Do I need to count calories?

So, you need to count calories right?

That depends!

Remember Claire? She dropped a dress size in 6 weeks without counting a single calorie. This was purposeful. Like many of us, Claire had tried a lot of different diets and this counting of points, syns and calories over time had ruined her relationship with food and her body!

Katie lives part of the year in Thailand; attempting to track calories on My Fitness Pal became a nightmare for her. Instead, through online coaching, we're working together to track her food without having to count a single calorie. Making the right food choices in Thailand is steadily becoming second nature to Katie.

Although the overall calorie balance is important for your body in fat loss, toning or muscle gain, actually counting everything that goes in isn’t always necessary and isn’t always appropriate.


In fact, if you’re just starting out on your fat loss journey, or you’ve bounced between one diet and another for years and years, there are several things you should definitely do before you start counting – if indeed you ever get to a point where you need to count at all.

Most importantly, you need to provide your body with the right macro and micronutrients for good health, energy and recovery. There are 3 macronutrients (excluding alcohol) and our body needs all of them for various reasons – click here for an introduction to macros.

Eating carbs, or fat won’t make you fat, eating too many calories will.

So surely, I hear you ask, I need to track calories? Otherwise how do I know if I’m eating the right number?

Well, your body is an amazing biological machine and, treated right, is more than capable of tracking – and moderating – your calorie intake for you. The problem is that so many of us have stopped listening to our body. We refuse ourselves food when we’re hungry so as not to exceed our calorie count only to binge on junk food later because we feel so deprived; we eat foods filled with chemical combinations that our brain loves, it gets carried away wanting more and more and more, and before we know it, we've ignored our biological signals of satisfaction and we've eaten until we’re stuffed, bloated and guilty.

The good news is, there is another way.

If you ask people who’ve lost weight and kept it off what they’ve done that’s successful, you’ll discover that they changed their behaviours. They made eating well and exercising regularly a habit.

This is the best place you can start. Create habits which will encourage you to eat only what you need, to stop eating when you’re full and to eat foods which are going to support your goals.

Here are 5 simple steps to get started:

1. Eat fruit and / or vegetables at every meal.

These are full of vital nutrients which will keep you healthy AND they’re lower calorie foods which will fill you up and keep you satiated. Aim for a ratio of 4:1 veg to fruits over the course of a day.

2. Eat protein at every meal

I like Precision Nutrition’s way of measuring your protein intake as you can do it anywhere – in a supermarket, restaurant, at home or on holiday. Basically, you count a portion of protein as the size and thickness of your palm. Your palm is personal to you so if you’re a larger person, you get a larger portion. No weighing necessary!

palm of protein

3. 'Garnish' your plate with carbs

Carbs are not enemy, but they also shouldn’t be the star of the show. It was Katie who told me she now sees carbs as a garnish, rather than the main meal and I love this phrase. Begin by adding a cupped hand of carbs to your meal then experiment with less and more at each meal. Track how you feel after you’ve eaten until you find a point where 2 hours after eating you’re not hungry, your cravings are in check and you’ve good energy levels.

4. Only eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re 80% full

When we eat until we’re bloated and stuffed, we are inevitably taking on board too many calories. Not only that but we’re blatantly ignoring our body screaming “stop eating!!! You’re not F#%&ing hungry!”.

Now you’re eating real foods, it will be much easier to tune into the signals you are receiving from your body. Identify the difference between head hunger and real hunger. If it feels like a ‘craving’ you’re not hungry, if you feel it in your stomach, you’re hungry.

I know your mother taught you to eat everything on your plate or else, but chances are that’s because she grew up in a time of rationing and scarcity of food. You are not. When you start to feel full, don’t force it down; stop eating. And next time, make a smaller portion of food.

protein, veggies and a 'garnish' of carbs

5. Aim to achieve this 80% of the time.

Practice makes permanent, not perfect.

We’re aiming to create better habits and and a better relationship with food here which will enable you to achieve your goals. We don’t live in a perfect world and we’re not perfect people. I drink alcohol. I eat cake. So will you. Don’t kid yourself that you can give it up forever and be happy. As soon as you go out for a meal and a few drinks with your friends, or hit the all-inclusive buffet on a cruise ship, you’ll be screwed!

Instead, accept that there will be times when the food you choose isn’t optimal. It’s not bad, there’s no need to feel guilty and there’s definitely no need to give up and start again on Monday.

If 80% of the time you’re eating food which is fuelling your body, supporting your goals, and providing you with the vital nutrients you need, then one burger ain’t going to kill you.

Just make sure that kind of food doesn’t creep in more often than you realise and it does keep to just 20%!

There's no quick fix

There really is no magic potion, quick fix or fast track to weight loss, good health or a toned physique. This is the start of a journey and that journey will change and develop along the way but if you want this to be a long term achievement, it will need to continue for the rest of your life.

By creating the right habits from the outset, you're setting yourself up for greater success in the long term. Don't get me wrong, there is a place for calorie and macro tracking but unless you want to be eating by numbers for the rest of your life, tuning into your body will enable you to understand your own body's relationship with food which will see you not only achieving that lean, toned and sexy figure, but slinking around in it for the rest of your life.