Can Counting Calories Help Me to Lose Weight?

Whether you view calorie-counting as a math problem, a means to an end or a waste of time, the amount you consume daily matters. At minimum, it needs to support your daily activities and keep you in good health. Yet, many people wonder if the effort is worth the trouble.

It is – even if you want to gain weight or achieve a sports-related milestone.

“Calorie counting can really help people dial in to how much they're truly taking in versus what they think they’re taking in,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Amy Jamieson-Petonic. “There is a lot of conflicting information out there. The old school thinking is a calorie is a calorie is a calorie. Now we know that isn't the case.”

Making Calorie-Counting Worthwhile

What matters is how nutritionally dense a food is, as well as its overall quality. That is where tracking foods and having tools really resonates with Ms. Jamieson-Petonic's patients.

“You want to make sure your diet is going to meet whatever your goals are,” she says. “We tend to eat a lot of processed foods today, which doesn’t have the nutritional quality of a whole foods diet that consists of fresh fruits, vegetables, 100 percent whole grains, lean protein and heart healthy fats. By eating foods that an 8-year-old can pronounce, your diet can address a lot of the comorbidities that are brought about through foods and their affect on health.”

To make calorie counting worthwhile, Ms. Jamieson-Petonic suggests:

  • Using apps. “Diet tracking apps are the wave of the future and make it much easier to have ‘real time’ feedback to see where you're at with regard to calories,” she says. “The apps I've used before really help – like Lose It and MyFitnessPal. Even fitness trackers, such as Fitbit, Apple Watch and Jawbone, can help take the guesswork out of calorie consumption and energy expenditure from exercise.”
  • Understanding your body is a complex machine. Speaking of exercise, counting calories is only part of the picture when it comes to weight loss or weight gain. You can't undo poor nutrition choices – like eating a piece of pie or fast food lunch – by working out.
    “I don't think people realize how many calories you have to burn to expend those calories from your meal,” Ms. Jamieson-Petonic says. “You can burn about 100 calories by walking two miles or running a mile. A piece of pie is usually 250 to 300 calories per slice. That’s about three miles of running. If you eat a fast food lunch of a small cheeseburger, french fries and water, you'd have to walk about one-and-half hours to expend it. Most people aren’t going to have time to exercise this long to burn off what they’re eating, which explains the weight issues we battle today.”
  • Learning portion sizes. A food scale that weighs food can help you learn and track what you eat, as well as tips and tricks from websites like ChooseMyPlate.gov.
  • Working with a professional. Some people benefit from a consultation with a UH dietitian, who can provide specific guidelines tailored to their bodies and goals. “There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to calorie counting and achieving your weight and health goals,” she says. “I use appreciative inquiry to find out what worked well for a patient in the past and to decide how best to help them achieve their goals.”

If you’re not sure how many calories to consume per day, a registered UH dietitian can help. To make an appointment, call 216-844-1499.

Amy Jamieson-Petonic, M.Ed., RDN, CSSD, LD is a registered dietitian nutritionist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Ms. Jamieson-Petonic or any University Hospitals healthcare professional online.

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