Despite already having lost 110 lbs. (50 kgs.), I still wanted to lose another 10 pounds or so. This time, however, I decided to try losing the weight by counting every calorie I ate using the My Fitness Pal app for the very first time. Did it work? Did counting every calorie for 60 days help me to lose weight?
I lost 9.9 pounds (4.5 kgs.) while counting calories every day for 60 days. My expected weight loss was supposed to be 9.3 pounds (4.3 kgs.). I lost, on average, 1.17 pounds (0.53 kgs.) per week. I maintained a caloric deficit of approximately 550 calories per day for the two months.
Counting calories worked very well for me. I lost just about 10 pounds in 2 months, and I did so in a safe, sustainable, and enjoyable way. SPOILER ALERT: I have even kept the 10 pound weight loss off as of writing this article one month later!
Let’s look more deeply at the details of my 9.9 pounds weight loss to help answer the big question: Can calorie counting work for YOU?
My Calorie Counting Numbers
Counting calories correctly requires a few steps:
- Determine your maintenance calories
- Choose a weight loss goal
- Calculate your daily caloric deficit to reach your goal
- Track your calories and execute your plan!
I used a free online calorie calculator to find my maintenance calories, which is the total number of calories I need to eat per day to neither lose nor gain weight. It turned out to be approximately 2,960 calories per day.
That’s pretty cool, and a much higher number than the classic 2,000-2,500 calories per day you often hear thrown around as the average amount of calories a man can eat per day.
NOTE: I also cross-checked this 2,960 maintenance calorie estimate with the My Fitness Pal calculator AND I calculated this manually using formulas I learned as a Certified Nutrition Coach and Certified Weight Loss Specialist through NASM, and all of the numbers were almost identical, which is great to see.
My goal was to lose a modest 1.1 pounds (0.5 kgs.) per week. Health professionals agree that losing between 1-2 lbs. per week is healthy and sustainable. I did not want to lose too much weight too fast, so I chose the lower end of this range.
Here is some more math to consider:
- One pound (0.45 kg.) of fat is the equivalent of approximately 3,500 calories.
- To lose 1.1 pounds of fat per week, I would need to lose 3,850 calories per week.
- Since there are 7 days in a week, I divided 3,850 calories by 7 days.
- That means I needed to be, on average, in a 550 calorie deficit per day.
- Since my estimated maintenance calories was 2,960 per day, I would need to eat about 2,410 calories per day to lose 1.1 lbs. per week.
- In theory, I should lose about 9.3 pounds in the two months from January to February 2021 (which were actually 59 days, not 60 days!).
Analysis of My Calorie Counting Results
As you read above, I lost 9.9 lbs during the 59 days that made up January and February of 2021.
I was supposed to eat 2,410 calories per day. I ended up averaging 2,409.6 calories per day. Another way to look at it is that, in total, I was allowed to eat 142,190 calories over two months and I actually ate 142,169, which is the difference of just one extra piece of candy over two months. Nailed it!
Based on the calculations prior to starting, 2,410 calories per day should have put me in a 550 daily caloric deficit. Over the two months, I should have lost 9.3 pounds, but I actually lost 9.9 pounds.
|AVERAGE Daily Calories Eaten||2,410 Cal.||2,409.6 Cal.|
|Two Month TOTAL Calories Eaten||142,190 Cal.||142,169 Cal.|
|TOTAL Weight Loss (lbs.)||9.3 lbs.||9.9 lbs.|
The best explanation for this is simply that all of these numbers are ESTIMATES! My maintenance calories of 2,960 per day was an estimate based on my estimated physical activity of which my caloric expenditure is also estimated.
Despite the estimated nature of counting calories, it still worked pretty accurately.
Other Fun Facts:
- Most Amount of Calories Eaten in One Day: 4,116 (cheat day with some binge eating)
- Least Amount of Calories Eaten in One Day: 831 (to compensate for my cheat day)
Do You Need To Count Calories to Lose Weight?
