Why You Don’t Have to Count Calories (and can still lose weight)

To me, eating real food means NOT having to count calories, fat grams, Weight Watchers points or the like. And this doesn’t mean giving up a healthy weight. Most people can still be the size they want (or even lose weight) without doing any of these unpleasant tracking activities! I am not saying that counting calories doesn’t help some with the control they’re seeking – I’m just saying a healthy weight can be maintained without this mundane task. And, in my opinion, simply eating real food is a much more sustainable way to live in the long term.
Why I don't count calories on 100 Days of #RealFood

The Reasoning Behind This Simple Philosophy

  1. It takes the fun out of eating.
    It’s hard to argue with this one. There’s no better way to strip the enjoyment out of your next meal than to count out a specific number of crackers, check the weight on your piece of salmon, or get out a food journal to make sure you don’t exceed a certain number of points.
  2. We are one of the only countries who counts calories, and we are also one of the most overweight.
    In fact, according to some sources, America is actually the most obese country in the world. Yet, other countries like France – with an obesity rate three times lower than the US – hardly read nutrition labels much less scrutinize the calorie content like Americans do. Now that’s what I call food for thought!
  3. Not all calories (or fat grams) are created equal.
    I wrote a post on this very topic last year that goes into more detail, but the bottom line is this – 100 calories in say a banana or broccoli or scrambled eggs is quite different than 100 calories in a highly refined “snack pack” processed in a factory somewhere. This comes down to quality versus quantity.
  4. If you simply eat a variety of REAL food while being careful not to overeat (that part is important) the rest should – and will – fall into place.
    This means enjoying your meals while trusting your internal instincts. This does not mean eating until you are completely stuffed every night. Just remember it takes a little time for your food to digest so start off with smaller portions, don’t rush, and once you feel satisfied – you are good! I think it’s also helpful to know the French supposedly don’t believe in eating “seconds” and, according to Michael Pollan, the healthiest and longest-living population in the world (the people of Okinawa) practice a principle of eating until they are only 80 percent full. I think figuring out where to draw this line is easier said than done, but it’s certainly something to work towards!

Real Foodies Who’ve Lost Weight

We ask those who take our “10 Days of Real Food” pledge (i.e. follow our same real food rules for a shorter period of time) to share their feedback with us when they’re done. If these comments don’t drive home my point – I don’t know what does!

  • From Stephanie in CA: “I had such a great experience doing this! I lost 5 pounds and had so much energy! This will definitely be a lifestyle commitment I can stick to!”
  • From Marie in PA: “The biggest thing I learned was that so many foods contain chemicals, preservatives, and sugar (corn syrup, etc). Even some organic foods seemed to have questionable ingredients, from a 100 Days of Real Food perspective. I have learned to look for ingredients on labels and not just nutritional information. I was following Weight Watchers and 100 DoRF simultaneously, and I learned that things with higher point values often have a lot of junk in them. Also, by following 100 DoRF, I don’t feel I need to track WW points.
    In my 100 Days (yes, I did 100), I lost 27 pounds. I haven’t measured, but I know I’ve lost inches. My skin and hair seemed healthier. From the beginning I felt more energetic, and because of that, I have been motivated to start some long overdue physical therapy for my knees so that I can exercise for even better health and additional weight loss.”
  • From Galaxy in OK: “My digestive system was a lot happier eating real food. If I was more proactive about planning my food, than I’m able to eat healthier. My energy levels seemed higher the longer I ate real food. And finally, I was pleasantly surprised that I lost 5 lbs over the 10 days!”
  • From Sunny in NJ: “Since I discovered Lisa’s site 8 months ago, I drastically changed my way of eating. I also lost a ton of weight (from a size 10/12 to a 4!). When I first discovered the site, I thought I would be unable to ever complete a 10 day pledge but thought most of the mini pledges were manageable. I started the first pledge, incorporating 2 fruits/veggies in my diet and boy was that an eye opener! Until that point I was hardly eating fruits and veggies. Now produce is a main part of my diet. I also used to eat a lot more meat and I have since reduced my consumption (again something I never thought I would be able to do- the not too much meat mini pledge was a hard one for me!). I also slashed my consumptions of added sugars and I am much more careful reading ingredient labels.”
  • From Nicole in CA: “I have learned how to eat healthy, really eat healthy, instead of fad diets that yo yo my weight up and down.  Not only do I feel better and have more energy, but I lost 8lbs without exercising at all!”
  • From Melanie in OK: “During these 10 days, I lost 4 pounds. I didn’t set out to lose weight on this pledge because I’m at a weight that is healthy for my age and body type, plus I exercise regularly. Still, those 4 pounds are convincing that processed foods really do impact me negatively.”

Do you count calories? Why or why not? And I’d love to hear YOUR weight loss stories in the comments!

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90 thoughts on “Why You Don’t Have to Count Calories (and can still lose weight)”

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  1. I have to disagree. Some people are food addicts and have no conception of how many calories they are eating. I have to count calories even in healthy food. I eat no processed foods at all due to food allergies. I like your site even though you use sugar. I only bake muffins due to the lower sugar content when I need treats.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi. She has made her own but you can find organic whole fruit spreads without added ingredients. Crofters is one.

  2. Christine Kellet

    I agree with on most of what you wrote. But the problem these days is I and others don’t know portion control therefore we do need to track what we eat. I am currently on Weight Watchers, eating real food, and have found it is helping me learn portion control and to know when I truly don’t need to eat any more food.
    Thank you for your always informative and honest posts.

