Counting Calories is the Only way to Lose Weight

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follow url Alright, how many people are freaking out and ready to throw their mug of bone broth at their “I love bacon” magnet on their refrigerator containing their grass fed butter? Counting calories is important, probably the most important thing I have done to get leaner, key word… leaner.

To be fair, most of you who read this blog know that I am a devotee of NSNG (No sugar, no grains) or the Paleo diet, or the Ancestral Diet, or the low carb diet blah, blah, blah. But really, I’m an advocate of the “Me Diet.” I know that I am capable of making decisions on what my body needs and when it needs it.

This morning I’ve lost 35 pounds over about 8 months time. The most beneficial behavior for my weight loss to this point has been eating in a NSNG or Paleo or Low Carb style. I did it without counting calories, mostly. I must tell you that I’m addicted to My Fitness Pal. I love it. I love the tracking, I love the graphs, and I love the charts. It’s a lot of fun for me and makes me cognizant of what I’m putting in my body. So, it only makes sense that I use this tool.

If we take the stance that calories don’t matter, we are flippantly discounting the hordes of people in the forums on MFP that have banners at the bottom of their posts that read 50 lbs lost, 124 lbs lost, 25 lbs lost. If calories in calories out doesn’t matter than why have they been successful? And not all of them have ballooned back to where they started or higher.

If calories don’t matter then why does Vinnie Tortorich talk about only having coffee and heavy whipping cream in the morning and not eating until the evening and having a small dinner? I bet his calories are pretty low. Abel James also talks about intermittent fasting. I bet that keeps his calories low.

What about he argument that reducing one’s calories also reduces their carb intake which reduces their insulin response which allows them to regulate their hormones and reduce their liver glycogen and start gluconeogenesis (burning of fat for energy… and protein.) So a reduced calorie diet is really a low carb diet or lower carb diet.

I agree. I agree to everything. But you can’t have your bacon and eat it too. In gluttonous proportions that is.

It’s all still a question of energy balance. If our stores of “fuel” (liver glycogen, muscle glycogen, and blood circulating glucose) aren’t depleted enough we will not have to burn protein or fat for fuel (gluconeogenesis.) Glucagon is released when our blood sugar is low. This signals the body to start burning fat or protein to create fuel. It’s our bodies way of protecting ourselves from becoming hypoglycemic. This has to happen to burn fat. If we don’t burn fat for fuel we will not lose weight, period. It’s a fact. By going on a low carb, paleo, or NSNG diet we are, in essence, starving our body of “fuel” thereby causing our bodies to use our fat for fuel. The other benefit of low carb dieting is that it minimizes insulin responses and enables our cells to become sensitive to hormone secretion again. So to lose weight we need to:

1. Deplete our fuel supply – exercise, starve, or Low carb, NSNG, Paleo
2. Minimize Insulin Spikes – Low carb, NSNG, Paleo
3. Promote gluconeogenesis – Low carb, NSNG, Paleo

I have an opinion about this. Calories in and calories out matters but don’t worry about counting your calories initially or ever. Huh? Yeah I know it’s contradictory.

For me I’ve done it both ways, counting calories and not counting calories. The leanest I have ever been is 5 % BF was when I was 19 and competed in a bodybuilding contest. I did this by counting calories. However, I was healthy and had my hormones in check when I started to count calories.

I believe that this is the most important thing to remember when and if you count calories. If you have issues with sugar addiction or insulin resistance then counting calories isn’t going to work if you keep eating a high carb low cal diet. If you’ve been eating the normal western diet of refined carbs then counting calories isn’t going to work if you keep eating a high carb low cal diet. To be fair, counting calories doesn’t work for most people that have been eating a regular diet for an extended period of time and are 20 or more pounds over weight if they include high carbs and low cals.

When I lost my weight I dropped from 235 to 205 in about 3 months. I was training for my first triathlon and eating mostly Paleo friendly foods. Even when I got strict with my diet I still stayed at 205. My weekly workout volume stayed the same. Why didn’t I lose anymore weight?

I believe it’s because I found my bodies “Set Point.” What’s a “set point?” The set point, in my opinion, is where your body feels comfortable. The Goldilocks Zone. You’re not too fat and you’re not too lean… you’re just right. It’s different for different people. Right now I’m about 20% BF at 200 pounds. It’s been really hard for me to get any lower than that. 17 years ago I was 190 at 8% BF and didn’t have a problem maintaining that weight even though I massively over ate. My body was happy and stable and eating too much or too little didn’t have much of an effect on my weight or body composition.

So I believe I’m at my set point right now. About 200 lbs at about 20% BF. Most people think I look great. They think I’m healthy. I probably am compared to what I once was. I want to be leaner though. I’ve been here for over 3 months doing the same thing I’ve been doing. So now I’m adhering to the Paleo or NSNG diet very strictly and counting calories. Why not do both?

You don’t need to do both if you’re just getting into the lifestyle and are still losing weight. If it aint broke don’t fix it. If you are happy with where you are and with your body comp don’t change. If it aint broke don’t fix it. If you are happy with your athletic performance don’t change. If it aint broke don’t fix it.

I believe that we can change our set points. My set points have been 195, 215, 225, and 235 in the past. Now it’s about 205. Anecdotally, I have had various set points and they’ve all been associated with my diet and exercise or lack there of. I knew I had established a set point when I consistently maintained a weight and wasn’t actively trying to manipulate my weight for a period of a few months.

Unfortunately there isn’t a “one size fits all” diet or lifestyle prescription. I wish there was. It would be a lot easier for people to be healthy. I think the one thing that I absolutely believe in with a zealot’s fervor is that processed carbs are poison. I believe that being NSNG, low carb, and Paleo will fix people’s hormone imbalances and allow them to reach their set point. I believe that his lifestyle will change people’s lives and eliminate many health issues. What they do from there is up to the individual. Get leaner, count calories… it’s all up to you. Some people will get into the single digit BF composition by never counting calories. I didn’t and I don’t believe I will. However, I still want to be lean.

If I eat a high calorie diet of NSNG I can still be ingesting enough fat and protein that can be used for fuel thereby not reducing my internal energy stores enough to burn my own bodyfat for fuel and thereby not losing weight. That’s just the way it is.

I believe by counting my calories at this point in my weight loss journey I will enable myself to establish a new set point which will enable me to not have to count calories.

How’s that for a contradiction?

Randall Messman

Born in 1976, I've always loved sports and working out. Currently my passion is Triathlon. I'm a IRONMAN Certified Coach and love to help anyone on their journey to a better life.