You do not need to count calories to lose weight. You only need to be in a calorie deficit for a period of time to lose weight. I lost 110 pounds (50 kgs.) over a 17 year period without counting calories. There are many ways to be in a calorie deficit.
Counting calories can be very helpful for losing weight. The awareness and attention it brings to your nutrition is very powerful. However, you can be in a caloric deficit and maintain that caloric deficit without specifically tracking your calories.
In my case, I ate instinctually and weighed myself regularly for about 17 years to lose, and keep off, 110 pounds. I never tracked a calorie in my life.
This is not to say that my 17 year journey was easy, just that it is possible. My two month experience with calorie counting makes me believe that it is a very effective (and shockingly accurate) system for losing weight and maintaining weight loss.
How Do We Lose Weight?
Losing weight requires one thing and one thing only: to be in a calorie deficit over a period of time.
But what is a calorie deficit?
Being in a calorie deficit means consuming less calories (energy) compared to the amount of calories (energy) needed / required to perform all of your bodily functions and activities over a period of time.
Typically, achieving a caloric deficit requires a combination of:
- Consuming fewer calories (energy) through food
- Burning more calories (energy) by moving your body more regularly and/or dedicated exercise
There are many different “diets” (Oh, how I HATE that word!) and exercise programs you can choose from to have and maintain a calorie deficit.
And then, there is calorie counting which is not actually a diet; rather, a system that you can use to help you maintain a calorie deficit.
Why Does Counting Calories Work to Lose Weight?
Again, the only thing you need to do to lose weight is to be in a calorie deficit over a period of time. So, why does counting calories work to lose weight?
Counting calories works for losing weight because it is a tool that helps you focus on the most important part of weight loss: maintaining a caloric deficit.
Calorie counting to lose weight only works if you know:
- your maintenance calories
- how many calories you should eat per day to achieve your target weight loss goal.
Fortunately, this can be easily calculated (estimated) on calorie counting apps like My Fitness Pal. You can also use websites like Calculator to do the same.
Once this is established, calorie counting does the following:
- It Increases Food Awareness: Do you know how many calories you actually eat per day? Do you have any idea how many calories are actually in peanut butter, or those cookies you enjoy so much? Ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge is power. Knowing this information can cause positive behavior change when it comes to food portion sizes and/or food choices.
- It Adds a Step Between You And Your Food: You start thinking about food and walk to the kitchen. You grab some food. Before you eat it, like you would have before you started calorie counting, you take out your calorie counting app and check the nutritional content and compare it to your daily goals. You decide to eat the food because it fits with your daily plan. More importantly, there was an extra step between thinking about food and eating it which allowed you to make the best decision for you.
- It Makes You More Intentional about Your Food: Counting calories does not restrict food options; rather, it gives you a way to make better food choices that fit into an overall calorically appropriate nutrition plan for you. You know how many calories you can have each day to achieve your goals. You CAN eat that slice of pizza or hamburger if you want to.
- It Makes Sure You Stay In Your Calorie Deficit: Remember, losing weight is all about maintaining a caloric deficit. It is easier to do this by managing food intake than by trying to increase physical exercise, although a combination of both is ideal for health. Tracking your calories helps in making sure you stay within your calorie range.
Does Counting Calories Make You Healthy?
You are counting your calories and losing weight. That’s genuinely awesome! But, does counting calories mean you are now healthy?
Counting calories does not make you healthy. You can count calories, be in a calorie deficit, lose weight and still be very unhealthy. Calories are not the same as nutritional quality. Counting calories also does not take into consideration physical activity or cardiovascular health.
At the end of the day, counting calories is only about calories in vs. calories out. This system does not care if all of your calories come from hamburgers, pizza, beer, etc. It only cares about the quantity of calories.
It does not consider the nutritional profile of the food choices you make. Carbs, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals… they are all important.
