Here’s a hot topic on the health and fitness blogosphere. What should people do if they want to lose weight and get into shape? Count calories, or eat intuitively?
My opinion might not be what you’d expect.
The complaint against calorie counting is that people have a tendency to get obsessed with restricting to an unhealthy, lower than low amount of calories. That’s a valid concern, but blame the individual, not the method. The purpose of calorie counting is to ensure that you are getting the right amount, not too much, not too little, that is required to maintain your healthy goal weight. I’ve already called out diet companies and others who recommend unhealthy restrictive calorie targets… but let’s assume you’ve been given a target that is actually correct and reasonable; restricting to a lower amount is a deliberate choice. The issue isn’t that calorie counting promotes restrictive eating, the issue is with people who choose to use calorie counting to ensure that they do not meet their minimum requirement.
So… if you count calories and actually have a suitable target to support your healthy goal weight, you can’t go too far wrong.
Intuitive eating though, what about that?
The problem with telling people “don’t count calories, just eat intuitively” is that most people’s intuition is SHOT TO HELL. If it wasn’t, they wouldn’t be overweight to begin with! I put the blame on increased portion sizes at restaurants and especially fast food outlets, but for whatever other reason… people over eat, and get fat. Then they decide they need to get into shape, so they cut back to an amount that they think is suitable to lose weight… from my observation, usually even less than the people who count calories to a “below what I would recommend” level.
So people’s idea of “this is about how much I should eat normally” is wrong, and they gain weight. Their idea of “this is how little I should eat on a diet” is wrong, so they fail at dieting and only succeeding in screwing up their metabolism so that they gain even more weight when they go back to their wrong amount of normal eating.
With all that being said though, intuitively eating “about the right amount” without stressing out about it too much should be your long term goal.
But in my opinion, the best way to develop and hone that intuition is by planning your daily intake to meet a specific and appropriate calorie (and macronutrient) target. Aka by counting calories.