  3. Lindsay Untherbergus

    I have a very different problem than most people… but I am actually underweight. After a couple months of sickness (during which I had no appetite and barely ate anything), I dropped down to a very unhealthy weight. Now I have to get my weight back up, which is hard because my appetite isn’t what it used to be before I was sick. However, I’m still taking a real food approach to this. I’m drinking protein smoothies with whole milk Greek yogurt instead of protein powders with fifty ingredients in them. I’m eating lots of almonds/almond butter, homemade granola, and plant-based protein (beans, lentils, chickpeas). I know that eating real food will help me stay healthy while I gain weight. I could just load up on fried food instead, but that is doing the wrong thing for my body.

  4. Counting calories drives me insane. I learned that I didn’t have to count calories when I first joined Weight Watchers and lost 14 pounds. Calories aren’t as important as the carbs, fat, and fiber that work together and the exercise you put out. I find counting calories to be extremely discouraging and very frustrating, so I choose not to do it.

  5. I’ve never really counted calories but, I find it stressful making sure my kids are getting the right amount of grains, varied vegetable groups, etc. each day/week! What are your thoughts or suggestions on that? Do you count out those things or just focus on eating healthy in general? I’ve been using the My Plate suggestions on their website.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi there. Focus on serving a good variety of each. I do lean toward being veggie heavy. :)

  6. When I first started exercising and consciously trying to lose weight, I was counting calories and doing the portion control routine. It worked great and I was able to lose my initial 23+ lbs. that way. Some side info, I’m a 6’3″ male that weighed 245+ lbs. at my heaviest. I eventually got down to my lowest (at that point) of 205 lbs. exercising with a video game at first then eventually doing an hour of cardio (30mins treadmill, 30mins elliptical). That’s where I pretty much stalled off at and fluctuating between 210-216 lbs.

    Fast forward about 2 years and my (now) wife and I watched a documentary that literally changed our lives called Fed-Up. This documentary did wonders for our view of processed foods and sugar. We’ve been living sugar/processed free since June of 2015 and as an added bonus, we’ve both lost even more weight. We’ve both lost about 20-25+ lbs, each and my wife didn’t even have to exercise. With that, I don’t bother counting calories or portioning out my food anymore. I’m at a healthy weight (185 lbs. or so) that my doctor has wanted me at since I was told to start losing weight (back in 2006 or so).

    On a side note, we’ve been cooking from the 100 Days cookbook and the lunch menus for kids as well. We also grab some of the great recipes here on the website also (thank you!). These recipes are a savior, especially the cake/ice cream ones, now that we don’t eat sugar anymore.


    that is true, but because we live in the west, there is alot of bad food so we need to make sure we know how many calories are in our food and how much we use, or like alot of people we will just get fat!

  8. I’ve never really stuck it out long enough to see if it is actually true for me, but for a while now, I’ve been struggling with a personal philosophy as everything around me says to measure, track, and count (even though I can’t stand it).

    If you eat the foods nature (or God) intended for you to eat (real, whole, unprocessed foods), then you will weigh what nature (God) intended for you to weigh.

    Not saying you’ll reach that BMI of 20, but you’ll be at a healthy, sustainable weight for YOU.

  9. There are tons of apps in the market right now that lets you easily input the calories you’ve consumed in a day. And while they’re very helpful, users get tired eventually of entering their data every time they eat a meal.

  10. I agree with this post. I think a lot of people have difficulty with the concept and portions sizes, because tracking calories and nutrients is so embedded in our [American] culture. If only we could have all had the French mindset from childhood- we would have a much healthier relationship with food now as adults! It’s difficult to go against the grain to change the worldview, habits, and lifestyle that you’ve always known. I’m grateful for Lisa sharing all the tips that she uses to teach her little ones, so hopefully their generation will be more educated on eating whole foods than most of us were!

  11. I am guessing that most of the people who are saying to eat clean and not count calories are in the 25-45 year old age bracket?? Maybe I am being presumptuous? I was never a terribly unhealthy eater (avoided a lot of processed foods, just not all), but I have indeed eliminated even more since reading Lisa’s blog. I really haven’t lost any weight. I am 48 and entering perimenopause. My metabolism is slowing and fat is just harder to burn. Period. Yes, I am starting to count calories, and I bet those of you who are not counting are not in this stage of life!! (:

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Kathy. Yes, things do tend to “slow down” a bit in middle age but I’m 46 and was a calorie counter until about the age of 40. In recent years and as a health coach, I’ve adopted a very different way of looking at calories. You might find this interesting: http://drhyman.com/blog/2014/04/10/calories-dont-matter/. Also, building some muscle and staying active become more important that ever at this stage of the game and have a very positive effect on our slowing metabolism. Best. ~Amy

  12. For me, calorie counting in the beginning was a good idea but it quickly became an obsessive behaviour and in the end it was no fun at all and I’d lose momentum and give up.
    I also don’t weigh myself as I also found that I’d be jumping on the scales 2 or 3 times a day to “see how much weight I’d lost” – Such negative behaviours!
    I’m eating clean now for the most part and measure myself with a tape measure once a month.
    It’s taken the focus off of eating and when you eat clean there’s not so many labels to read (fresh real foods dont need labels!)

    All the best with your journeys..

