FACT:  In order to lose weight you need a calorie deficit - you need to use more calories than you consume.  

It sounds simple; keep a track of your calories, eat slightly less than you need and you'll lose weight.  And a lot of main stream diet programmes use this method. Whether it's counting calories, points or syns, it all boils down to keeping your consumption below a certain number. 

So is this an effective strategy for weight loss?  As with most questions on weight loss it's not a simple yes or no answer... it depends!  There are pro's and con's which I've listed below:

Pro's

Con's

  • You want to learn how much your body needs on a daily basis
  • You're curious about how your diet varies day to day 
  • Your weight loss has plateaued - perhaps you need to make some adjustments 
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    You're injured and need to adjust your food intake because you're not as active
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    It keeps you accountable
  • You start getting obsessed with the numbers
  • You find yourself avoiding or refusing food because you don't know how many calories it has
  • Eating becomes JUST about the numbers - you stop focusing on the quality
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    It's time consuming
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    It puts you in a dieting mindset
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    You're hard on yourself if you go over your ideal amount
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    You stop listening to your body's signals - hunger/energy/cravings
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    It's not accurate.  Food labels can be wrong by up to 25%

So you can see, it really depends where you are on your weight loss journey and what your personality and preferences are.

If you're someone who's been on numerous diets over the years, focuses solely on the quantity of calories rather than the quality and has stopped listening to the cues your body is giving you then it's probably not the best tool for you.  I recommend you start to focus more on the quality of your calories and start tuning in to the signals your body is giving you.  My free guide - Reclaim your Waist - gives you lots of useful information.

However, if you're curious to know what your body needs on a daily basis or if you feel that tracking your calories will keep you accountable, it might be something you'd like to try.  If this is you, then here's how I recommend you start:

Download the free app MyFitnessPal.  

It will ask you for your current weight, your goal weight, how much weight you'd like to lose per week (1-2lb per week weight loss is ideal) and what your activity level is.  It will then calculate the number of calories you should aim for in order to reach your goal weight.

Most people are surprised by how many calories they actually need.  The standard numbers thrown around are 2,000 calories per day for women and 2,500 for men but unless you're incredibly active you'll probably need less than this.  Say I wanted to lose 5Kg (approx 1/2 stone), I put these figures into MyFitness Pal to calculate my daily calorie goal:

Current weight

Goal weight

Weekly goal

Activity level



Daily Calorie Goal

74Kg

69Kg

0.45Kg (approx. 1lb)

Lightly active (daily walking, Yoga 1-2 times a week, Pilates 1 x week, tennis 1 x week)


1,560

Within MyFitnessPal you can track your calories as you go through the day.  You can also log any exercise/activity so that your calories needs are adjusted accordingly.  This is one day I picked from my log:

Chocolate Breakfast Smoothie 


Sweet & Spicy Potato and Bean Soup (click here for the recipe)

Slice of multi-seeded bread


Dinner: Mozerella & Pesto Escalope, lightly spiced potato wedges, roasted cauliflower rice, roasted mushrooms, sweetheart cabbage


Total calories

516 Kcal



492 Kcal



659 Kcal


1,668

Start by tracking for 7 days.  This will give you a good overview, especially as most people tend to eat a bit more at the weekend.

Often just one week of tracking is enough for most people.  They usually spot quite quickly where their calorie excess is coming from. For example: olive oil is a healthy fat but 1 tablespoon is 119 calories.  The solution could be as simple as halving the amount you use to roast your veggies or dress your salad.

Everyone will have their own views on this but you need to make the decision that works for you.  Some coaches will say you MUST track, others will say you don't need to count calories.  As is often the case, there isn't one right answer, it's about using the tools that work for you.

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