Should You Count Calories?

Should You Count Calories?

You’ve seen the statistics. Americans are more overweight than ever and the trend is expected to continue. The lifespan of our children will likely be shorter than ours for the first time in the history of mankind, due to chronic diseases related to obesity. In this day and age, weight loss doesn’t happen by accident, but weight gain does. Why? Consider the following:

  • The majority of Americans do not get the minimum physical activity needed
  • The average American takes approximately 3,000-5,000 steps per day, which means they’re sitting most of the day
  • Portion sizes are significantly larger than before
  • Food is available in endless quantities, anytime of day, and high-calorie foods are often cheaper

The bottom line is our environment encourages sitting and eating 24/7. Sitting while commuting to work, sitting at a desk to make a living, sitting for entertainment (phones, movies, video games, TV), and of course sitting while eating. To make matters worse, humans are programmed to eat and take the path of least resistance -- a survival mechanism that helped our hunting and gathering ancestors survive, but is now killing us. Literally.

Here are more facts to ponder:

  • 1 out of 10 people do not know how many calories they need to maintain their weight
  • Most people think they eat less than they actually do (20-50 percent less on average)

Translation -- we’re not very good at consuming the right amount of food and beverages to maintain a healthy body weight.

If you want to change something, like your clothing size, body fat percentage, or the number on the scale, the first step is to become aware of your body’s needs and the choices you’re making. In other words, awareness opens the door to change. Otherwise, you’re clueless and you don’t even know it. You end up becoming a victim of creeping obesity -- that 1-3 pounds the average American gains during adulthood because they’re not paying attention.

Perhaps you are paying attention, maybe even counting calories, and you’re wondering, is it worth it? Here’s what the research shows:

  • People who track what they eat at least 5 days a week lose twice as much weight as those who don’t
  • People who track what they eat regularly maintain weight loss better
  • People who use a body sensing device that tracks activity and calories burned lose 2-3 times more weight than those who don’t

This makes sense. After all, how do you manage something, whether it’s your checkbook, your blood pressure or your waistline, if you’re not tracking it? Well…you don’t. You end up with bounced checks, uncontrolled blood pressure and having to buy bigger clothes.

What you don’t know does hurt you. Especially when it comes to your health.

When you pay attention and discover that your morning coffee drink and muffin is nearly 1,000 calories AND you know your body burns about 1,800 calories a day, you are empowered to make a smarter choice. When you use measuring tools to find out that your morning bowl of cereal is five times more than it should be, you can make an adjustment. When you read the nutritional guide in a restaurant and see your favorite salad is over 1,200 calories, you can choose something else.

Counting every single calorie to the point of obsession is probably not healthy, as most obsessions aren’t, but getting and staying informed about your body, your activity level and your food choices is 100 percent empowering. In my opinion, tracking is not a chore but a choice. A choice to pay attention and stay in control of my body and my health.

Medically reviewed in August 2019.

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