Is Counting Calories Right For Me?

by Emily Duerr, RDN, LD

Last Updated: August 13, 2020

There are so many different strategies to living a healthy lifestyle, figuring out what’s right for you might be overwhelming. One common method is counting calories or macronutrients. You might find yourself asking, “Should I be doing this?” Here’s what the experts have to say on these health strategies.

Calorie counting involves tracking the calories you eat and drink throughout the day, either electronically or on paper. Macronutrient counting focuses on the percentage of carbohydrates, fat, and protein you eat in a day. There are many different apps that can help you keep track of your daily intake. You can also find this information on nutrition labels of packaged foods. But before you jump into tracking your daily intake, be sure to weigh the benefits with the considerations below.

Benefits: There can be some benefit to paying attention to what you eat throughout the day, including:
  • Learning more about the nutrient content of foods.
    The process of tracking calories and macronutrients involves looking at nutrition labels or the nutrition content of different foods online. This can be a great way to learn about what nutrients are in the foods that you eat and can even inspire you to try new foods.
  • Understanding what your body needs.
    It can be difficult to gauge how much food your body truly needs. If you tend to mindlessly eat, you may be eating too much. Or, if you have a busy schedule and skip meals, you may be eating too little. Tracking your intake can help you develop an idea of how much food it takes to fuel your body.
  • Keeping you accountable.
    It can be very easy to grab a quick snack as you walk past the kitchen, or to have a few bites of a family member’s meal, even if you aren’t truly hungry. Having to write down what you eat throughout the day may cause you to think twice. This gives you an opportunity to assess your level of hunger.

Considerations: While there are benefits to counting calories and macronutrients, there are also some factors to consider:
  • What are your long-term health goals?
    Before you begin tracking, take time to assess your long-term health goals. Consider that you likely don’t want to track your intake for the rest of your life. Tracking calories and macronutrients can be a great short-term strategy to give you a better understanding of the nutrient content of foods. However, it is likely not a long-term health strategy.
  • Does tracking your intake create stress and guilt?
    Sometimes when counting calories or macronutrients can lead to feelings of stress or guilt when you don’t meet, or go over, your estimated daily requirements. This can create a negative relationship with food and is a sign that tracking is not a healthy strategy for you.
  • What are your actual nutrient needs?
    Keep in mind that each person’s nutrient needs are individualized based on health goals, medical conditions, and height/weight/age. Using different apps or online calculators may not be an accurate estimation of your needs. To better understand your individual needs, we recommend meeting with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to help you understand the options that are best for you and your health goals.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.

Emily Duerr, RDN, LD

Emily Duerr, RDN, LD

Emily strongly believes in a balanced diet- choosing foods that are good for your body AND good for your soul. With this philosophy, she can help you meet your health goals without having to give up your favorite foods. In addition to a passion for nutrition, Emily loves spending time outside with her two rescue dogs.