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.