I think it’s probably safe to say that each and every one of us, at one time, has either counted calories or been told to count calories.
We dutifully download one of the weight loss/calorie counting apps out there and start measuring all of our food and putting it in the little app.
I feel like I did SO many of these apps/programs. My Food Diary, Weight Watchers, My Fitness Pal, Spark People, etc.
I cannot tell you how many people I have heard say over the years that weight loss is simply calories in, and calories out. Simple math.
And yet, given that information, why on EARTH did it take me over THREE DECADES to finally lose weight for the last time? Clearly it wasn’t for lack of tools available to do this!
It took me so long to lose weight biking for the last time because, for many of us, counting calories can actually hurt our biking weight loss.
There are so many reasons why this is the case, from scientific ones like all calories NOT being created equal to restrictive diets that are too difficult to stick with.
Interested in learning more? Read on for all of the reasons why counting calories can actually be detrimental to your biking weight loss efforts.
Counting Calories Encourages You to Ignore Your Bodies Hunger Cues
This reason, my friend, is HUGE.
Here’s the deal. I am not a robot, and neither are you.
When we go about our day we get hungry, our body sends signals up to our brain that we are hungry, and that it’s time to eat.
And we eat! At least, this is how it’s supposed to be. We lose weight by learning how to avoid emotional eating and only eat when we are hungry.
However, when you are on a calorie counting diet, and you have “x” number of calories for the day, you know this is the number you should eat regardless of whether you are hungry or not.
No one should be eating a hot fudge sundae before bed that they don’t want or need just because they have 800 calories left according to some app that is calculating the combination of their exercise and food consumption.
For me, for example, I am just not hungry after a long ride. I can burn 800 calories in a 2.5 hour ride on a weekday night, have a big protein shake, come home, and go to bed without feeling hungry at all.
The next day? I am ready to eat my face off. THAT is when I get hungry, and that is when my body needs more food and is ready to really recover from my ride. That’s just the way my body is. Yours might be different and you might be super hungry after a long ride.
When you are just counting calories and not paying attention to how your body feels, you might not be giving it what it needs.
Weight loss is a combination of eating when we are hungry and listening to our body, not just eating up to a certain number of calories. All bodies are different and metabolize food differently, and we need to pay attention to this.
Counting Calories is Hard To Stick With Long Term
I mean, have you ever started a traditional diet and just gotten tracking fatigue?
It is rather tedious to stick everything that you are eat in a little app (no matter how easy they make it with their fancy barcode scanner) and constantly measuring all of your food.
When we are all sorts of motivated and have a goal in mind, it can be easy to do this at first, but then, well, LIFE happens.
I feel like counting calories can be that pile of laundry that’s sitting in the basket in your closet. It just isn’t going to always be a top priority for the vast majority of us forever.
It’s doable in the short term, but after a couple days or weeks we find ourselves skipping a day here or there, and eventually just saying “eff it” and giving up on it.
I don’t know about you, but it tends to be one of the first things that I let slide. I can plan my meals every day like a boss because it only takes five minutes each morning.
But, constantly opening my phone and plugging in what I eat? Not gonna happen. Nope, nope, nope.
When coaching on weight loss, I always encourage my program members to only do things they are willing to do for the rest of their lives.
Most of us are NOT willing to plug stuff into an app forever.
And those of us who are? We have to be careful too! Because when you get hyper-focused on, and obsessed with, the numbers you can start to develop a less than healthy relationship with food.
Counting Calories Feels Restrictive
When you try to lose weight by restricting calories or certain foods, the way that you feel about losing weight can quickly turn from something positive that you are doing for your health to something negative.
You know, that kind of something that is sapping all of the joy out of food. Let’s look at this a little more closely, shall we?
When we start to count calories we find that foods we really like are often high in calories. We start to worry we won’t have enough, and eat a bunch of things we don’t really want to because they are lower in calories.
I remember doing different calorie counting programs and finding myself STARVING at the end of the day. Here I was about to eat dinner and because I ate some kind of high calorie food earlier in the day that I plugged into my trusty little app. Then I realized I was out of calories, out of points, out of all the things.
This sound familiar? It puts you and your brain in a place of scarcity where you feel like you can’t win. Eat something and you are going to “undo” all of the hard work that you have done so far.
I knew that if I was going to actually lose my weight for the last time that a calorie counting approach was NOT going to work, because I was so fearful of not having enough food and I was absolutely not willing to give up foods I loved forever.
Restriction just makes us want something even more because we can’t have it. It gives a bunch of power to the food, and a bunch of power to the calorie number. We want to make sure that we are keeping the power and control in our hands when we want to lose weight for the last time.
We don’t want to hand that power over to an app, or to a food that we are afraid we will “lose control” over because the app says one bite of cheesecake is eleventy million calories.
Calories are NOT All Created Equal
I waited till the end here to nerd out on the science of calorie counting for a number of reasons. First of all, I think that a lot of times we try to find scientific explanations for what we want to do versus what we need to do.
Secondly, losing weight usually has a lot more to do with our emotions and gaining momentum with small doable changes than it does with hyper-focusing on science.
But, the science shows that at the end of the day all calories are actually NOT created equal. Calories do different things in different bodies. They are metabolized differently.
You might eat the exact same thing as I do, in the same quantity, and my body might metabolize it differently depending on a number of factors including our gut microbiome.
There might be the same number of calories in a Twinkie as there is in a piece of steak, but that Twinkie might have processed ingredients that make you feel like you are hungry when the protein and fat in the steak might make you feel more full.
Interested in reading more about the science behind why you shouldn’t count calories? Check out this informative article from Harvard Health and this article from Time .
A Final Note
At the end of the day, yes, experts say that we do need a calorie deficit to lose weight. I am not, in any way, disputing this, and 100% agree.
The question isn’t whether or not we need a calorie deficit, the question is how we go about getting there.
If we focus more on following our hunger cues and eating healthier foods that feel good in our body, we are way more likely to lose weight and keep it off long-term.
I lost my weight 4 years ago, I kept it off, and I will not gain it back unless I want to. How freaking powerful is THAT?
If instead you are counting calories, thinking of foods as “good” or “bad,” you may lose weight initially, but are so much more likely to say “eff it” and give up because it’s just not sustainable.
The idea behind losing weight biking for the last time is that you have to make small, doable changes that lead up to big results over time.
Eat when you are hungry. Stop when you are satisfied. And when you screw up and eat all the things? Forgive yourself and move on.
Remember, the only difference between someone who loses weight and someone who doesn’t is that the person who loses weight doesn’t give up.
We aren’t give up. YOU aren’t giving up. You’ve got this, my friend. I absolutely, 100% believe in you.