Why Calorie Counting May Not Work For You

A long time ago it was discovered that there was a basic level of energy (measured as calories or kilojoules) required for the body to survive, and there was a subsequent mathematical equation created to calculate this.  Around World War 1, it was really useful and it saved lives as food was quite scarce, so people were able to live on the bare essentials based off the proposition that they could get enough calories into their bodies.  It didn’t matter what the food was, as long as they got enough – though I have to say that back then they did not have the opportunity to fill their stomachs with highly processed, chemical laden foods that we have today.  The food back then would have consisted a lot more of what we call today “whole foods”, and as along as they got minimum requirement, they would survive

The calorie equation was able to arm people with the knowledge that they could survive if they could consume x amount of calories.

But do you really want to just survive?  I would suggest that a better goal is to thrive!  Why would you want to do just enough to get by?

Counting calories is used widely and it can be used successfully if you are given the right prescription – one that suits your body, your goals and your energy needs.  The problem is, most people aren’t using it correctly.

What I see as a Coach is people taking up a cookie cutter template which could be used by 100, 1000, even 10,000 different people, but it does not address specific environmental concerns, genetics, activity levels, and accessibility to good, nutritious food pertaining to the individual concerned.

I hear it all the time – “I can’t seem to lose weight even though I’m counting my calories.”

What are those calories made up of?  The simple relationship of “Energy In v’s Energy Out” needs to be looked at in the context of what that “Energy In” is comprised of (processed foods v’s whole foods) and what that “Energy Out” looks like (60 mins on a slow moving treadmill v’s 10 mins of intense weight bearing exercise).

I have had members over the years tell me they want to lose weight so they are going on a “restrictive diet”.  They count their calories, they drink meal replacement shakes, they pop pills.  And a lot of them do lose weight.  But in the process they are miserable because they are depriving themselves of real food. The stress of trying to stay within their calorie range causes stress and anxiety, which in turn has massive effects on their digestion and bodily functions.  They have a sneaky alcoholic beverage or a chocolate but then they feel guilty.  This is no way to live.

Food is fuel, but it is also part of the social experience.  Food should be a source of life and vitality and enjoyment. Not misery and anxiety and guilt.  Instead of counting calories and depriving yourself, how about you just eat more “whole foods” – foods that have had minimal human intervention. Do this and (a) you will feel more full so you don’t eat as much, and (b) you will nourish your body with more of the good stuff (vitamins and minerals) and less of the harmful stuff (processed foods full of sugar and chemicals).

Calorie counting does not address emotions (many people’s eating habits are driven by emotion); or an individual’s gut bacteria which can affect how calories are used; or alcohol consumption and processed food consumption which affects fat accumulation in the liver; or the way a person breathes (upper chest breathing v’s deeper diaphragmatic breathing) which influences the body’s fuel utilisation.  There are so many more factors that “calorie counting” does not address.

I am not a Nutritionist.  I am just someone who knows a bit about food and how it affects the body.  But I am also someone who, over the last 10 years as a trainer/coach, has seen a myriad of diets and fad eating philosophies be used by individuals, and I have seen results come and go.

Everyone is different so you may have to adjust things slightly to suit your body, but as a general rule, if you eat a variety of food that is as close to it’s natural state as possible, then you are on the right track.

Next time you go shopping, stick to the outer perimeter (fresh food – fruit, veges, meat) of the supermarket and try to stay clear of the middle aisles (processed foods).  This is a good start to eating well!


Shane – the quiet achiever. Just comes in, lifts heavy, moves fast.



A. 2 min Plank

B. 15 mins to get a 5RM Front Squat


2 rounds for time in teams of 3:

60 Thrusters 40/30kg

6 Rope Climbs

60 Burpees over the Bar

30 Pull-ups

Published by Wilsy

Crossfit Coach

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