When You Should (and Shouldn’t) Consider Counting Calories

Person scanning food on a calorie-counting app

One-third of a baby carrot: .85 calories.
Single chocolate chip: 2 calories.
Chicken Mcnugget (half a sniff): 18 calories.
That 4 A.M. Hangry oopsy at the Taco Bell drive-thru last Wednesday: 3,452 calories. 

*Approximate, actual counts may vary.

If you’re like most people, you may have spent a little time with dieting, weight loss strategies, and general food anxiety. You may have purchased more than one miracle diet book, adopted the eating habits of some ancient tribe or other, and had a couple nutritionists on speed dial. In short, you may be one of the millions that has an issue or two surrounding food. Don’t worry, clearly you’re definitely not alone.

If you’re familiar with the fit fanatics and health gurus at Studio SWEAT onDemand, you know we’re constantly preaching the virtues of Intuitive Eating. We staunchly believe that listening closely to your body and respecting your innermost desires is key to long-term mental and physical health. 

But in this blog, we’re gonna do something a bit different. We’re going to step off the Intuitive Eating soapbox and explore another, more technical style of eating: calorie counting. The complex and nuanced facts are that, for some people, counting each and every one of those calories might actually do some good, at least in the short term. So in this blog, we’re taking a look at some of the benefits of calorie counting, and why you should (and shouldn’t) adopt it in your life. So grab a calculator (and a whole lot of sprouts, those are like NOTHING) and let us count the ways!

Assessing the Damage of Your Fave Foods

Are you a late-night nacho hound? Or more of a cupcakes-for-breakfast kind of person? Trail mix muncher at work? First of all, let’s ease up a little on those habits. Secondly, adding up the actual net calories you’re taking in during one of those crunch sessions will probably shock you. Which can be a good thing. Gaining insight into what your go-tos actually cost you is a great way of cutting back in the future. Or maybe you plan on eating a big meal later on in the day – knowing exactly what you’re taking in can help you navigate other meals, or put up some bigger numbers at the gym. Either way, a little accountability can go a long way.

Person counting calories and adding it up on a piece of paper

Putting Macros Under the Microscope

When you use an online calorie counter (and there are plenty of amazing free options on the market), chances are it’ll probably give you the macronutrient content of what you’re eating. Paying attention to your macros is a great way to notice how different foods affect your body, which may help you stay fit and healthy later on down the road. After all, not everyone’s food goals are the same: some people want to lose weight, or gain muscle mass, or tone up, or stay satisfied to avoid late night cravings. Your macro intake will help you focus in on the nuts and bolts of your nutrition. Because differing ratios of carbs, fats, and proteins will have different effects on how you feel, perform, and look. 

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Knowing Your Needs

Do you have any idea how many calories you need to simply live? We’re talking baseline, no movement, just a lump of laziness on the couch — well that’s something called your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Knowing this number can help you determine how much you can consume compared to how much exercise you’re getting during a week. How to calculate your BMR? The Harris Benedict was widely considered the standard calculation, later to be replaced by the Mifflin St. Jeor figure. Look it up online, enter your height/weight/age, and that’ll give you your base daily caloric needs. This might give you further insight into how much food you actually need to eat during the day. Because if you’re spending the day shoveling, lifting, hiking, or climbing, you can earn a fair amount more calories than if you spend it typing, meme-ing, yawning, and sharing cat videos.

person holding salad and hamburger

Looking Beyond the Numbers

During your calculations, you will also probably notice other numbers in your caloric journal. Things like essential vitamins, minerals, sodium, and cholesterol levels are also a key part of healthy nutrition. Not only that, but measuring your calorie counts actually helps you fine-tune your eating habits. For example, say you’re trying to stick to around 800 calories for a nice and filling dinner. Well that hefty stew, buddha bowl, naan bread, and side of hummus go a lot further than that cheese plate will. Feeling full? Or eating three pieces of fancy cheese? Decisions…decisions…

A Shot in the Arm

Last but not least, let’s talk about one of the best benefits of calorie counting — giving you a much needed kick in the keister. Say you’ve been in a lull lately, just going through the motions and feeling like you’ve stalled out. Counting calories is a pretty darn good way of refocusing your goals and checking in with how you’ve actually been eating and living.

When NOT to Count Calories

Now, before you go diving headlong into the world of calorie counting, here are a couple of pretty clear caveats. If you’re prone to extreme eating habits, yo-yo diets, obsessive behaviors, or have a history of eating disorders, counting calories might only exacerbate your anxiety around food. Also, counting calories takes quite a bit of effort, so don’t plan on nervously keeping a tally for the next couple decades. In the end, this is a tool you can use to educate yourself, understand your body, and get closer to achieving a healthy lifestyle. 

And as always, before you undergo any large dietary changes, your best bet is to always check in with a registered dietitian, who’ll guide and advise you on your options (our own Miriam Jirari is one of the best in the biz if you’re looking).

We hope our little calorie counting chronicle can help you get on track to better health and wellness — that’s what Studio SWEAT onDemand’s all about. That’s also why we offer an endless library of onDemand home workouts, including Indoor Cycling, TRX, HIIT, Yoga, Pilates, Kickboxing, Barre, Bootcamp, and more — all taught by world-class trainers, and taken by passionate people all around the world. Wanna try us out? Sure ya do – just sign up for a 7-Day Free Trial and get ready to feel better than ever… you can count on it!

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