  13. Along w calorie counting, i am curious about nutrition breakdown. My fitness pal does this on e you put in the ‘recipe’ but its very time consuming.

  14. As a holistic health coach, I counsel all of my clients to NOT do math when it comes to eating. It takes all the fun out of food, it puts the focus on the wrong things & it is unsustainable. When a person learns to eat good food (what God designed us to eat) & to listen to their body, good things happen. I have seen it over & over. Obesity, diabetes, GERD, IBS, high blood pressure… the list goes on, are eliminated by cutting out the garbage & sticking to the good.

  15. I agree 100% If you learn which foods your body reacts to then all you need to do is eat clean and healthy. I don’t count calories and I’ve kept the weight off for two years effortlessly. I know which foods will cause me to gain and which ones I can eat endlessly.

  16. We don’t count calories in our house. We are all thin and healthy. I’m 41 and have weighed the same ever since I was in high school (except during my pregnancies) and have never counted calories.

  17. Over the past 20 years I’ve done Weight Watchers on and off many times (I even worked there!), did Atkins for 6 months, calorie counted, and tried many other “get skinny quick” type plans. I shudder to think about the crap I ate on WW- diet soda, microwave popcorn, processed cheese, fake ice cream! And their products have some scary labels!!!

    I cut out the artificial sweeteners on the advice of a chiropractor for my migraines. Helped a lot! For years I’ve been trying to eat healthier with a focus on whole foods, but recently I was kind of forced to jump in with both feet.

    This past summer I had intense abdominal pain for months, and after CT scans and being scoped and not finding anything, I was told it was IBS. Rather than take medication that may or may not help, I tried the low-FODMAP diet. Within 24 hours my symptoms were gone. By necessity, my diet got a little more whole-foods based.

    Food can hurt- but food can also heal. I lost a quick 5 lbs, and felt great. I was still overweight, but I felt better! I found I’d have little flare-ups if I ate certain “safe” food additives- carageenan, cellulose. Why are they in our food anyway?

    SO I decided to cut all processed food from my diet as part of October Unprocessed. Dropped another 5 lbs. The last week of January I cut out all sugar and now eat as much organic as possible, and started loosely following the plan in “The Science of Skinny” by Dee McCaffrey. I’ve dropped 5 lbs this month with no increase in my activity level. I’m eating organic grass fed butter. Whole free-range organic eggs. Coconut oil in my coffee! Safflower oil in my yogurt! And some great spices and vegetables.

    My “fibromyalgia” is gone. My “chronic fatigue” is greatly improved.

    To the point of this discussion, a calorie might be a calorie in a lab, but our bodies process and store different calories in different ways. As a chronic dieter, and a Registered Nurse, I can tell you that our bodies were NOT meant to process fake food. Our liver was not designed to process chemicals in our food or our environment. Many people have undiagnosed intestinal damage from years of processed foods. They make our system sluggish; we can’t process the calories we eat, so we store them. And we’re chronically hungry because we’re undernourished from the food we’re getting, and it’s a giant cycle of unhealthiness.

    Sorry for the novel, but THANK YOU for the website- the recipes and the support I find here are super helpful!

    1. Is there a book or a website you recommend fro low-FODMAP? I’ve been diagnosed with IBS and my gastro Dr. recommended low FODMAPS< but I haven't been able to really get my head around it.

      1. http://www.katescarlata.com/

        Monash University in Australia developed this diet and does ongoing research. I would strongly suggest downloading their app! It’s very helpful.

        Kate Scarlata is a great US source, who keeps up to date on the current research. She posts recipes and shopping lists, it’s a great place to start.

        Strandsofmylife is run by Suzanne Perazzini, who in addition to recipes and info, offers coaching in the Low FODMAP journey.

        There’s a ton of websites, and many will tell you different things. I stick with Monash and Scarlata as my FODMAP bible!

        Basically, certain short chain carbohydrates ferment too rapidly in your small intestine causing all sorts of nasty symptoms. It’s a weird and varied list! Some fruits, some veg, some dairy…but basically, the way to start is to cut out gluten and dairy, artificial sweeteners, and high fructose foods, and watch that list!!!

        Good luck!

  18. Eating real food has eliminated a lot of my need to count calories. You don’t have as much trouble once the bags of potato chips are out of the house and the french fry consumption goes down a lot when you have to set up to fry them.

    On the other hand, at the start of my attempts to straighten out my diet, I did need to look at nutrition labels. I needed that guideline to help me learn to eat normal proportions. Once the shift was made, I no longer needed to count them. I know what to eat and how much. I think someone actively looking to relearn how to eat and lose weight can get good use out of counting calories as well as watching the proportion of where those calories are coming from.

  19. For me calorie counting is very helpful as I have a food addiction, so it helps me to see what and how
    Much food I’m putting in my body. It’s a useful tool but not something to live by. At the end of the day quality over quantity!

  20. I struggled with my weight and overeating for years. When I switched from processed foods to real foods over 10 years ago, I lost 40 lbs and have kept it off. I did not count any calories. I agree that not all calories are created equal. 100 calories of protein vs. 100 calories of refined carbs is processed very differently in your body. Balancing my blood sugar was key to the weight loss. Eating real foods keeps me satiated and prevents me from overeating.

  21. I think for people who need to lose weight and drastically change their eating habits, counting calories is necessary. It’s one way for people to realize the mistakes they’ve made that got them to their current situation. After new, healthy habits have replaced the old ones and a significant amount of weight has been lost, most people won’t need to continue to count calories.

