A Dietitian’s Review: Calorie Counting

Blog, Food

by Melinda D. Maryniuk, MEd, RD, CDE 

We review several different eating approaches in our “Dietitian’s Review” series with the goal of helping people who are looking to evolve their eating style towards better health. It’s important to emphasize that “going on a diet” is very rarely associated with long-term success with weight. We provide these reviews for anyone who wants to improve their health and is looking for an eating approach that will best fit their lifestyle and preferences.

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What is it?

This is exactly what it says it is…counting the number of calories to eat for weight loss.   As a general guide, if you eat 500 fewer calories a day, you will lose one pound a week.   Thus, if you usually eat 2000 calories a day to maintain your weight, eating 1500 calories a day will move you towards losing about one pound a week.  The amount of calories you need to maintain (or lose) weight is based on factors such as your age, sex, current weight, and activity level.  There are different formulas online that can help you determine recommended calorie levels for weight loss.  As a general guide – it is not recommended to eat less than 1200 calories a day.

What do I eat?

You can eat whatever you want, as long as it does not exceed the amount of calories allowed for the day.  A calorie-counting meal plan is very labor intensive.  It requires access to resources (including food labels, calorie counting books, apps, or pre-set menus created for specific calorie levels).  I also requires you carefully measure (or weigh) your food to be sure you are getting the amount suggested for the calorie level listed.  Many find it easier to think about calorie goal for each meal and snack, instead of for the whole day using the chart below:

Guidelines for Meal Time Calories for Weight Loss
Meal Women Men
Breakfast 300-400 400-500
Lunch 400-500 500-600
Dinner 400-500 500-600
Snacks 100-200 100-200

Is it effective?

It can be… but it is very tedious and most people give up before too long!

What are some pros and cons?

Pros:  Common.  Everyone likes to talk about calories.

Cons:  This does not encourage a balanced approach to eating or set you up for life-long healthy habits; the process of counting everything can be very tiresome.  Requires careful weighing / measuring of food.

How do I learn more?

There are many books, websites and apps that feature calorie counting.  Try these to start:

  • Books: The Calorie King (2018); The Calorie Counter 6th Ed (by K Nolan and J Heslin)
  • Websites: calorieking.com
  • Apps: My Fitness Pal myfitnesspal.com     Lose It: www.loseit.comEating a healthy diet and being active are both really important for being healthy, but for many people diet and exercise alone aren’t enough to help them reach their weight-loss goals. If this sounds familiar, read this fascinating article about what to do when diet and exercise aren’t getting you to where you want to be.

UPDATE: A recent study from the NIH suggests that a diet high in ultra-processed foods led to overeating and weight gain. Watch a Facebook Live episode that covers what to know about ultra-processed foods here:

To find a weight management physician in Canada near you, click here.

To sign up for our free online email program to learn the science of weight management, click here.

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