Like the title says: should you really be counting your calories when dieting?
The short answer: YES!
The much longer answer:
Scientific study actually does demonstrate that rigorous self-monitoring of caloric intake almost always correlates to improved weight control.
When it comes to weight, calories are still king
We all know the basal metabolic rate (BMR) and determining your daily caloric needs are far from an exact science. The base numbers start out based on estimates using just a few variables, and then it gets even more complicated if you’re doing exercise that doesn’t have a means of monitoring calories burned.
Yet, despite all of the fancy (and often overcomplicated) diets, one thing has remained true: calories in vs. calories out is still the biggest factor in weight loss.[1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8] <-- (Yes, that's eight well-performed studies demonstrating this statement.)
But it’s still not surprising that a lot of people just kind of keep a rough running tab of their caloric intake for the day in their head. As long as it’s not too far off their target of 1800 or 2500 or whatever it may be, they consider it “good enough”.
But “good enough” never is.
Of course, the less prone you are to store body fat and the more active you are, the more you can get away with rough estimates. But if you’re just eyeballing it, and you aren’t getting away with it, it’s definitely time to get the calculator out and start tracking. Or maybe a calorie counting app, so you don’t go insane with spreadsheets.
Why counting calories is paramount: The research
Obesity studies of this nature have been done since the 1970s, and there’s a great one from 1982 showing that participants who did not monitor their food intake during the three-week holiday season gained a whopping 57 TIMES more weight than those that did!
The groundbreaking study on self-monitoring, however, was conducted back in 1993 at the Illinois Institute of Technology. 56 participants were followed for a total of 18 weeks, alternating between monitoring and not monitoring their food intake.
The groundbreaking results… from 1993!
When they were monitoring, the type and quantity of food consumed was recorded as well as the exact time at which it was eaten and the calories and grams of fat in it. The results showed that direct monitoring led to a significant loss of overall weight during the best weeks and significant weight gain during the unmonitored weeks across the board.
And this was before everyone had smartphones, tablets, or even laptops with easy-to-use calorie counter apps!
There is one small kink with this study — for some reason it had only eight male participants to 48 women. And for some reason, studies over the past 20 years have also tended to recruit significantly more women than men, at least according to a 2011 literature review covering the full period since the 1993 study.[11,12]
But the results are also amazingly consistent — monitoring calorie intake carefully always leads to much better weight maintenance.
It would be nice to see some more studies that use larger samples of men, but it’s also hard to see how strict self-monitoring could actually make you worse off in any way. When you actually measure what you eat, you start to immediately self-correct.
That’s not to say that “ballparking” your calories or using portion management strategies in lieu of a hard calorie count are bound to fail; many people have had success with these methods for years. But if you find they aren’t working for YOU, the key to a weight loss turnaround may just be more stringent caloric monitoring.
How to get started
So what can you do to keep a tighter rein on your dietary intake?
Well, for starters, put technology to work. There’s apps for that, even some free ones such as MyFitnessPal and FitDay. As of late, LoseIt is also a very popular app.
Eating out hurts more than helps
Restaurant visits can be tricky if you live in one of the states where it’s not mandatory for them to post calorie counts on the menu, but the bigger chain restaurants often voluntarily list health information on their websites including overall calories and macronutrient breakdowns.
Get a food scale – now!
An investment in a scale for daily weight recording has also been shown to help by the previously mentioned studies. Exertion logs are also important, and investment in a good pedometer can really help if you spend a lot of time on your feet.
A little bonus help from Pyroxamine
Myokem’s Pyroxamine also helps to support weight loss programs through thermogenesis and appetite control. Focus enhancement and improved absorption of nutrients also helps immensely in crushing cravings and unnecessary snacking, and Myokem was recently named the best supplement brand of 2014 by Stack3d Supplement News.
With careful caloric monitoring, regular high-intensity workouts, a high-protein diet and a high-quality diet enhancer like Pyroxamine, the science says you’ll shed weight and develop the body you’ve always wanted.