Food |

Does Counting Calories Actually Work?

Calorie counting is hands down the easiest way to lose weight

In truth, it does get a bashing from just about everyone.

We hear the latest nutrition craze and immediately disregard all that we’ve learned over the last few weeks / months when it comes to food.

Counting calories is coming back around and gaining more and more popularity nowadays but is it necessary? Does counting them actually help with weight loss and isn’t it just really hard to do?

It doesn’t have to be.

Counting calories can be very simple and you can lose weight by not counting calories.

However, as you get leaner your body will start to respond differently to the foods you’re putting in your body.

Your results may slow down or you may have just hit a plateau and aren’t sure of how to get out of it.

Either way, counting calories helps. But before we dive into calories and how counting them will actually get you a slimmer waist, smaller thighs and a better, more athletic body we need to understand a few things first.


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What are calories?

A number of times people have come up to me and said they’ve tried it and it still haven’t been able to lose weight is nonsense.

There’s a huge difference in perception of calories vs actual calories.

My guess is that if you haven’t lost any weight calorie counting, your perception of your portion sizes is wrong.

On the left is 10g of peanut butter and on the right is 50g.

It doesn’t look like much but it’s almost 300 calories different. And when we talk about energy balance, it could mean a huge difference between you losing weight, or putting it on.

But before we dig into calories…

Do me a favour, next time someone tries to pull a fast one over you and tell you why counting calories is wrong, can you do something for me?

Just ask them what a calorie is.

And then take a video of them trying to explain it and tag me on Facebook here


So here goes,
A calorie is a measurement of energy.

To be precise it’s the energy needed to raise 1kg of water through 1°c.

Therefore, knowing how many calories are in our food can help us understand how many calories we can consume against the calories we burn to maintain a healthy weight.

Having too many calories (against our TDEE) and we’ll gain weight.

Having too little (against our TDEE) and we’ll lose weight.

What happens to those calories?

Calories are processed differently in our body depending on where they come from. And we get them from 3 major sources.

  • Protein
  • Carbs
  • Fats

When we digest food, it takes calories to do so. This is because of the energy required to chew, swallow, create the enzymes that break down the food, peristalsis and so on.

This, in simple terms, is the thermic effect of food (TEF) and protein has the highest TEF out of all the macronutrients.

Protein requires the most energy to digest. Around 20-30% of the total calories in protein goes to digesting it.

online coaching
Naomi was on 2.6g per kg of bodyweight

So if you consume 100 cals or protein, you burn 20-30 calories just by digesting it.

Next, it’s carbohydrates. That’s around 5-10% followed by fats (0-3%).

Why does that help when it comes to calorie counting?

Well, you need to consider everything when doing you’re setting out your calorie controlled diet.

Understanding a 2500 calorie day may actually be 2000 by the time you take TEF into account helps when you’re trying to create a deficit.

How do calories work in losing weight then?

By understanding our metabolism and how many calories you’re currently burning through


Just lying around (BMR)


NEAT (nonexercise activity thermogenesis)

Helps us map together your TDEE.

Which is super important if you’re looking to gain or lose weight.

Having said that, your metabolism isn’t limited to those 3 factors above.



Current training plan

Current eating plan



Sleep patterns

All play a part, some way or another in determining your TDEE.

Two weeks into calorie counting
Two weeks into calorie counting

Most of the time, when working with clients, previous experience actually stalls their metabolism which means they’re actually burning fewer calories in a day then they could be.

Not all the time, but in most cases.

And sometimes, this number of calories could be increased by as much as 20% through reverse dieting whilst still seeing significant bodily changes. (More about that in another post)

Once we’ve determined Calories out in a day we can then start to plan calories in.

To do this, we need to consume LESS than we’re burning.

This will put us in a deficit and help us lose weight.

This law can’t change, it’s thermodynamics…

Therefore, by counting the calories you’re consuming on a day to day basis helps you lose weight IF you stay in a deficit.

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Why does counting calories not work for some people then?

