- A calorie deficit is necessary for weight loss, but you don’t need to count calories.
- Try tracking 2-3 days a week, and be mindful of portion sizes the other days, Jordan Syatt said.
- Counting calories is useful for educating yourself and being accountable, but you don’t need to do it forever.
- Read more Working It Out here.
I have tracked calories in the past to help me lose weight, and it’s worked (when I’ve been consistently hitting my target most days). I want to lose a little more weight because it’s crept back up and I feel sluggish and less confident, but I don’t want to track calories all the time — it got a bit obsessive before, and I also found it a lot of effort. Is there a way I can strike a balance between tracking my food and just trying to make healthy choices? Or is it better to do one or the other?
— Confused about Calories
Firstly, well done for deciding to make a healthy change to make yourself feel better, and well done for being so self-aware too.
Learning from your past experience is really important, and it sounds like finding a happy medium between counting calories and eating more intuitively would be great for you.
You don’t have to track calories to
, but you do need to be in a calorie deficit.
Track two days a week
Personal trainer and fat loss coach Jordan Syatt told Insider a good starting place could be tracking your calories two or three days a week.
He suggests tracking your food on, say, Mondays, Wednesdays, and maybe Fridays.
On the other days, don’t track. “Just keep the portions in mind that you used the day before,” Syatt said.
Often when people are counting calories, they’re “super meticulous,” and then “go completely off the rocker” when they’re not, he said.
To avoid this, keep your portion sizes in mind, but you don’t have to weigh or measure everything.
Track meals not calories
If you reach a point where you want to stop counting calories altogether, Syatt encourages what he calls the “three plates two snacks” principle.
This means every day, you eat three meals, each of which can fit on one plate, and two snacks, each of which can fit in the palm of your hand.
For you it might work better as two meals and three snacks, or three meals and three snacks, but whatever is the right amount for you and fits into your lifestyle, you stick to that as consistently as you can.
It’s a way to keep your portion sizes in check without having to be too obsessive.
You don’t need to track at all
If you don’t want to track portions or calories, you don’t need to, according to personal trainer Emma Storey-Gordon.
Counting calories is an educational tool, so by having spent some time doing so previously, it may be that you’ve already got the benefit from that, she told Insider.
She likens it to driving a car: You don’t need to use the navigation when you know where you’re going.
“Tracking calories for a period of time is a useful tool,” Storey-Gordon said. “It makes you more mindful of food choices, it teaches you about the calories in different options, it holds you accountable, and it gives you some data from which to make changes based on your results.”
But you don’t need to track calories forever.
“The food you eat has the same calories whether you track them or not, and your body is the best food diary you will ever keep,” Storey-Gordon said.
You don’t need to be as exact as you might think, she said, not least because calorie-counting is never entirely accurate.
“Many of the benefits of tracking calories have nothing to do with calories,” Storey-Gordon said. “It is the awareness, accountability, and knowledge of the calorie density of different foods that is most useful. You don’t have to input everything you eat in to an app to implement from that.”
Take some time to reflect, try different strategies, and find what’s right for you.
Wishing you well,
As a senior health reporter at Insider and a self-described fitness fanatic with an Association for Nutrition-certified nutrition course under her belt, Rachel Hosie is immersed in the wellness scene and here to answer all your burning questions. Whether you’re struggling to find the motivation to go for a run, confused about light versus heavy weights, or unsure whether you should be worried about how much sugar is in a mango, Rachel is here to give you the no-nonsense answers and advice you need, with strictly no fad diets in sight.
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