  22. No counting in my house! Eight years ago I read a book called Real Food, What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck. Her book is an inspiring viewpoint on food, I have never looked back and thank God for her simplistic approach to eating! I tend to eat more with the Weston Price method nowadays but of course there is definitely no calorie counting with WP. Thanks for your Blog!

  23. I have to say that for me, I have to count calories. If I do not count calories than what I get is eating way too much. I have tried following real food or clean eating principles but it is just too abstract and judgment-required for me. I need the guideline of calorie counting. Since starting to count calories, I have lost 9 pounds. When I was just trying to eat real food, it was hit or miss and I lost nothing. Maybe it depends on if you are obese or not? Skinny people may not need to count calories but those of us with 60-70 pounds or more to lose need that extra help.

  24. For those of us transitioning to a new diet or trying to get our BMI down to a healthy level, calorie counting is essential. Of course nutritional content matters, but some of us have health issues that don’t automatically disappear the minute we start eating whole foods. Also, portion sizes make a big difference! That’s why I still calorie count.

  25. I have been slightly overweight for pretty much my entire adult life and counting calories has helped me lose weight in the past, but now I’m eating cleaner and healthier. Therefore, I don’t feel counting calories is necessary and I would love to give it up but I’m still logging my food into My Fitness Pal because I’m keeping an eye on my calcium, protein, iron, and other nutrients.

  26. In fact, the calorie ruse has been embraced by the faux-food industry as the “real” way to keep weight off. Notice how they keep coming out with statements that their products are perfectly okay in a varied diet? They hire newly-minted RDs out of school who still believe in the calorie BS. There is an online presence at Facebook for a group called Dietitians for Professional Integrity. They oppose their own certifying body, the ADA, approving crappy food as fine to eat in a varied diet. Look them up sometime. I believe they have up to 30% of the ADA membership signing their petitions.

  27. Thank you for this post! It’s so important! I tell people this all the time and they look at me as though I’ve lost my mind! HAHA. I’m glad there are people like us that are trying to inform the public of better health choices.

  28. I’m afraid I’m too lazy to count calories! But I am a long-time real-food advocate, and have long cooked from scratch, or nearly so because food tastes better when its fresh and hasn’t been out of the ground or off the vine too long.

    Still, I indulge in far too many sweets and buttery pastries, so I’m going to check into your ten days of real food and see how it differs from my usual diet.

  29. Weight Watchers dropped the calorie count from their points calculation five years ago, following the research.

    They really push the idea of whole foods at the meetings, while at the same time pushing their crappy brand name products. They even have an entire program in which you don’t have to count points at all – called Simply Filling. The secret is to just eat whole foods, with certain caveats (only high-fiber flour products and non-fat dairy count as SF foods).

    So why pay them at all? Fill the kitchen with whole foods and eat according to inner signals. Whole foods help the body know when enough is enough. At least, that has been my experience.

    1. Actually, that’s not entirely true. While you no longer look at calories to calculate Points, PointsPlus values are comprised of fat, carbs, fiber, and protein. A gram of carbohydrate and/or protein is approximately 4 calories, whereas a gram of fat is 9 calories. Those numbers have a LOT to do with the PointsPlus formula.

      And some Simply Filling favorites for those interested:

      -Sugar free Jell-o
      -Fat free, sugar free yogurts (regular and Greek style)
      -Fat free cream cheese
      -Fat free mayo
      -Egg substitute
      -Fat free salad dressings
      -Fat free cool whip
      -Fat free, sugar free coffee creamers
      -Light breads made with white flour and artificial sweeteners

      Things that will cost you a nice chunk of your extra points:

      -Nut butters
      -Coconut oil
      -More than 2 teaspoons of olive oil
      -Real food bread
      -Full fat yogurts

      I don’t know about you, but strawberries with homemade whipped cream sounds a LOT better than sugar free strawberry jello with cool whip.

      1. Yes, WW’s PointsPlus system uses the major macro nutrients, plus fiber, to come up with the number of points in a food. However, note that while carbs and protein are both four calories per gram, carbohydrate increases the PointsPlus value of a food while protein decreases it, so calories are not the determining factor. Fiber decreases the PP value whether it is soluble (some calories) or insoluble (no calories due to non-absorption).

        The main point I was making is that on Simply Filling, you can eat as much of most whole, natural foods as your appetite dictates, no weighing, measuring or counting points OR calories.

        When you think about it, sugar, the bugaboo of the current food conversation, is not high calorie. Only 15 calories per teaspoon yet the maximum daily intake recommendation from the WHO is roughly 6 tsp. for an adult, 90 calories per day. Sugar (and other highly refined carbs) have a negative health impact far above what could be explained by caloric content.

        A friend dropped fifteen pounds in the three days she was in the hospital after bariatric surgery- which is not atypical. According to the calories/pounds formula we’ve been sold, (3,500 calories equals one pound) she would have had to refrain from 52,500 to lose that much weight, or 17,500 calories per day for each of the three days, which doesn’t make sense. Calories are a measure of heat but our bodies are much more complicated systems that burners in a lab.

        BTW, the version of Simply Filling I follow does not include anything on that list of “approved” items above (but oddly, my coconut coffee creamer is a “power food” with no points even though it does contain sugar). A brisk daily walk for an hour brings additional points so that I find I can happily eat peanut butter, avocados and cheese when I want them.