Like I’ve said before, you don’t need to count calories to lose weight. Simply using your hand will help you drop a considerable amount and get fairly lean. However, if you want to be lean (under 18% guys and 23% females) and understand the calorie contents of certain foods, calorie counting helps as it gets specific and you can measure it in fine detail.

If there’s any stall in progress, being able to see what you can tweak and adjust as you go along helps in further enhancing your weight loss.

Calorie counting may not work for some people for a number of reasons.

Either you:

Misjudge how many calories you’re burning


You’re misjudging the calories you’re consuming

Eszter calorie counting
Eszter kept her carbs relatively high in her 12 weeks

Almost all health conscious newbies start with crash dieting. Considerably reducing carbs because they are of course, as bad as Darth Vader. When actually that’s untrue.

Carbs aren’t the enemy here, it’s the complete lack of understanding of your portion sizes (and probably those biscuits and cakes didn’t help today, either).

How can I work out my daily calorie expenditure? (Also known as Total Daily Energy Expenditure)

First off, you can plug your details in here

(Katch-McArdle Formula)

Online Calculator
This will give you a rough idea of your BMR.

From there it’s pretty simple. You can multiply that number by the amount of activity you do on a day to day basis.

If, like most people you’re not super active and drive to work, sit down at a desk and drive back, multiply it by 1.2.

However, if you’re very active, perhaps a dance teacher or Zumba instructor (not the biggest fan) then you can multiply that number by 1.7 because you’re highly active.

If you’re somewhere in between?

Then 1.3-1.6 is a good start ?

Ok. You have your numbers to start with.

That, generally speaking, is your TDEE.

Of course, in order to lose weight you’ll need to be in a deficit so let’s be conservative here.

Reduce 15% off that number you have and that will be your goal calories per day.

That will kickstart your initial weight loss.

And as time goes by that measurement may need to be adjusted as you lose weight and your metabolism reduces.

But for now, let’s focus on that.

The next logical step, in transforming your body and dropping fat, is hitting your macronutrients.

And to decide on the ratio of protein, carbs, and fats, you should check this video out…

Watched it?


Ok, so you have your calories as well as your protein carbs and fats.

How do you know what you’re going to eat?

How do you add up your food to hit that number?

Well, have you heard of myfitnesspal?

It’s been around for years and is pretty helpful in this instance.

You’ll need to set up your macros in myfitnesspal first and here’s a video on how to do that.

For everything you consume you just need to turn the packet over and take a picture of the barcode inside the myfitnesspal app.

The only thing you’ll need to tweak is the serving size, so usually grams or portions.

That will deduct the calories and macros from your daily allowance and show you what you have left.

And all you need to do is pretty much keep as close to those numbers as possible.

Now am I saying you can eat anything you want? As long as it hits those numbers.

Protein Pizza isn’t going to cut it. 

Sorry to let you down.

Be realistic.

We still want to eat wholesome foods 80% of the time.

That’s food like chicken, broccoli, steak, eggs, fruit.

Food with one ingredient.

The food itself.

The next 10% can be from mixed ingredient foods.

Bread, nut butters are a pretty decent example here.

That’s 90%, right? My maths isn’t the strongest.

The next 10%.

Whatever you want. Seriously.

Chocolate, cake, you name it.

That 10% isn’t much but it sure does keep us sane.

So if you have 150 calories spare, having a bit of chocolate isn’t going to do much harm.

In fact, it’ll help you stay on track a little more as it doesn’t feel like you’re neglecting your favourite foods.

We’ve all been there, middle of the night, raiding the fridge a few weeks into our new diet.

Not something that should be a regular occurrence.

And, if you turn up, day after day on myfitnesspal hitting those numbers you’ve created above you’ll see your body changing, your weight dropping and your energy increasing.

And that is literally it.

The newbie’s guide to calorie counting and why, I feel, it is the easiest way to lose weight and get fit.

If you’re still not sure where to start, then grab the link below. It lays out 6 simple steps to losing weight and keeping it off, forever.


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