Is it really necessary to count calories to lose weight?

Q: I know that moving more and eating less will help me lose weight, but is it necessary to count calories too?

A: I would consider it if you have no idea how many calories you currently consume or how many you burn with activity. Otherwise, it is going to be difficult to determine how much weight you might lose over time when making changes. Most people underestimate calories consumed while overestimating those burned with exercise. This leads to frustration and confusion when the scale doesn't budge, and can in turn, lead to a return to old habits.

Diet and activity levels vary from day to day, so it is also helpful at least initially, to stick to a consistent food and exercise plan, so that you can more accurately calculate your intake and output. If weight loss stalls, you will know it is time to adjust again.

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It goes without saying that food choices should be healthy so that you benefit nutritionally while you are losing weight. Typically highest in calories and lowest in nutrients are manufactured (processed) foods, alcohol, and foods with added sugars or fats. Some examples of foods that can help with weight management and good health are vegetables, fruits, lean meats, lentils, legumes, whole grains, fish and egg whites.

Calories burned with exercise depends on many things, including:

1) Intensity (light, moderate, or maximum effort), frequency and duration.

2) Body weight and composition (the heavier and/or the more muscle a person has, the more calories are burned).

3) Type of activity.

4) Current fitness level.


  • Keep a food log, so that you can determine which ones contribute most to your calorie intake.
  • The popularity of fitness trackers make it easy to track progress. If you don't have one, considering wearing a pedometer to track how many steps you take throughout the day.
  • Don't set unrealistic goals or compare yourself to others. Instead, day by day, just stick to your chosen plan of eating healthier and exercising more. Focus on your successes, and if setbacks occur, use them as a learning opportunity.
  • Being at an "ideal" weight doesn't necessarily equate to good health. Someone considered overweight who has a healthful diet and exercises regularly can be healthier than an average/underweight person with poor habits. Location of body fat is important, so it is a good idea to take a waistline measurement once per month. Excess abdominal fat ups your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease. Risk is higher for men whose waist circumference is greater than 40 inches and for non-pregnant woman, more than 35 inches. Measure just above the hipbones, keep tape horizontal all the way around, do not pull tape tight, and measure just after exhaling.

More great exericise tips: How to work your abs!

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