The pros and cons of tracking calories for weight loss


This article explores the popular methods for tracking your nutrition intake: calorie counting, flexible dieting and meal plans and provides some top tips for tracking your nutrition intake. For most people, calorie counting tends to be done on an app such as MyFitnessPal & Cronometer.These types of apps have made tracking calories way more simple and easy to do.

Benefits of tracking calories

Can keep you accountable

By having to record what you consume, it is a gentle reminder for you to stay on track with your goals. There is a great deal of research to show that the simple act of recording what you eat aids adherence to a nutritional plan.

Helps you understand portion sizes

When you start measuring food intake, you can then appreciate the different caloric values of portion sizes – for example, the caloric value of a teaspoon of peanut butter versus a tablespoon of peanut butter. Although remember a tsp or a tbsp measurement is level and not heaped, a common mistake when people track using measurements like that. This is why its typically best to use weight-based measurements to avoid subjectivity when it comes to visual portion sizes.

Can provide you with the opportunity to reflect

The fact that you must pause and record what you’re eating at that meal provides you with the opportunity to pause and reflect – especially if you use your calorie tracker to plan your meals in advance rather than retrospectively.

Helps you understand energy density of foods

By recording the calories of the different foods that you consume, you begin to learn the different energy densities of foods – for example, that a serving of tuna may be lower in calories than the same weight of salmon.

May be more accurate than other methods

Because calorie counting may mostly rely upon measuring foods, it is likely to be more accurate than using approaches such as eyeballing portions or other approximations.

Helpful to stick to your calorie deficit

By recording what you consume at each meal you have a clear way to monitor where you are at sticking to your daily and weekly caloric needs.

Negatives associated to tracking calories

It can lead to nutrient poor food choices

If you prioritise choosing foods based on their caloric value only then you could choose food that are low calorie and very low nutrient. For example, you may choose a diet chocolate bar over a banana because they have similar calories – however, the banana may be much more nutrient dense.

It may be relatively inaccurate when eating out

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows a 20% discrepancy on figures written on food labels. So, you could quite reasonably be consuming an extra 200 calories. Doesn’t sound like a big deal but if you’re doing this consistently, it will add up.

It can lead to obsessively detailed thinking

If you’ve got that type of mind and have a tendency to become obsessive, calorie counting may be a trigger for unhelpful thinking patterns as well as providing the potential for you becoming preoccupied with calorie counting.

The way that food affects you is much more than calories

Foods of the same calories may impact you very differently and subsequent caloric intake – for example, 200 calories of tuna versus 200 calories of chocolate versus 200 calories of broccoli will all be utilised very differently and will likely impact subsequent energy balance.

It may be associated with feelings of restriction

Being in an energy deficit may already be associated with feelings of being on a diet – add in checking whether you are hitting your calorie number goal may further exacerbate these feelings.

It may not be necessary for weight loss

It’s not necessary to calorie count to lose weight. There are plenty of other alternative behaviour changes – such as simply removing one of your snacks per day, changing from 3 lattes a day to 2 normal coffees and a herbal tea etc. Some people may prefer to focus on more practical behaviour-based changes.

It may not be positive for establishing positive meal behaviours

If you choose foods solely based on their caloric value it may lead to excluding certain food groups, such as healthy fats, which have a higher caloric value. If you are new to nutrition, this may lead to imbalanced meals. Learning what foods are good for your physiology whilst also learning how to portion size those foods is a skill that may take some education and practice.

Work with a weight loss specialist

Our clinicians specialise in weight loss. All qualified nutrition professionals have backgrounds in the exercise industries and a vast amount of experience coaching clients towards their goals.

Check out our weight loss specialist page, where you can learn more about our services, clinicians and the support and programs that we offer or you can enquiry about consultations using the enquiry form at the bottom of this page.

If you would like to enquire to work with one of our practitioners, please click the button below: