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

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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!