3 Reasons Why You Should Never Count Calories

Whenever we open Instagram we are inundated by images of women with unrealistic body types and on top of that, we see the thousands of comments these women receive. Many of these women achieve these bodies through surgical enhancements or Photoshop. Viewers can never be entirely sure how these Instagram models achieve their slim figures, which leads young women to falsely think they can look like “that girl” if they just diet and work out enough. This line of thinking is dangerous for girls because it can lead them towards an unhealthy lifestyle. Counting calories can be one example of “feeding into” an unhealthy lifestyle.

Dr. John Busuttil, a medical Clinical Documentation Improvement Specialist who works at Baptist Health Jacksonville, states that “Men and woman should count calories if they do not control their diet and intake large amounts of sugar. However, men and woman that control their diets with plentiful fruits and vegetables along with a balanced diet should not need to count calories. It is all about balance.”

Living a balanced lifestyle is definitely important, but if that doesn’t convince you, here are three other reasons why you shouldn’t count calories. 

  1. Not All Calories Are Created Equal

    The premise of the entire diet industry is based off the calorie in calorie out method. More specifically known as the energy balance equation, which is:

    Body fat gained = Calories In - Calories Out

    However, reducing your calorie intake won’t necessarily reduce your body fat. A reason for this is because not all calories are created equal. Everyone knows that 300 calories of salad and 300 calories of a hamburger do not have the same effect on your body. Yet many still continue to follow the calorie in calorie out method.

    What really matters is the macronutrients that make up the food. All whole foods are comprised of the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats and protein. So, when determining how healthy a certain food is healthy, look at the breakdown of macronutrients. While we do need each macronutrient, our body receives most of its energy from carbs.

    The diet industry has been successful in perpetuating the myth that carbs will cause weight gain. While this can be true in the abundance of simple carbs, such as cereal and baked goods, complex carbs are what your body relies on as fuel. Examples of complex carbs are rice, beans and vegetables. For the average individual, 45%-65% of calories should come from carbs, 10%-35% from protein and 20%-35% for fat, according to The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institutes of Medicine. Therefore, eliminating carbs is simply unmanageable. Routinely cutting out carbs is just as unsustainable as tracking your calories.

  2. You Won’t be Able to do it Long Term

    Counting calories is simply not an effective way to lose weight long term. It takes a lot of extra time and commitment to track the number of calories one consumes every single day.

    While some may be able to successfully track calories for a few weeks they will likely not be able to in the long run. College students are already busy enough with classes, work and exams. Therefore, calorie tracking everything each day will become tiresome.

    Similarly, when counting calories, one can easily fall into the trap of undereating. If one isn’t eating enough calories to sustain themselves they will begin to feel sluggish and fatigued. According to Doctor Busuttil, “a calorie measures the amount of energy used or spent”. This shows that calories are “necessary nutrients”. Therefore, a person depriving themselves of the energy they need won’t last long before inevitably binging out. This is an unhealthy cycle to get sucked into, which could lead to disordered habits.

  3. It Can Lead to an Eating Disorder

    It comes as no surprise that counting calories can lead to an eating disorder. In fact, one out of every 200 women in the U.S. suffers from anorexia and up to 10% of college women suffer from some form of disordered eating.

    Counting calories can be a slippery slope from trying not to overeat to drastically undereating and consequently developing an eating disorder. Reasons for this can be because many individuals feel guilty each time they have to plug in calories. Also, this method of dieting can cause one to see their net calorie intake as a game. They will try to get their net calories lower by each day combining more exercise with consuming less food.

    Sarah Mann details how counting calories led to her developing anorexia nervosa in a 2018 article published in The Mighty. She states, “Counting calories damaged me in a way that is hard to explain. It became a prison...It wasn’t just about having a ‘perfect’ physique — it became a way of measuring my worth. At the end of the day I would add up my final number and it gave me a sense of whether I was ‘good’ or ‘bad’ that day… my calories started to get lower and lower and lower until there were almost none at all.” Mann shared her personal story to demonstrate what not to do.  

What You Should Do Instead

Rather than counting calories, it is more beneficial to cut back on processed foods and refined sugars and to eat plenty of whole foods instead. Focusing on whole foods will also help one to consume a varied proportion of macronutrients.

Furthermore, there is more to maintaining a healthy weight than what one eats. Things such as getting enough sleep, exercising and stress levels can have an effect on one's ability to lose weight. For this reason, Doctor Busutill recommends a “healthy diet [and] moderate exercise: doing these two in moderation is the best way to live a healthy life. One should not need to count calories if you live a healthy lifestyle.” Thus, counting calories is not a viable choice for college women long term, due to its health risks and oversimplified view of health in general. Take a longer look at the types of food you are consuming and develop a plan that works best for you, so that you can have a healthy relationship with the food you eat everyday.