Counting Calories to Lose Weight: Should You Try It?

It may seem odd for a blog about fasting to bring up counting calories. Well, it turns out everyone is unique and some will achieve the weight loss success they have been aiming for through counting calories. It’s just a fact. In this post, I will talk about the benefits of calorie restriction, then we will look at whether you should consider counting calories to lose weight with or without intermittent fasting. We will also talk about the million-dollar question: will counting calories to lose weight harm your metabolism?

The Facts About Calorie Restriction

I started learning about the benefits of calorie restriction through the work of Dr. Joel Fuhrman and Dr. Valter Longo. Both have been researching health and longevity for decades. In the world of intermittent fasting, calorie restriction is almost a dirty word. You may hear that you should forget about counting calories or that it is harmful, it will slow down your metabolism.

Fasting As a Form of Calorie Restriction

Intermittent fasting is not a magical way to lose weight while still consuming more energy than your body needs. The reason fasting is effective for weight loss is that it will naturally cause you to reduce your calorie intake.

Benefits of Calorie Restriction

Calorie restriction has been studied mostly on animals, but some human studies also exist.

Animals Studies

There have been many animal studies on calorie restriction. More so than on intermittent fasting. For most animals, calorie restriction increases lifespan and reduces cancer risks, heart disease, and diabetes. Typically the calorie restriction accounts for between 10 and 40 % the control group’s calorie intake. Some studies show a lifespan increase by as much as 40 percent!

Human Studies

Dr. Valter Longo often tells the story of a man who spent two years on a calorie restriction diet (I think he had reduced is calorie intake by 20 or 30%). The man had great blood markers after two years, but was miserable! That is indeed the problem with strict calorie restriction!

Another study done on 200 subjects was less severe. The participants reduced their calorie intake by 12 percent. The results were reduced risk factors for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Intermittent Fasting vs. Counting Calories

When it comes to comparing fasting to counting calories, many people have strong opinions. You may hear things like: “don’t bother counting calories” and “counting calories will slow down your metabolism”. In fact, intermittent fasting, as I mentioned already, is a form of calorie restriction. That being said, most people lose weight with intermittent fasting without counting calories because it regulates your appetite. That’s why intermittent fasting works so well! For many, it’s more sustainable than calorie restriction because a sustained calorie deficit requires too much will power.

Intermittent Fasting With Counting Calories

However, some will find that intermittent fasting alone is not enough. They will need to count calories for a time while intermittent fasting to achieve the weight loss results they want. Read my Top 7 Tips for Weight Loss With Intermittent Fasting if you would like more guidance to lose weight with intermittent fasting.

Counting Calories Without Intermittent Fasting

The whole idea for this post came to me as I was talking to a friend about her experience with intermittent fasting and calorie restriction. She felt that intermittent fasting was too hard for her, but she enjoyed the control, and the more sustained results she was getting from counting calories. It made me think about the fact that each of us is very unique. Some love intermittent fasting and hate counting calories. For others, it’s the other way around.

Before You Decide to Count Calories Without Intermittent Fasting…

Before you decide to give up on intermittent fasting and start counting calories, I just would ask you to consider a few key points:

  • Fasting naturally helps decrease your appetite, which means that for most of us, it will be easier than counting calories. However, unless you go keto or do a modified fast beforehand, intermittent fasting may feel just as difficult as calorie restriction.
  • Losing weight is hard for most people at first. For the average person, intermittent fasting is the least restrictive approach. Read the Top 17 Most Common Intermittent Fasting Mistakes to Avoid before you quit.
  • You need a calorie deficit of around 500 calories a day to lose one pound a week. If you wanted to lose 2 lbs a week, that would mean a calorie deficit of 1,000 calories a day! More than half your regular calorie intake for most women. Check your expectations!
  • Nutritional labels (including the number of calories) can be wrong by as much as 20%.
  • Most people underestimate how many calories they consume. That is an important reason why counting calories to lose weight is often ineffective.
  • Whatever approach you choose needs to be sustained long term. Don’t expect to return to eating whatever you want whenever you want. EVER! Find the method to you enjoy enough to make it a lifestyle.

If you have decided to count calories for weight loss, I have created a 10-day meal plan than includes around 1,000 calories a day. I wouldn’t suggest you stick to 1,000 calories a day long term, but you may find it very helpful to achieve your goals for this short period of time. Strangely enough, people don’t feel hungry on this plan, and the healing it will accomplish may be all you need to feel ready for experimenting with different types of fasting.

Won’t Counting Calories to Lose Weight Ruin Your Metabolism?

The million-dollar question: Will calorie restriction ruin your metabolism? It depends on how you define ruining your metabolism. For most people, it means that you will need fewer and fewer calories to function. And that’s a bad thing because everyone likes to eat! However, I once heard an interview with Dr. Joel Fuhrman that gave me a different perspective. He was talking about how a slower metabolism is linked with slower aging. On top of that, he said that needing to eat less means saving on groceries and spending less time in the kitchen. It’s all about mindset, right?

Calorie restriction works in a similar way as intermittent fasting for health and longevity as far as reducing the need for insulin goes.

Short term fasts do seem to boost your metabolism by up to 14%. However, from what I understand, we are talking about 36 to 72 hour-fasts. A 16-hour window would not have this kind of effect. Moreover, this thermogenic response is temporary.

Again, it comes down to personal preference. Read my post How to Reset Your Metabolism if you want to learn more about how you can make sure your metabolism functions optimally.

Counting Calories to Lose Weight Video

In Summary

If you wonder whether to try counting calories to lose weight, let me just say that I wouldn’t recommend you start with counting calories. I would recommend you start with a modified fast and intermittent fasting. However, if you are not seeing the results you want, then, counting calories may be your best bet. It’s all about figuring out what works for you and I am here to help! Don’t hesitate to contact me for more guidance.