Being healthy also requires adequate physical exercise. While the amount of exercise you do each day does influence how many calories (energy) you need to eat per day, calorie counting by itself does not make you healthy.
I repeat: the only thing calorie counting does is count the number of calories you consume per day. What those calories are composed of, and how many calories are appropriate for you, will vary from person to person, and has nothing to do with health, per se.
You could eat 2,000 calories of vegetables, grains, fruits, water and tea. You could also eat 2,000 calories of pizza, burgers and alcohol. Which option do you think would make you objectively healthier? Yet with calories counting you can eat it all and still lose weight!
What Is The Easiest Way to Count Calories?
There are many ways to count calories. What’s the easiest way, you ask?
The easiest way to count and track calories is with a calorie counting app like My Fitness Pal. Counting calories in your head, by hand, or using a computer spreadsheet are possible, but much more difficult compared to calorie counting apps and quite frankly impractical.
In the past, people had to track calories by hand. In a way, we still do. The only difference is that we have a smartphone in that hand these days.
Seriously, counting calories with a counting calorie app like My Fitness Pal is super easy. They have a massive database of foods already programmed into the app, and their barcode scanning technology is quick and accurate.
I spend maybe, maybe 5-10 minutes a day weighing and counting my calories. Compare that to the hour I spent exercising per day. At the end of the day, those 10 minutes planning my food is more impactful than the hour I spend moving my body (although both in combination is the most powerful way to live!).
Does Counting Calories Work for the Long Term?
My two month experiment may not seem like much time. Could counting calories work in the long-term?
Counting calories can certainly work as a long-term weight loss and weight management system. The principles used to lose the weight in the first place can easily be adapted to maintaining your weight loss over time.
Diets don’t work because you cannot stick to them forever. Counting calories, however, is not a diet. It is a system, and you can use this system for as long as you want to. You can easily make calorie counting a part of your daily life in the long term.
Once you start doing it, counting calories is easily adaptable to your changing health and fitness goals.
How Accurate Is Calorie Counting?
It is very important to understand the following point: counting calories is not 100% accurate. All of the numbers we calculate are educated estimates and may be wrong by 20% or more.
VeryWellFit has some great reasons for the inaccuracies in calorie counting include:
- Food labels are permitted by law to be 20% inaccurate!
- Digestion and genetics varies from person to person.
- Restaurants underestimate calorie counts.
- The way food is cooked may affect calorie absorption.
- Food may simply be measured incorrectly (was that really just 1 tablespoon?!?)
- Food may be inputted incorrectly in the calorie counting app
Not to mention inaccuracies in weighing and measuring food at home. For example, your tablespoon and my tablespoon might be totally different.
That’s why it’s generally recommended to weigh your food using a scale, and to do so using grams. But even this is imperfect.
Also, the scale you use to measure yourself and your weight on a daily basis may be slightly off. This could affect not only your starting weight, which determines your needed caloric intake, but could also throw off your regular weigh in and either make it seem like you are doing better or worse than expected.
My results after two months were great, but even they were not 100% accurate compared to the expected results. Remember that I lost 9.9 lbs. In two months, but that my calorie tracker predicted that I should have lost only 9.3 lbs.
Should You Still Count Calories If It Is Inaccurate?
It is still a good idea to count calories even though the numbers are not 100% accurate.
Counting calories gives you an excellent estimate of your caloric needs, intake, and expenditure.
Counting calories brings attention to your specific energy needs. It forces you to bring awareness to the food you eat on a regular basis. It will reveal things about the food you regularly eat that might be shocking to you.
For example, I eat so much less peanut butter now after realizing how many calories I was consuming on a regular peanut butter day.Me every time I talk to someone about peanut butter. It’s annoying… I know.
It can affect some behavioral changes in you, promote more intentionality in your food choices and perhaps some additional restraint in your eating.
Even if you are not on-point every single day, small changes add up over time.
Therefore, I strongly recommend that you consider tracking your calories every single day for a month. You might just learn something about yourself and the food that you eat!