Counting Calories Works

Why Counting Calories Works

Counting calories works. In a broader sense, it is the foundation of so many fad diets. The simple fact is, that if you control your calories, then you control your weight.

And people often ask why they are not losing weight after working out so hard and persevering in their diet. The answer is pretty simple, and it has to do with the most fundamental principle of weight control. It revolves, unsurprisingly, around calories. And at A Lean Life, we know that counting calories works.

There are so many fad diets that come and go. They are all the buzz one year, and then the next year they disappear. So many adults in Western countries are chasing the magic bullet for weight loss.

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An Important Question: Is Your Fad Diet Sustainable?

And yes, many weight loss plans are very effective at helping you lose weight. But a more important question is, can that same diet be sustainable for the long haul. If it’s not, then you’ll likely end up where you started. The statistics don’t lie on that.

It’s the reason that 70% of Americans are overweight or obese. However, if you get control of the foundational basis for all diets – calories – then you can control your weight over time.

It’s very simple math. If you burn more calories then you consume, then you’re going to cut weight. And the fact is, it really doesn’t matter what the food is. What matters more, is the calories contained in that food. The “Twinkie Diet” taught us this!

Why does counting calories work?

There are many ways to measure energy and different manifestations of energy. One of them is heat, and the word calorie comes from the Latin word calor, meaning heat. Calories are a measure of how much energy is required to create a given amount of heat.

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How Many Calories Are in 1 pound of Fat?

There are 3,500 calories in 1 pound of fat. So if you want to set a solid weight loss goal of 1 pound each week for 16 weeks, you would need to be at a calorie deficit of ~ 3,500 calories per week for 16 weeks. Very doable.

An effective way to do this is as follows:

  • Sunday thru Thursday (“school nights”):
    Aim for a calorie deficit of 500-1000 calories per day
  • Friday and Saturday (“cheat days”):
    Aim for a 500 calorie surplus on these 2 days

If you follow this simple plan, you’ll be in the range of a 3,500 calorie deficit over the course of a week.

Counting Your Calories

Counting Calories WorksThe best way to make sure you track your calories is to count your calories. And it’s a lot easier than you think. And more importantly, your calorie count does not need to be perfect! 

It needs to be close, and your best honest guess based on the information that you have and will accumulate over time. And honest is the key, as many people err on the downside so they feel they have more room to eat. This is not the best strategy! It will serve you best to be honest.

And what makes it even easier, is that most people eat a lot of the same things each week. You eat your favorites. Once you have these calories figured out, then you’re 90% there. You’ll very soon believe that counting calories works…like a charm.

So here’s an example of a typical diet for someone trying to lose weight:

Orange or Banana — 50 calories
Low-Fat Yogurt — 100 calories
1 cup Whole Grain Cereal with Skim Milk – 200 calories

Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad (no croutons) — 500 calories

Afternoon Snack
Protein Bar — 150 calories

Grilled Chicken Breast — 300 calories
Black Beans & Brown Rice — 400 calories
Steamed Veggies — 100 calories

TOTAL: 1,800 calories

You can download the Calorie Tracker spreadsheet below, and keep track of your calories for 1 month. I promise, it will seem tedious at first. But once you get the hang of it, it’s super simple and the key to controlling your calories.

And if you have a Fitbit, which we highly encourage, you’ll know very accurately the calories that you burn each day.

So between the calorie counting, and the Fitbit tracker, you can have a highly accurate calorie deficit each day!

Best Calorie Tracker (Calories Burned)

We suggest the FitBit Ionic for a wrist calorie tracker. It’s waterproof up to 50m, so it’s not only great for terrestrial cardio, but also for swimming. It’s just a fantastic tracker, and you can sync with your smartphone and track your calories burned daily. It also track steps, miles, heart rate, and more. And you can customize the face with hundreds of options.

What Your BMR Means?

On the download sheet, you’ll see a cell for “My Daily BMR.” Your daily BMR is your basal metabolic rate. This is a good guide to tell you how many calories you’ll burn based on your body size, and daily activity.

Use the BMR calculator to calculate a good estimate on the calories you’ll burn in a typical day. And then when compared to counting calories of the food you consume, you’ll have a very good idea of your daily surplus or deficit. (1)

Don’t Believe Diets that Say Calories Don’t Matter

Many professionals will tell you that you don’t need to count calories, that eating certain foods will allow you to eat what you want and still lose weight. That just does not work for the long term. Again, the real question is sustainability. 

I have done Atkins, South Beach, Keto Diet, Martha’s Vineyard 30-day Juice, and more. They are all great, and will help you lose weight. But they are not sustainable. We are human. We crave good food, and variations of good food. And it’s overpowering for 99% of people over the long term.

So you need to understand your calorie requirements, and then know how many calories you need on a daily basis to achieve your weight goals. Learn more about your basic calorie requirements here.

We eat calories in almost every food and drink we have and use that energy to fuel the body. We maintain body heat, our cells function, and our respiratory muscles by consuming calories. 

Thus, we have a basal calorie requirement to keep us alive and breathing. Additionally, we have those calories we burn by performing any form of physical activity.

Weight Loss

So, why does counting calories work?

Because if we don’t use the same amount of energy we consume, it gets stored in the body. Using the exact same principle, we can achieve something called negative calorie balance. It is based on consuming fewer calories than we use every day. The result is invariably losing weight.

Similarly, if you want to gain weight, you need to consume more calories. And depending on the type of food you choose and the amount of physical activity, you could gain weight based on muscle mass or fat. That’s why counting calories is so important, regardless of your fitness goals. (2)

But if losing weight is simple, why is it that so many people struggle with obesity?

Because they rely on diets written and designed for somebody else, and they are not trying to count or track their calories. They think counting calories is equal to becoming obsessed, and believe that weighing foods takes a lot of time and effort.

An Easier Way to Track Your Calories

Counting calories would be difficult if you were forced to look up every ingredient, make calculations, and writing down numbers every day. But that’s not the case. Nowadays, we have calorie-tracking apps to know how much you’re consuming, and others like Fitbit to track calories you burn. 

That way, you will only need to input the type of activity, your time, and the portion of food you’re eating (in grams, number of slices, cups, and many other easy measures). Counting calories works, but it doesn’t need to become an obsession.

How Many Calories Do Push Ups BurnThe final step if you’re counting calories is to correlate the calories you consume with those you’re burning. Aim at a deficit of 400 calories and maintain your diet. If you don’t see results after two weeks, increase your calorie deficit by 200 extra calories until you reach a maximum of 1 pound lost every week.

Keep in mind that your weight will depend on variables such as hydration (water retention), and your muscle gains. So, do not become obsessed with the balance and get your body measured from time to time. If you follow this advice, you will see how counting calories works for you, too.

Many people find success with intermittent fasting also. There is more and more data to support the effectiveness of “feeding windows.” 

Check some other nutritional posts to learn more about healthy eating and healthy nutrition:

Click to see more diet and nutrition info.

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David Williams

A diet and fitness enthusiast, David is an ex-Army Airborne Ranger and Infantry soldier with decades of fitness and wellness experience. A West Point graduate with a degree in engineering, he focuses on technical research related to fitness, nutrition, and wellness. He loves the beach and working out, and spending time with his wife and daughters.

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  1. Deen, J. C. (2020). The Ideal Caloric Surplus for Muscle Gain (men and women). JCD Fitness.
  2.  Van De Walle, G. (2019). A 3,000-Calorie Diet: Benefits, Weight Gain, and Meal Plan. Healthline.

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