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Eating Less and Counting Calories Alone Won’t Help With Weight Loss

Out of all the American adults who have succeeded in losing weight, 32% credit dieting exclusively for their weight loss while 47% say diet and exercise combined helped them achieve their weight-loss goals, according to a Gallup poll.

Popular types of dieting and exercise

Graph courtesy of

Based on the data, more Americans turn to dieting rather than exercising for losing weight.  In regards to dieting, eating less and counting calories are the two most popular choices for losing weight.  Unfortunately, those strategies alone aren’t very effective.

It goes without saying that if you’re eating less in order to shed some pounds, you also have to make sure you are eating healthy.  Get plenty of protein, eat your vegetables, and make sure your food is prepared properly without too much fat, grease, or oil.  Carbohydrates can also be a good thing, especially if you exercise or live an active lifestyle.  Without carbohydrates your body won’t have the energy or stamina to complete a workout and get proper exercise.  It’s all about eating a balanced diet and moderation, moderation, moderation.

Counting calories alone is also an ineffective strategy.  This may sound counterintuitive, but the truth is most people don’t understand how calories work.  Calories are basically units of energy within our bodies that we obtain by eating.  Scientifically, a calorie is the amount of energy it takes to heat one gram of water by one degree Celsius.  That’s it.  Some foods have a higher calorie content than others, making them more “calorie-dense.”  When people count calories, they tend to stay away from calorie-dense foods and cut down their portion sizes.  However, if dieters aren’t careful when doing so they could end up depriving their bodies of nutrients as a result.  Nutrients that can help them lose weight.  Yes, it takes eating to lose weight, strange as it may seem.

By taking in as many calories as your body needs to get through the day you will neither gain nor lose weight (normally).  So for females, 1,500 calories a day and males 2,000 a day, which is the recommended daily value for each sex.  We typically burn that many calories in a single day and that’s where the numbers come from.  Provided you aren’t a couch potato and you do something everyday, whether it’s working at a job, going to school, or even taking a walk, you should burn as many calories as you take in and prevent them from being stored in the body as fat.  By taking in 1,500 or 2,000 calories (depending on your sex), you ensure your body is going to have enough energy for the whole day and you’ll sustain your current weight or stay right around it.  Taking in more than those numbers will likely result in weight gain and taking in less than those numbers will likely result in weight loss.  But before you start trimming off 500 calories from your diet you need to take a look at your body and your lifestyle to know what kind of calorie intake is right for your weight loss goals.

Every activity causes us to burn calories–even sleeping burns hundreds of calories.  As you’re sitting at your computer and reading this article, you are burning calories.  How much depends on your body mass index (BMI) and metabolic rate.  You can find your own BMI by clicking here.  Metabolic rate is something you’ll have to find out from your doctor, but you can make a rough estimate on your own by seeing how long it takes for you to get hungry again after a meal and how much energy you seem to have on a typical day.  Those with higher metabolic rates find themselves hungry within an hour or two after eating a meal and feel energized throughout the day, while those with lower rates can remain satisfied with one large meal a day and don’t feel particularly energized but not lethargic either.

People with higher metabolic rates burn calories faster than those with lower metabolic rates.  And those with higher BMI’s have more water in their bodies to burn calories than those with lower BMI’s, so their potential to burn calories is very good.  So, someone with a low BMI and low metabolic rate will find it difficult to burn calories because they don’t have as much water in their body to burn the calories and their metabolisms are slow to put calories to work.  This group of people will find success with longer workouts, especially aerobic workouts like jogging and mountain biking.  Those with high metabolic rates and high BMI’s are calorie-burning furnaces and will benefit from high-intensity workouts, provided their bodies are in good enough conditions to handle the exercises.  Other than that, BMI and metabolic rate aren’t too important when considering exercise and dieting.  They just help you know what to expect with your workout and weight loss regiment.

The important thing to remember is if you’re going to exercise, you absolutely need calories.  Without calories your body won’t have the energy to exercise and your workouts will be cut short, resulting in wasted time and energy.  If you try to push through the workout after your body has depleted its energy you’ll over-exert yourself, sweat out necessary nutrients and risk injury.  This is true for people trying to build muscle and for those trying to lose weight.  Calorie intake is an important part of the exercising and weight loss process.

Depending on your goals you may want more or fewer calories.  Generally speaking, if you exercise a lot (more than 3 times a week), you’re going to want at least the recommended daily calorie intake for your gender.  Failing to do so can result in malnutrition, which puts your body in an anorexic state.  This in turn makes losing weight and building muscle more difficult, not to mention it is very unhealthy.  By taking in the recommended daily value of calories and then working out you’ll burn more calories than you take in and should have enough energy in your body to complete your exercises.  However, if you plan on doing a high-intensity exercise, such as the P90X or INSANITY programs, you may want to take in extra calories.  You’ll still burn more calories than you take in and the extra calories will help you get through the entire workout with enough energy to make the most of it.  This in turn will give you faster results than someone who runs out of energy and has to stop their exercising.  And yes, you’ll still lose weight despite the extra calories.

You also need carbohydrates and protein to give your body energy and to sustain it through a work out.  Protein is not only good for building muscle, but it’s also great for losing weight.  In fact, it’s necessary.  Not only that, but proper protein intake will prevent muscle loss during weight loss, increase your metabolic rate, improve your body’s immune system and antioxidant functioning, and build “good” HDL cholesterol–all of which factor in to long-term weight management success and a healthier body.  I find that peanuts are a great, quick source for both protein and carbohydrates but some people may not like them due to their fat and oil content.  There are plenty of good sources for carbohydrates and protein so be sure to check all of them out when considering a weight-loss strategy and exercise regiment.  However, if you are trying to lose weight then taking in a minimal amount of carbohydrates is optimal.  You want just enough to give you energy for the day and for working out, letting the protein carry your body the rest of the way through the exercise and through the parking lot when you leave the gym.

When attempting to lose weight it is crucial to maintain a healthy diet.  If you are combining dieting and exercise then decreasing your caloric intake will make you less likely to see results from your workouts.  You have to eat in order to lose weight, otherwise your body won’t have the nutrients needed for slimming down and it won’t have the energy necessary for exercising.

Some of the best foods for losing weight include milk (vitamin D helps support weight management), eggs (for protein and appetite reduction), beans (especially those that are high in fiber like green beans), pears and apples (high-fiber fruits that reduce appetite), lean beef (for protein), extra virgin olive oil (helps burn calories) and grapefruit (helps convert calories into energy instead of fat) for starters.

Of course, dieting alone is not always enough for losing weight.  Living an active lifestyle and getting proper exercise on a weekly basis are also necessary.  You don’t have to buy a $200 home workout video, hire a personal trainer, or hit the gym to get a good exercise.  Jogging is still one of the best ways to remain active and lose weight.  Mountain biking and swimming are also excellent alternatives.  Yoga and stretching help keep your body toned and fit.  Playing pick-up games of soccer and basketball are also excellent ways to get exercise and have some fun in the process.  If you’re concerned about building muscle, chop some wood or try rock climbing.  There are plenty of workout alternatives out there and many of them are free of cost.  Just take a look at what the people around you in the park, on the sidewalk or on your Facebook news feed are doing.  And it never hurts to be creative.


Before switching majors to Rhetoric and Professional Writing Brandon studied nursing and pre-med at the University of Cincinnati.  He took 4 years of medicine, biology, chemistry, psychology and sociology courses during his time as a health student.  He hopes to use his knowledge for scientific and medical writing while pursuing a career as a photojournalist.


8 comments on “Eating Less and Counting Calories Alone Won’t Help With Weight Loss

  1. raspberry ketone
    July 27, 2012

    Very energetic post, I loved that bit. Will there be a
    part 2?

    • bwkairos
      July 31, 2012

      Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed reading it! I’m currently writing a follow-up article that talks about alternative exercises that are free or require very little money, but I’m open to suggestions. What kinds of things did you want to be in part 2 of this article?

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This entry was posted on July 26, 2012 by in Features and tagged , , , , , , , , , .
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