracking calories until you're making progress again. 
  3. Try a calorie-controlled meal subscription that ensures nutrient quality and balance for you, Calories are listed on meals so the bulk of work is done for you, you'll just have to account for any other meals or snacks you're eating.
Counting your calories and following the CICO method can be a simple and effective weight loss strategy for those who are able to stick to it.

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Who wouldn't benefit from calorie counting?

There are a few groups of people who might not benefit from calorie counting, including those with eating disorders or disordered eating thoughts or history, children or adolescents, and pregnant or breastfeeding women. 

For those with eating disorders, counting calories can trigger obsessive and restrictive behaviors and worsen these behaviors.

For pregnant and breastfeeding women, special precautions should be taken. It is best to consult with your doctor and/or dietitian specializing in this area.  One incidence where calorie counting may be advised for this subset is if you are struggling to hit increased nutrition needs and tracking helps with that. 

Calorie counting is meant to be a basic weight loss strategy, so it's not necessary for everyone.

Some people might find more success with other approaches, such as the 80/20 diet rule, intuitive eating, intermittent fasting or choosing more nutrient-dense foods in general.