Stop Counting Calories…Count THIS Instead (if you want a flat belly)

Written by Joel Marion

counting calories

Losing weight is easy, right? Just take in fewer calories than you expend, and you’re set. Weight lost!

Wait. Not so fast. It’s actually a bit more complicated. While counting calories is more accurate than simply “watching what you eat,” it is more than a cumbersome chore each day. Surprisingly, while counting calories MAY help in the short run, playing this numbers game is not an exact science. Far from it, in fact. And it has a number of potential downfalls.

A few of the surprising challenges that come with calorie counting (besides how tedious and time consuming it can be) include:

  • Inaccurate labeling— the numbers you see on food packaging and calorie charts are imprecise, and the accuracy, even among the same types of foods, can vary quite a bit. They’re based on averages rather than exact counts, so you may be eating more, or less, calories and nutrients than listed. An average medium apple, for example, may have between 83 and 116 calories, with the average being 93. Depending on the type of food, the error rate for calorie counts can be as much as 50%.
  • Differing digestion— even if labels were perfectly precise, our bodies are all different, and absorption rates of calories can vary from food to food (especially true for protein-rich foods) and from person to person (often due to our individual gut bacteria).
  • Food preparation— did you know that how food is prepared can make calories more or less available for absorption? It’s true. Cooking, chopping, and blending can all increase the number of calories your body will take in from the same food.

With the estimated errors, it doesn’t seem like counting calories is worth all the effort, does it? (And the above doesn’t even address the challenges with the “calories out” part of the formula!)

What’s more, the results you achieve are much more related to the types of foods you eat than calories alone, which makes the superior, more convenient “counting” method below one of my go-to techniques for more accurately and ideally determining the amount of food to eat each day to support body transformation goals.

I call it the 1-100-1/2 method:

  • 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight
  • Less than 100 grams of carbs per day (less than 60 grams for women)
  • 1/2 gram of fat per pound of body weight

This simple macronutrient counting method works for just about anyone looking to shed flab fast, and it’s certainly easier and more accurate than having to count every single calorie.
Why does it work? Well, it’s relative to your body size, gives you plenty of metabolism-boosting protein each day, keeps carbohydrates moderate (since most people tend to easily go overboard), and also provides you with plenty of healthy fats.

Even better, by using this much easier counting method, you’ll automatically be controlling your calorie intake at the same time! What’s more, the 1-100-1/2 method also ensures you are getting a balance of each major nutrient. If only counting calories, your diet could actually be very imbalanced. Just think if you ate 1,800 calories of M&Ms each day. Sure, you’d hit your calorie goal, but your body wouldn’t be too pleased with you! (And I’d venture a guess that you would feel pretty crappy as well.)

And for the carb lovers out there, don’t worry. I still advocate a weekly “cheat day” where you can refuel and indulge in your favorite high-carb foods while actually speeding your fat loss along.

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  • Randy

    For the past month, I have been counting/documenting the calories, proteins, fats and carbohydrates I take in daily. I use the USDA chart (found online) for foods as my measuring guidelines. To date, I lost a little over 10 lbs. and just over 1% of body fat. The best thing about this approach is now I am eating smaller portions of food, so I remain filled throughout the day. Folks should try method
    to see if it works for them. Other than uneeded weight, what have you got to lose?

    • Cristina

      Hi Randy. Congratulations on your impressive 10 pound weight loss, and a reduction of just over 1% body fat. That is fantastic to hear and I would be willing to bet you have a little more pep in your step these days.

      I commend you for finding a meal plan that works for you, and I wholeheartedly believe that controlling your portion sizes is a key element in any weight loss program. I have always found the hand-based portion size method to be what works best for me, as I am able to keep track of my portions even when I am dining away from home.

      If you haven’t yet heard of this, the guidelines are fairly simple:

      Protein –size and thickness of the palm of your hand
      Carbohydrate –size of your clenched fist
      Fat –size and thickness of the tip of your thumb

      The reason why hand-based portion sizes work so well is that they are relative to the size of the individual. Smaller people with smaller hands will eat less food because they require less calories. Similarly, larger people with resultantly bigger hands will eat more food because they require more calories.

      Thank you for sharing your story. Keep up the great work, Randy!

  • Lois Lemay Redican

    The body requires 1 gram of carbohydrate food per 1 lb. of body mass to maintain its mass. To lose weight one needs only to eat less grams of carbohydrate food than what one weighs. Also it is important to refrain from glucose-rich foods at the last meal of the day. Spring water intake is necessary for a good metabolism. Three servings of protein foods per day and three servings of monounsaturated fats completes a healthy intake. Since saturated fat is a secondary energy source it is wise to limit that to once a day.

  • Kirsten Dangler

    Has anyone tried this method yet? Had good results?

    • Cristina

      Hello Kirsten. Great question. I would be willing to bet that anything you are consistent with, and that you are able to incorporate into your lifestyle that is both manageable and effective will provide you with good results. This article references one way to structure your meal plan that has been proven to help facilitate weight loss, and while there are many diets and meal plans available, the important thing is to find what works for you. The operative phrase is “for you.” Give up the idea that there is one
      right way and embrace the discovery process of finding what works for

      Bottom line is the meal plan that works for you, is one that delivers health, vitality and sustained weight loss without occupying every waking moment of your life. Once you get the hang of which foods best fuel your body, sustain your energy and leave you void from hunger and cravings, everything else will fall into place.

      We would love for you to share your feedback should you decide to implement this 1-100-1/2 method into your diet.

  • Great job, Becca; keep up the awesome work!