Why Estimating Calories Is A Fast Track To Failure
There is a misconception in many social circles that counting calories is;
- Is too hard
- Is too much effort
- Makes you weird
- Makes you a control freak
Which is pretty distorted when you think about it, because what these people are essentially saying is;
“Taking care of your health and fitness [insert any of the words from above].”
Which in itself is pretty damn short-sighted.
Yet there is this pervasive idea that you can kind of just ‘wing it’ and still lose fat.
That instead of counting calories, you can just;
- Eat clean
- Only have healthy foods
- Just eat a bit less
- Or move a bit more
- Stop worrying so much
- Be more fun
I don’t know about you, but I find these things never work and are generally a symptom of those who want the results without the hard work.
Remember there are no shortcuts to make lasting changes to your body.
There are no quick fixes or easy way outs.
Now, I’m sure these people don’t mean (at least most of the time) to belittle your efforts to lose fat but the simple fact is this;
If you want to make meaningful progress towards your fitness goals you need to count calories.
The Problem With Estimating Your Calories
Calories are the foundation of your success.
I don’t care who tells you differently;
- Personal trainer
- Best friend
- Work colleague
- The latest YouTube guru
If you don’t know how many calories you’re consuming and expending your results will only ever be mediocre.
The fact is;
“Whether consciously or unconsciously, most people cannot or do not give accurate information about what they eat. When it comes to dietary intake, pretty much everyone forgets or dissembles.”
Not only this but;
“Underreporting of food -- and therefore calorie intake -- increases with age and is greater among women, people who are overweight, and those of low education and income status. People also tend to exaggerate intake of foods they think are supposed to be good for health.” (1)
Add to this research (2) that shows that those who are actively trying to change their weight are more successful than those who aren’t, [but] everyone struggles to estimate their calorie intake correctly, often underestimating the calorie content of their meals by up to 25% (3).
This can result in you eating up to 125 extra calories for every 500 you think you’re eating.
Think about it, if you eat a diet of 2,000 calories a day this could easily result in you eating 500 extra calories daily, and that right there is your calorie deficit dead and gone.
Looking at the bigger picture that’s an extra 3,500 calories per week and an extra 14,000 calories a month.
What this means is, every time you try to lose fat by estimating your calories, you will fail.
There are no 2 ways about it.
If you’re trying to lose fat but instead of calculating your calories you opt to estimate, the odds are stacked against you.
You will most certainly underestimate how many calories you eat during meals AND what’s worse is you probably won’t even realise it.
The end result is, instead of losing fat, you pile it on.
All the while thinking you’re in a calorie deficit and wondering why it’s not working.
It’s no wonder you declare that you can’t lose fat and give up.
As if to make things worse, when it comes to exercise, research (4) shows that when estimating the number of calories burnt through exercise individuals overestimate the total by as much as 72%.
Which is absolutely staggering.
This is huge
That means if you think you’ve burnt 600 calories in a vigorous 30min cycle at the gym chances are you’ve only burnt around 150 calories.
Eat one chocolate bar and you’ve already eaten more than you’ve just worked so hard to burn.
That’s not all, research also shows that (5);
“normal weight individuals overestimate EE [energy expenditure] during exercise by 3-4 folds [and], when asked to precisely compensate for exercise EE with food intake, the resulting energy intake is still 2 to 3 folds greater than the measured EE of exercise.”
- You think you’re burning 3 – 4 times more calories than you are
- You’re eating 2 – 3 times more food than you need
Is it really any wonder that even when you’re 100% sure you’re in a calorie deficit you still gain weight?
Please STOP estimating your calories if you want to get results.
Here’s What You Should Do Instead
If you’re ready to make real progress and put all the doubting and second guessing behind you then here is your simple 4 step solution.
Calculate your calories and macros based on your goal
If you want to lose fat;
- Take your bodyweight and multiply it by 12
- Protein = 1g per lb of bodyweight
- Fat = 25 – 30% of daily calories
- Carbs = remainder of daily calories
If you want to build muscle;
- Take your bodyweight and multiply it by 16
- Protein = 0.6 – 1g per lb of bodyweight
- Fat = 20 - 30% of daily intake
- Carbs = remainder of daily calories
Don’t make this more complicated than you need to.
All you need from this is a starting point and this will give you pretty good one.
Plan meals in advance and track your intake carefully
Grab your phone, download MyFitnessPal, create a free account and do this;
- Track everything you eat, make sure you hit your calorie and macro goals
- Input your meals for the week in advance to ensure they fit with your goals
- Do this every day without fail
If you can’t find the time to do this, then how do you expect to train regularly and stick to your diet.
You must invest in the things that will bring about the changes you want to see.
This is one of those things.
Monitor your progress and make adjustments as needed
There are a few ways to track your progress;
- Weight yourself daily
- Take fortnightly measurements
- Take monthly photos
- Pay attention to how your clothes fit
- Keep a food and training diary
I strongly suggest you do at least the following, to begin with;
- Weigh yourself daily and take a weekly average
- Keep a food and training diary
- Take monthly measurements of your waist
These stats will be the gauge by which you can measure your progress.
They’ll also be your first line of defence which will let you know if something isn’t going to plan.
You can then adjust things based on the feedback tracking these stats give you.
Learn to embrace boredom and live with ‘the suck’
Training is great, and eating is fun.
You should enjoy both of these things, as your enjoyment is crucial to your long-term success.
However, there will be an element of boredom and suck at times.
One of the best ways to stick to your diet is to eat more or less the same thing every day. Only changing it up now and then to fit your particular tastes or wants.
Sure, this sounds boring BUT by removing the need to make endless decisions on what to eat and whether it fits your macros will make your life a million times easier.
An easier life = better diet and training adherence.
Which gives you better results.
Better results = THE GOAL.
As much as it sounds to estimate your calories and ‘live a carefree life’ it makes getting the results you want and hitting your goals really, REALLY hard.
If you want to make the progress your chasing then you need to;
- Calculate your calories and macros based on your goal
- Plan meals in advance and track your intake carefully
- Monitor your progress and make adjustments
- Learn to embrace boredom and ‘the suck’