Why Using A Calorie-Counting App Won't Always Help You Lose Weight

by Alexandra Agasar
Bonnin Studio

It's that time of the year again.

After a season of holiday parties, chocolates and an excess of eggnog, we're all looking for those fresh starts, clean slates and new opportunities.

Instagram and Facebook bombard us with ads featuring super fit women trying to help us get in shape.

Companies claim we can drink tea and only tea to lose weight.

Your neighborhood Target displays the cutest leggings, sports bras and water bottles right at the front of their store.

As the most sought after resolution for another year in a row, a lot of us have the thoughts of losing weight and becoming healthier on our minds.

A simple and free resource to help us reach our goals is a calorie-counting app. With 75 million registered MyFitness Pal users, most of us have, or have had, this on our phone at one point or another.

As a previous calorie counter myself, I'm here to say we need to stray as far away from calorie counting as we can.

While it produces a sense of self-awareness (Can we agree eating ice cream while watching "The Bachelor" was way more fun before you knew how many calories were in that tub?) and accountability, which are crucial for your wellness journey, there are too many ways it is actually hurting your health goals.

"Calories in, calories out" is a thing of the past.

Many people, even some health professionals, are still claiming that the #majorkey (the scientific term) to losing weight is the calorie.

Supposedly, all we need to know about becoming healthier comes down to "calories in, calories out."

So in order to lose weight, the calories we consume by eating (calories in) needs to be lower than the calories our metabolisms burns or we burn through exercise (calories out).

Calorie-counting apps simply makes this theory tangible to apply to our own lives.

The reason this does not work is due to the quality of calories.

Let me put it this way: Since the calorie is strictly a unit of measurement (just as the tablespoon, the liter and the centimeter are), then why aren't we suggested to drink eight glasses of gasoline each day?

We're told to drink eight glasses of water because what's in the glasses is more important than the exact amount we are drinking.

Has anyone realized they started grabbing 100-calorie packs, rice cakes, diet drinks or other foods with very little calories in order to stay "in range" on your app?

Sure, grabbing that diet soda or that 100-calorie pack of Oreos will keep you within your calorie goal for the day, but there's so much more to it than that.

The artificial sugar in the soda may cause you to have intense cravings later on (typically for sugary foods), and it may cause headaches and joint pain. It has even shown links to Alzheimer's disease.

The preservatives, dyes, sugars and artificial ingredients in the processed, but low-calorie snacks can wreak havoc on your hormones and actually promote fat storage.

Our phones may be smart, but our bodies are smarter.

It's about 10:00 pm, and your app tells you that you still have 300 calories remaining.

You're not hungry and are actually quite full, but say what? Those 300 calories could be that piece of cheesecake you've had your eyes on.

And I mean, you don't want to deprive yourself, so might as well eat something to reach your goal.

On the flip side, it could be 12:00 pm. You've eaten a berry and almond butter oatmeal bowl for breakfast and an avocado and chicken salad sandwich for lunch, but you're hungry, your stomach is growling and you're feeling low energy.

Unfortunately, your app says you're way over your calories already, so you decide to not eat in order to stay in range.

Both of these scenarios above are potential reasons calorie-counting apps don't work.

Some days our bodies are going to need 3,000 calories, and some days they might only need 500.

Exercise, the amount of muscle we have on our bodies, stress, foods we're eating and so many other factors play into the rate of our metabolism.

It rarely is fixed to the same number each and every day.

OK, what now?

I believe journaling your foods is a healthier option to calorie counting. Studies show that one of the best ways to shed weight is to become healthier is to log what you have eaten.

If you really like the idea of tracking what you ate for your own self-awareness and accountability, I think that is very proactive and a great way to keep track of things.

Counting calories is when things get fishy because you're turning something as natural as nourishing our bodies into number-crunching.

Journaling versus calorie counting is also beneficial for noticing how your body reacts to certain foods.

For example, many people who journal take note of how they feel.

You can find where your intolerances lie (wheat, dairy, certain fruits, nuts and refined sugars are big ones) by noticing when you get brain fog, headaches, bloating, joint pain, swelling of the tongue and stay away from the foods that constantly make you feel this way.

1. Eat real foods.

As long as you're eating wholesome foods, your body will know what to do from there.

You're less likely to overeat natural foods without all the added sugars, sodium, chemicals and preservatives.

Plus, most of us have cravings because our body is fed, but not not nourished. We eat until we are "nutritionally full," and we're more likely to be nutritionally full when we eat whole foods.

2. Eat when you're hungry.

Calorie counting promotes restriction and eating low-calorie options, which isn't always synonymous with healthy.

When you're hungry, eat. More smaller meals throughout the day keeps the blood sugar stable and won't cause you to have as many intense cravings.

3. Stop when you're full.

Most of our meals take place in our cars, at our desks while answering emails or in front of the TV.

If we eat with family and friends, we won't need to know how many calories we're eating by allowing our bodies to recognize when to stop.

As long as we eat real food, eat when we're hungry and stop when we're full, we can ditch the calorie counting, and start listening to our bodies, not our apps.