  30. I don’t know about this post – it reads a little bit like solving alcohol addiction by telling people to just stop drinking.

    I agree with you, that meticulously counting calories takes the fun out of eating. But especially for people struggling with obesity I consider calories still important information. If “clean eating” is sold as an automatic weight loss tool it has the potential to turn into the next diet fad. There is currently a lot of critique towards the recommendation of a low-fat diet – to a point that low fat is even blamed for the high obesity rate. I don’t think that critique is justified. The intended original low-fat guidance was not bad at all, but it was implemented the wrong way and gave an excuse for people to stuff themselves with high-carbohydrate foods. And the food industry of course catered to that trend. The same is happening to some extent with “clean eating”. Homemade whole-grain muffins, granola, mashed potatoes with cheese, mac and cheese etc. can all be made according to “clean eating rules” – but they are still not healthy foods and if a diet is mainly based on those items pounds won’t drop.

    I wouldn’t give too much weight in people shedding a few pounds after taking a pledge. What counts is the long-term effect. What happens in 1, 2, 5, 10 years? Most obese/overweight people I know have struggled with weight issues for their entire life – and those people are mainly “clean eaters”.

    1. well said, Critical Reader. I’ve struggled with a lot of these recipes and what goes in them. I feel as well that eating whole foods over processed foods is way better in the long run. I guess it comes down to moderation of everything. It’s not like I am going to make the mac and cheese every night or even every week but if I make it once every couple of months or even less, it won’t kill me. I have enjoyed the challenges and also feel much better about what I am using as fuel for my body but I am not loosing weight, that is for sure. I need to up the exercise and burn a few more calories to keep up. Life is short, keep it simple but healthy! Eat on!

  31. When we went “real food” my family found it impossible to overeat when consuming balanced raw foods. I’m sure this is not true for everyone, so clearly those people have to do what is right for them, but my family has never had a problem feeling full and staying slim while eating a balanced “real food” diet. For this real food family, calorie counting is for the birds as long as we’re sticking to the real food lifestyle.

  32. I think for a lot of people calorie counting is essential. Without it, they wouldn’t know the calorie differnce between an apple and a bowl of granola with milk. While perhaps they aren’t eating in excess, without calorie counting they might be taking too much in without realizing it.

  33. I agree and then don’t. There is so much more involved in losing body fat and being healthy than just eating real food, although it is a huge piece of the puzzle. The RIGHT type of activity, and hormones also play a huge part. You cannot truly be healthy by only eating healthy, you have to have regular intense exercise. That said, I recently had to start counting to try and make sense of a stall in weight loss goal. Turns out that even though I was eating healthy real food whenever I was hungry, I was not eating enough. We women have trains ourselves to be full even when we’re undereating. I think it’s a common problem for those that have fought weight gain for a long time. You probably won’t know if it’s a problem unless you find out your closest approximate Basal Metabolic Rate an then track to me sure you’re eating enough too. If you want to lose body fat, you have to exercise (or risk losing muscle) and you must make sure you are properly and adequately fueling your workouts for them to work.

  34. I agree- although I’d have to add, exercise is extremely helpful when trying to tone up & lose weight! I’ve eaten mostly healthy for years, but still wasn’t at the weight I wanted to be at (I went up & down after 3 babies). Once I added exercise (just twice a week of either 45 minutes at the gym or running 2-3 mils) to my healthy eating, I saw my weight move! In 2014 I lost 30 pounds, and am finally at my pre-baby weight (and have maintained it for almost a year!).

    That said, I am 100% not a calorie counter. When you make most of your food from scratch, it is tedious, and to me, unnecessary! Some might find it helpful, but it is not necessary for weight loss.

  35. I don’t agree. I have been doing real food almost exclusively for months now. I was already doing a boot camp workout and was hoping this would help my weight loss( I want to shed 40 lbs) I now have continued eating good( am doing the 14 week challenge and have been doing p90x for the past three weeks. In total I’ve not even lost ten lbs and since I started p90x I’ve lost nothing. I’m eating right and I’m exercising like crazy. I’m toning up, but I’m not losing weight or inches. That seems crazy to me. If I do “cheat” at all on a weekend or something I gain weight. I’m sticking with it because I feel better but it isn’t as easy as everyone makes it sound and I am working hard to get it off

    1. I’m in the same boat. I’ve been doing portion-controlled real food for 8 months with no weight loss. It’s incredibly hard to keep it up because even though I know that real food is the better choice in terms of long-term health, I know from experience that I could drop weight faster if I went back to the (less healthy!) shakes and bars. I wish I had a solution but wanted to chime in with solidarity. I’m glad it works for some people on its own but it’s very discouraging for those who aren’t in that group.

  36. Following no processed food, no sugar or alcohol, for four months now…try to keep gluten as low as possible…all the butter and cold pressed oil I want, organic cheese, meats and eggs, more veggies than fruit…not 100% perfect, but 95%…down 20 lbs. without trying or counting anything.

  37. Thank you for this well thought out and intelligent post. As a Registered Dietitian, I counsel patients on a regular basis who are so obsessed with counting calories that they have developed disordered eating behaviors. Rarely, does this method alone lead to long-term, sustainable weight loss. Eating healthy, real food has taught me to be more mindful and allowed me the opportunity to listen to my body’s cues. It is also helpful that I actually feel full and nourished when I eat real foods, so the temptation to eat that junk food just doesn’t exist like it did before. The added energy boosts also makes it easier to exercise. Thank you Lisa for all of your information, and the service that you are providing. It is appreciated.

