Why Calorie-Counting Doesn’t Work for Weight Loss

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I used to be a calorie-counter. Not because I wanted to lose weight or because of any sort of fad diet book I was reading, but because I thought maintaining my current weight was a simple math problem: calories in – calories out = net calories for the day. So I had this number in my head of how many calories I could eat to stay the way I was, knowing that 3,500 calories is equal to 1 pound. But a few years ago I realized this was not a healthy approach to food and eating because it was causing some bad habits: tendency to eat foods that are low-fat or sugar-free; lack of variety in the diet; and even skipping meals so I could eat a bigger dinner if I had plans to go out. Plus, it just wasn’t fun!

So, I was happy to see the title of a chapter in a book I am reading for my Nutrients class: “Why Calorie Counting Fails & What to Do to Lose Weight”. I think this is an important topic because so many people have the same thinking I did, that low-calorie foods are key to weight loss, but they don’t realize that the key to weight loss is a balanced body. If we are not giving our body fresh, whole foods, it will not digest and metabolize properly, which can lead to funky things like fluctuations in energy level and mood, fat stores, blood sugar issues, and even weight gain.

In my opinion, the key to weight loss is this: eat fresh, whole foods and vary your meals often; wait at least 4 hours in between each meal; drink plenty of water; and EXERCISE every single day.

Here are some of the points from the chapter in the book we read (Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill by Udo Erasmus):

  • Many factors besides calories affect our weight. If we fail to consider other nutrient and life-style factors, calorie counting will fail.
  • When we eat proper amounts of all essential nutrients, we feel satisfied and full; if we eat empty calorie foods, our body tells us it wants more nutrients by telling us “I’m hungry!” and so we eat more.
  • Foods that lack fiber and other nutrients (processed foods) slow down our intestinal activity: they take 75 hours to pass through the intestinal tract, and our body absorbs calories that entire time; nutrient-dense whole foods take only 15 hours to pass though.
  • Food cannot be metabolized unless we have enough minerals and vitamins. SO, empty calorie foods (processed foods such as pudding cups, potato chips, sugary yogurts, frozen meals, cake mixes, and pop tarts) are immediately stored as fat, no matter how many calories we are eating.
  • Processed foods have the following items removed: minerals, vitamins, and essential fatty acids. This is why these foods cause us to feel tired, hungry and like we have no energy.
  • “There are so many factors that modify the rate at which our body burns calories that simply regulating the number of calories we consume is ineffective in the battle against the bulge.”
  • At high levels of intake, essential fatty acids increase our metabolism, increase fat burning, and lead to weight loss (examples are olive, flaxseed or coconut oils, seeds, nuts, salmon, halibut, etc.).

  • Genes, hormones, nutrition, exercise, and health all affect metabolic rate, therefore affecting rate of weight loss or gain. Essential fatty acids, B-complex vitamins, and minerals all increase efficiency of metabolism and rate of weight loss.
  • One hour of exercise increases our metabolism for 12-16 hours. Not to mention it increases mood, confidence, heart health, and so many other things! (Can you tell I’m trying to emphasis the exercise here?!).
  • Refined sugars are absorbed very quickly and our body immediately turns them into fat to prevent toxic reactions.
  • 30% of Americans are “fat and starving,” meaning they are eating enough calories but they are eating junk, and not enough nutrient-dense foods. America is the only country where you can be "poor and fat," because of our cheap processed foods.

It’s a lot of good information. The author is obviously passionate about his theory that people need fats and should not avoid them as an attempt to lose weight. I think he made some great points, but I want to add that another reason (and possibly the most important reason) why low-calorie diets can be harmful is the potential for long-term disease and poor health. If your body is not receiving the vitamins, minerals and fats it needs for extended periods of time, it will be out of balance and this leads to disease.

So, again, it all comes back to eating fresh whole foods and avoiding processed foods. As Michael Pollen says: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”


  1. What's the name and author of the book you're reading for your nutrition class? I think I may want to pick one up as well just for some good readin' :)

  2. I totally agree! It is about the *kind* of food we're eating and not the number. I've seen weight watcher cookie boxes claiming a cookie is "1 point" however, the first ingredients are sugar, HFCS and trans-fat... Oy! Plus numbers and percentages in the nutrition facts are manipulated according to serving size and weight of the product. Numbers tell some of the story but the actual ingredients tell the whole story.

  3. Hi Erin! The book is called "Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill" by Udo Erasmus. It's a great book - very informative!


  4. Hi Ann! A classmate of ours posted a link to your blog on Facebook a whie ago. I just wanted to let you know that I've been enjoying your posts. They're super informative and really helpful as I try to incorporate healthier eating habits into my life. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

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