Is Counting Calories a Waste of Time?

I was in a calorie deficit for 30 days. It changed the way I look at food.

Photo by Eaters Collective on Unsplash

Googling “counting calories” is not helpful, as you may see below. Some people think it’s “a waste of time.” However, some people believe this is “the only thing that works.” At first glance, it seems straightforward: eat less than you need, and you will lose weight. Is that really easy, and being just in a calorie deficit is enough? Spoiler alert — it is not.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and I have only basic nutrition knowledge. I am a dude on a medium who experiments with his body and explores how it makes him feel. This article does not consist much of science. It is my journey that I want to share with you.

Screenshot of googling “counting calories is”

About me

I am 20 years old, and I am overweight. At the end of September, I weighed 212 lbs. (96.2 kg.), and my height is 5.9 ft. (181 cm.). I am an active person, though. I love walking and running, but I tend to overeat and snack too much.

I had a couple of reasons to try being in a calorie deficit. It may help me lose excess weight and break my snacking habits. Besides, I wanted to determine if the calorie deficit is the only thing you need to lose weight.

According to the calorie calculator, I need 2713 calories to maintain weight. To be in deficit, I needed fewer calories than that. I aimed at 2212 calories per day. As I (Spoiler alert #2) lost weight throughout the experience, I lowered my aim to 2029.

Screenshot of Calorie Calculator

I used the app LifeSum to count my calories. I logged in my weight and height, chose “Classic Dieting,” and built up a plan. The plan was similar to the one Calorie Calculator suggested. There are dozens of similar apps: My Fitness Pal, Lose it, FatSecret, etc.

How did it go?

It was smooth at the beginning. I was in a “honeymoon phase.” The challenge excited me, and during the first week, I ate healthily. I know that “eating healthy” is a debatable topic. I use this term to refer to that I ate lots of vegetables, fruits and barely hit 2000 calories.

I drank 2.5 liters of water every day. I did not care much about carbs, protein and fat. Despite that, it felt great. I had more motivation and energy. I ran twice during the first week for 2 miles and walked 8000 steps almost every day. My digestion also improved. Although I felt hungry, sometimes, it was manageable. I lost approximately 3.3 lbs. (1.5 kg) in the first week.

In the second week, I encountered difficulties.

First — I experienced “post-honeymoon fatigue.” I got tired of counting calories. It was interesting at the beginning, but soon it became a pain in the neck. I also realized that I have to count the oil that I was using to fry my food. It added between 150 and 200 calories per meal. It demotivated me, though the beginning was successful. It also made me think whether I miss something else, and it frustrated me even more.

Second — I usually ate at home, but I had a few dinners with friends. The problem was I did not know anything about the food I ordered. I did not know the weight and how much oil. So I shot in the dark with tracking. It led to plenty of inaccuracies.

Third — I had a rough week. Because of stress, I binged a few times on junk food and did not exercise. I did not exceed the number of calories, but most of the food I ate was chips, soda, and pizza. This kind of food did not give me enough energy. It led to a lack of motivation to track my meals, and I gave up on counting calories for 2 days. By the end of the second week, I gained 1.1 lbs. (0.5 kg).

That was the week when I realized that calorie deficit is NOT the only thing that works. I also need to count on protein, fats, and carbohydrates. In other words, — macronutrients matter.

During third and fourth weeks I found the balance. I forced myself to eat healthy during the first week and spoiled myself with a junk food on the second week.

I realized that I need a formula. I usually eat healthy (plenty of protein, vegetables, fruits etc.). When I wanted pizza or burger I had to be more active.

I did not count the calories that I burned, but I had a deal with myself. I could go 200 calories over the limit if I ran 3 miles that day. So I did not exceed my calorie intake and I did not tyrannize myself with restricting the food that I love. A balanced diet is a key. Loosing weight is a marathon, not a sprint. If I break bad and force myself to do something I do not like at the beginning I am likely to fail later.

Meme by CaliGirl on BingeClock

Though I ate all I wanted, I was reaching macros more accurately each day. That helped me stay full and energized throughout the day, and I had no desire to snack. I dealt with my biggest problem.

When I stopped overanalyzing — I finally achieved what I wanted. After 30 days of “Classic dieting,” I lost 7.7 lbs. (3.5 kg.). I did not hit the gym or exercise, but I ran twice a week, from 2 to 3 miles, and I made approximately 10000 steps every day.

By the end of this challenge, counting calories bored me. I will not do it later, probably. Although it helped to understand how I feel when I eat a certain food.

Sometimes I did not want to track the days when I ate too many calories. I feel ashamed of myself. It was rejecting my current state. Later I realized that being sincere with myself is essential, and without knowing where I am — I can not know where I should move.

My typical day of eating looked like this:

I drank two glasses of water and a cup of coffee before breakfast.

At breakfast, I usually ate a cheese omelet with some kind of meat and vegetables. Sometimes I ate oatmeal with fruits and nuts for breakfast, but it was not as often.

At lunch, I usually had a salad with feta cheese, olives, chicken, or I had a soup.

I also snacked before dinner with fruits (like banana or apple) and nuts. Sometimes when I did not want to eat fruits, I ate grilled cheese. Because I love it. I also drank my second cup of coffee.

At dinner, I had whatever I wanted. It may be pizza, burger, or oatmeal with berries. The dinner was some sort of reward for productivity throughout the day.

Again: I am not a doctor, so I can not say that this day of eating is healthy or unhealthy. It worked for me, and I felt good by eating these meals.

Meme by by Honestkirsty on imgflip

My Conclusions and advice if you want to try it:

Being in a caloric deficit helps to lose weight, but it is not “the only thing that works,” as Google says. You should also balance your intake of macronutrients. You may meet your goal by eating only burgers and pizza, and you would lose weight, but you would feel like crap. That is not worth it.

You do not have to be precise in your track. 10% deviation is ok, but you have to be sincere with yourself and track everything — oils, sauces, beverages, etc.

Eating at home is not only cheaper and healthier. It is also easier to track.

There is no harmful food if you eat moderately.

A little bit of exercise helps. Walk 8000 steps every day (that’s not that much as it seems), run twice a week, or do whatever you love. In the end, you will be in deficit without knowing it.

Do not count the calories you “burned.” Counting all the calories you eat is hard. I am not sure that I had only a 10% deviation in my tracking. It is not bad, but if I counted the calories I burned, the deviation would have risen. If I had such a significant deviation — why bother counting at all?

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