3 Reasons Why Counting Calories is Unhealthy

Much like slap bracelets and Tamagotchis, counting calories is so 1995.

Calories ruled the nutrition and weight loss world back when it was believed calories in = calories out. But we now know this concept is incorrect — people do not become overweight simply by eating too much and moving too little. Our bodies, health, weight loss, weight gain, and nutrition are much more complex than that. And in fact, focusing exclusively on calories is unhealthy because it doesn’t take the bigger picture into consideration.

3 reasons why counting calories is unhealthy:

1) Counting calories deemphasizes nutrition by placing the focus on quantity rather than quality, and quality nutrition is the foundation of a healthy diet.

When you’re so focused on the number of calories you’re eating, you can lose sight of the fact that our sources of calories vary greatly. Consider the difference between 100 calories of spinach versus 100 calories of cookies – you don’t need me to tell you which one is healthier. But when you’re simply focusing on the number of calories consumed in a day, it’s easy to overlook this. For this reason, calorie counters often find themselves eating a lot of processed food, typically of the “diet” variety (think: 100-calorie packs or diet soda).

Plus, a lot of high-quality, nutrient dense foods are comparatively higher in calories. Fat, for example (see below). If you’re sole focus is calories, you will often omit these nutritious choices from your diet.

2) Constantly counting calories can be stressful, and stress is unhealthy.

Food should be enjoyed and savored, not a source of stress!

Prolonged stress wreaks havoc on the body by causing inflammation. It also interferes with a number of vital processes. Digestion is itself a process that can only take place when our bodies are in a relaxed (parasympathetic) state. So if you are stressed while eating (whether it be a salmon fillet or package of toaster pastries) because you are worried about the calories you are consuming, your body is not going to be able to adequately digest your food, which can lead to nutrient deficiencies as well as a host of other health issues like leaky gut and food intolerances. See these 3 Simple Ways to Improve Your Digestion ASAP for more info and tips.

3) Counting calories often leads to a low-fat diet, and a low-fat diet is unhealthy.

Fat is a nutrient, not a monster! But counting calories often leads to a low-fat diet since a gram of fat contains more calories than a gram of carbohydrate.

We need appropriate fats (in the appropriate quantities) in our diet to have healthy, properly functioning bodies. I’ve already been over the details of why fat is a necessary part of a healthy diet, but here’s a quick reminder:

  • Fat provides a concentrated source of energy in the diet, keeping you feeling fuller for longer. Contrary to popular belief, this can actually help you lose weight.
  • Fat is a key component of cell membranes, and properly functioning cell membranes are vital for a properly functioning body.
  • Fat is a necessary co-factor in the creation of prostaglandins, hormone-like substances that are critical to the body’s healing process.
  • Fat plays a vital role in hormone regulation.
  • Fat is needed for the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
  • Fat is necessary for healthy liver and gallbladder function.

So should we just totally ignore calories?

Well no. (I’m not a hypocrite, just hear me out…)

Since it is recommended that we consume 30% of our daily calories from protein, 30% from healthy fats, and 40% from (low-glycemic, unprocessed) carbohydrates, it is important to consider calories for this reason. Notice how I said consider and not count… it is not the overall number of calories that is important — maintaining the appropriate ratio of macronutrients is.

But if we’re not counting calories won’t we eat too much and get fat!?

While some of us feel best with a slightly different ratio (my body prefers a little more fat, for example), when eating the appropriate macronutrient ratio, wonderful things will happen: you will feel satiated, you will feel fuller longer, and you will not overeat! Plus, as you consider quality nutrition rather than quantity of calories, you will be eating real, whole, life-giving foods that keep your body healthy and in balance (in other words, at an appropriate weight).

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  1. I disagree. I’m a RD and counting helps. It’s shows if you’re over or under eating. There are many more issues/routes to weight loss/gain/maintenance than counting calories alone, but it can be extremely helpful.

  2. I’d have to go with Sam…you can count calories in a healthy manner. Perhaps counting calories just needs to be revamped? If you are only keeping healthy options (and not the empty calorie type diet foods) counting calories can be helpful. I also want to say that counting calories is particually helpful for the binge eater it ensures you are getting enough calories consistently.