  38. I have been eating strictly real food for 3 weeks, and my husband for 2 weeks. I have lost 9 pounds and he has lost 13 (unfair!). Neither of us count calories or keep track of anything. I have definitely noticed we are getting fuller faster and thus eating less. Also, a lack of junk food in the house has all but ended our snacking habits.

  39. You know, I really enjoy your blog. I think that you, as a person, are very likeable as well but right now I just want to scream. I am so tired of people saying that you don’t have to count calories and you can still lose weight. I imagine that if you are pretty close to a healthy weight that would be just fine but I have spent several years now trying this philosophy out and it is just not true. You can lose weight for a little while but as you get more comfortable living that way it is much too easy to fall into getting too many calories without realizing it. I think there are plenty of people like me who really do need to keep strict account of their calories to keep from relaxing into a bit of weight gain. Homemade granola and whole wheat muffins will still make you gain weight!

    1. You are right, and it is frustrating to deal with people who have not ever had a real weight issue explain to you how easy it is to lose weight AND KEEP IT OFF. Real food, like gluten free diets or any other drastic change to eating, can make you lose weight IN THE BEGINNING. The foods you typically overeat are off limits and when you are new to the process, you just haven’t found alot of options. With time, you find more and more foods that fit into your new diet restrictions and you find replacement foods that you enjoy as much as ever. Calories are calories. While noone is arguing that 100 calories of broccoli is better for your overall health than 100 calories of chips, your weight issue is not addressed unless you reduce your overall calories. And it is hard. And those of us who have struggled with weight for our entire lives would appreciate it if you stop minimizing our efforts. Seriously. Just stop.

    2. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hello Ladies. I totally get where you are coming from. I struggled with my weight for many years.I’m happy to give you more details on my own story if you’d like but what worked for me was finally developing a healthy relationship food and letting go of low cal, low fat, processed, and nutrient poor foods. While I’m sure, at this point, it does seem obvious to most that 100 cals of oreos are very different form 100 cals of spinach, the comparison goes far deeper than that. This article might be helpful: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mark-hyman/calories_b_5126008.html. Practicing portion control is essential as well. Wishing you the best. ~Amy

  40. Cannot agree more! I think counting calories can end up being very unhealthy, either by not eating enough and then yo-yoing or reliance on processed low-cal foods which are just empty calories. I would rather think about how the nutrients in food will help my body do its thing and try to make that as tasty as possible. It’s hard to make something that is high in nutrients bad for you… and you’re going to be full too.

  41. I love, love, love your blog but this post just doesn’t sit right with me. I did mostly real food (probably 85%) for a year or so and my weight continued to climb (just like it did when I wasn’t eating real food). The reason is this…you write:

    If you simply eat a variety of REAL food while being careful not to overeat (that part is important) the rest should – and will – fall into place.

    But what you don’t have a caveat for is that a LOT of people have food addictions, even if they don’t realize it. And unlike most other addictions, you can’t go “cold turkey”. It’s a battle against myself every single day, real foods or not. Though of course I feel real food is the way to go! But there are those of us who are sensitive about this topic because things like weight watchers are life changing- life SAVING even, when it comes to food addiction issues and eating real foods is amazing, but just not enough.

    1. Oh! I think you might find it interesting that Weight Watchers does differentiate now between a 100 calorie processed snack and a 100 calorie, say, banana. :)

    2. Stacy, I started eating real because I was fascinated by the kids’ lunchboxes. They looked attractive, at a time I was really disengaged with food, eating all the wrong things and yes, probably addicted. I wasn’t cooking from scratch and I certainly wasn’t having my 5 a day – that’s pretty bad for a veggie! But by switching to real, I’ve lost 16lbs. I needed to mind! A big part of it was not buying the stuff I’d snack on instead of eating healthy, because it didn’t fit the rules. Can’t eat a packet of biscuits if you don’t have any. I started to eat a lot more fruit and veg, and to satisfy my sweet tooth, I made batches of carrot applesauce muffins. I even experimented with the flavours, ginger, date and molasses in the original recipe is my favourite. So I get what you are saying, Stacy, and I understand it more than you know. But you just have to take control back and try one bit at a time.

    3. Stacy…I agree with you…here’s a little life changing book for me that is fun, short and hit home so hard, I cried when I read it. Thinside Out by Josie Spinardi. It’s a journey for me. I’ve lost some weight but not fast…I’m now more into fixing my head and food addictions than losing weight at the moment because once I do, I KNOW the weight loss will follow. I refuse any diet from here on in :) Here’s her link. I just downloaded it to my iPhone on the free Kindle app. I have re read it over and over. http://www.amazon.ca/Have-Your-Cake-Skinny-Jeans-ebook/dp/B00B9JKNBC

      1. Joy- I LOVED that book! Did it hit you in the gut or what? I have already re-read it and now that you mention it, I could use another read. It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchel is another great one to keep in the arsenal for motivation. I threw any “diet” out the window this year as well and am LOVING it! Sure, the weight isn’t pouring off, but it sure is a lot more of an enjoyable journey.

      2. Oh goodness Cristina….It was like she was following me around my kitchen and inside my head lol! I could NOT put it down. I’ll have to look at the Andie Mitchel one asap! Thanks for the tip!

  42. I’m an avid “real food” advocate and credit your site with inspiring me to change my family’s diet. While I DO believe the ingredient list is as important as the calorie count, I also believe that those of us who are trying to lose or maintain our weight should be monitoring our calorie intake. I log everything on MyFitnessPal and its a breeze. I had NO CLUE how out of control my portions were until I started measuring them. A lightbulb literally went “on” for me when I began logging in the occasional splurge take-out burger…

  43. I absolutely LOVE your cookbook as well as your blog. I’ve had a had a lingering question, that I would like to ask: how can I merge my gluten free diet with a real food diet? We don’t eat much processed food in the house, but when I do bake, etc, I use a GF flour. I wasn’t sure if GF flour could be substituted for whole wheat flour?

    Thanks :)

    1. Laura, I am also interested in learning to merge gluten free with a real food diet. I am specifically interested in a gluten free bread that will meet the real food standards. I am having a hard time finding this.

    2. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Laura. Lisa has not converted her recipes to be gluten free. I sub gluten free flour blends in many of the recipes that call for wheat with a lot of success but there is some trial and error. You may have to adapt the rules somewhat for gluten free flours as they usually contain some refined ingredients. Almond flour and coconut flour are also options but they too require a learning curve. :)

  44. Yes, I count calories (and other nutrients) mainly because I enjoy doing it. I use MyFitnessPal.com and there is a great community there and support as well.

    And another advantage of tracking my food is that when I go to the Dr. I can have a print out of how I am healthy while eating butter, whole milk and beef.

  45. I was on Weight Watchers a few years back and lost 30 lbs that way, however I had a hard time staying on it after I lost my weight. I was so sick of calculating points on everything I ate! And even though they encourage eating a lot of fruits and veggies, they also tell you to eat low fat or non fat dairy products, etc. Since I found your website and started reading In Defense of Food, my life has changed. I love not having to count calories, fat, points or anything else. And although I haven’t weighed myself lately, I’ve had about 15 people tell me I’ve lost weight! This way of eating just makes so much sense! Thanks for your website and all you do. By the way, I’ve never enjoyed milk as much my whole life as I do now. Whole milk is SO good! :)

  46. I just discovered your blog so maybe this is old news for you, but have you read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan? Excellent support for what you’re talking about.

  47. I think it’s true that “clean eating” can support weight loss. However, asking people after 10 days for a weight loss tally as evidence doesn’t seem useful. Many people, after changing their diet, experience an initial pound drop that is not necessarily true weight loss (it can be water, for example) and easily reversible. I’d be interested to hear from people who have done 100 days or made it a lifestyle (some of the comments above are inspiring).

    My kids and husband are on day 7 of the 10 day and are rockin’ it. Only 2 times so far have they veered off course (youngest is sick so Popsicle was allowed, oldest had school lunch of pizza today). Not bad for 2 kids who subsisted on Goldfish and pasta. We made your chocolate chip cookies with honey and maple syrup and they were gobbled up so fast I had to makee another batch immediately. The muffins are also a fave. I think they will all feel MUCH better eating like this, and we plan to continue most of it (I’m doing the Whole30 for medical reasons, which is the 10 day on steroids).

  48. I started eating clean four weeks ago and I can’t believe how full I am. When I get hungry it’s not in the same “feed me now or I eat you” kind of way. I am tracking/journaling my food to keep me accountable but I find that my calorie count is under 1400 most days but I’m eating good sized portions. I’ve dropped one pants size after a year of being stuck in a plateau. Your site has been a fantastic resource. Check out my blog. I’ll be posting about this nutritional change soon.

  49. I started eating “real food” a couple of weeks ago for myself and my pregnant daughter (and granddaughter-to-be!!) I need to lose weight and know that will happen as I incorporate more non-processed foods in to my diet. But a very big surprise was how satisfying and filling this way of eating is. No need to eat a snack an hour or so after a meal or before bed!! Easy to follow and if you love to cook, it is wonderful!!

  50. I mostly agree with this post, BUT I think there are some individuals that have success with using a calorie counting app for a period of time useful. People’s needs vary. Personally, I eat very healthy, but can tend to overeat. Overeating is overeating whether it’s healthy food or not and that leads to weight gain. Using a calorie counting app for a couple of weeks as a tool to gain an understanding of portion size and energy needs for your body size can be very eye-opening and educational. This is a short term exercise. Long term I agree with your perspective.

  51. In theory, I completely agree with you. But I think that a finite period of calorie counting at the beginning of a switch to whole foods eating can be really helpful. I, like many people, have found that I don’t necessarily inherently know how to tell the difference between eating to satiation and overeating. Counting calories (and the measuring of portions that goes along with that) can help establish a baseline knowledge for what the size of a complete, healthy meal should look like. I’d become so used to restaurant and cafeteria portions, that even when I was cooking good, whole foods at home, my portions were way too big.

    I’ve been counting calories since December (with a great app that lets me add in recipes and calculates calories for portions based on the whole food ingredients), and I’m starting to feel like I now know what it feels like to be satiated (but not full!), and to be able to eyeball appropriate portions. Calorie counting isn’t something I want to do forever, but it’s teaching me the skills I need so that I don’t have to. And I’ve while never touched a 100-calorie pack of anything, I do like knowing how many Wheat Thins or almonds I can have and stay within my doctor recommended caloric intake!

  52. Great blog to get people to eat right.

    However I do take exception to the comment you along with a multitude of other people say that not all calories are created equal. There are definitions for words so that we can all have an equal basis for understanding.

    A calories is:
    “the amount of heat required at a pressure of one atmosphere to raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree Celsius that is equal to about 4.19 joules”. Notice it says nothing about where the calorie comes from.

    This is the definition of a calorie. One hundred calories of bananas is the same as one hundred calories of red leaf lettuce.
    Is a calorie of gasoline different if you purchase it at Chevron versus Shell? No it’s not. By definition a calorie is a calorie no matter where it comes from.

    1. Bobo you are correct in that a calorie is a measure of energy, however your example of comparing different brands of gasoline is not analogous to different foods and how your body processes them. If “all calories were created equally” then you could run your car on bananas. Obviously your car’s engine processes different fuels differently (case in point, once when I was 16 I put diesel fuel in my gasoline powered truck by mistake, and it wouldn’t run). And here’s an interesting fact – a gallon of gas contains almost 29,000 calories!

      I should also point out that a “large” calorie, like the kind used to measure energy content in food, is actually “the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one KILOgram of water by one degree Celsius. The large calorie is thus equal to 1000 small calories or one kilocalorie.” – Jason

  53. I lost 70 pounds by cutting processed food, and have kept it off for nearly 3 years now. I was obese for over a decade and tried calorie counting, Weight Watchers, Slim Fast, you name it. I would lose a few pounds but it always came back, nothing ever helped until I cut processed food, and then it seemed to just fall off! I actually went back to school and am now a health coach because I want to do everything I can to spread the word so everyone can feel this wonderful!

  54. I absolutely love your blog!

    A year ago I decided too ditch the diets and start to eat nutritious food that would give me what my body needs.

    Without ever counting anything, weighing anything etc I have now lost over 75lbs.

    I recently started my own blog about my journey and how amazing it feels to finally let go of the weight along with all the rubbish that comes with dieting. I have what I call my 5 Transforming Principles:

    1. Progress not perfection
    2. be kind to yourself
    3. Nourish your body
    4. Listen to your body
    5. Enjoy life now!

    Thank you Lisa for all the ways you enrich the lives of your readers.

    Fi x

  55. If this system works for you, then I think that’s awesome. However, I think it’s important to recognize that it’s not necessarily that easy for people who have struggled with their weight all their lives. I noticed many positive changes in my health and we’ll- being since I’ve switched to mostly real food, but it hasn’t led to automatic weight loss because I struggle with portion sizes, especially of things that really should be more limited like fatty meats, full fact air, peanut butter, 100% whole wheat bread … If I don’t balance my intake of things like that, not only do I not lose weight, I gain.

    1. Mary Beth, I have had the same experience as you. I eat clean and work out and still can’t she a pound (and have been doing it for years) Not sure if portion control is the issue but it sure is frustrating:(

      1. Eating 3 meals, correct portions, and 3 snacks throughout the day was key for me. Kept me full and never wanted to overeat at meals. It was almost too much food for me to eat throughout the day. I lost weight strictly from clean eating and portion control. Also, I never stopped eating sugar, just switched to organic 100 % pure sugar, honey and maple sugar. I made sure that if I did eat anything packaged, I used the 5 ingred. or less rule – however, that is very hard to find, I did choose some things with over 5 ingredients, only made sure they were “good” ingredients, not junk.

    2. Yes, the portion sizes are KEY, but you are right easier said than done. And as I said above I totally recognize that counting/tracking can help some with control – who can’t find another way.

  56. I hate counting calories and completely agree with you on the matter of quality over quantity. I had a personal trainer this past summer who asked me to count calories and when I told her I care more about what I eat than the calories she just looked at me like I was crazy. And restaurants with calorie lists are no different ! They don’t provide you with enough info to really make a good decision.
    Just my 2 cents.

  57. What a coincidence! I could not agree more. It’s so funny because I had re-shared an old article yesterday about this exact same issue and I just opened an email from someone on our Challenge who read your post and shared the link. I have always had to defend our position for purposely not including the calories in our recipes (especially considering Andy is a bariatric surgeon) and now that we are doing the challenge the issue keeps coming up over and over.

    I actually think calorie counting does more harm than good (and I can’t help but think of those 100 calorie Snack Packs as the perfect example of an absolutely terrible snack that is guaranteed to do nothing to satisfy your hunger, much less supply the nutrients your body needs to stop food cravings, support a healthy metabolism, etc.)

    But! Looks like we aren’t the only ones bashing calorie counting…

    These are words you never thought you’d hear from the president of a $2.7 billion weight-loss empire. “Calorie counting has become unhelpful,” David Kirchhoff stated on the Weight Watchers International website. “When we have a 100-calorie apple in one hand and a 100-calorie pack of cookies in the other, and we view them as being ‘the same’ because the calories are the same, it says everything that needs to be said about the limitations of just using calories in guiding food choices.” I couldn’t have said it better myself ;)

  58. This is one of the reasons we have chosen to raise our own foods. I hate diets. I love food. I want to eat. I agree with you, girlfriend – if we eat real food, we don’t have to think too much about it!

  59. I’m doing the mini pledges, and since Jan 1 I’ve lost 6 pounds. I’d like to lose 8 more, but am curious to see where my body will settle through this process. It really is interesting to see that when I’m eating real food, I’m satisfied and don’t keep wanting to meander into the kitchen to graze. I am feeling soooooo good!