There is a war going on outside, one that will once and for all decide the nutritional strategy of choice. Many have already chosen sides.
On one side of the battlefront, you have the calorie counters. They often look down on those who disregard the gospel of the numbers. The numbers don’t lie, and if you don’t count them then you’re lying to yourself. On the other side you have the intuitive eaters. They often look down on the calorie counters who haven’t mastered the Zen that is their body, and therefore spend day and night obsessing over food. Food is food, and treating it like it isn’t will only lead you down a dark, dark road.
Ok, so maybe it isn’t that epic, but my description is not too far from the truth, as I’ve seen enough debate on internet forums regarding this very subject to know that these e-streets can get pretty scary. I just have one question for everyone – can’t we all just get along? Both camps have something to offer, so there is no point in vilifying one strategy in order to make another appear more valid.
The calorie counters
I can’t even begin to think about considering the thought of saying that the counters don’t tend to get great results, because they do. Wanna know why? Because they respect the caloric deficit, and when it comes to fat loss this is one fundamental principle that cannot be avoided. They’re like the Navy Seals of the nutritional world – they get in, handle their business, and then get out quick fast and in a hurry.
They also take away one of the main excuses people use to justify their lack of results. When you’re in a deficit, you’re in a deficit – there are no ifs, ands or buts about it. I’m sure we all know at least one person who swears up and down that they are “eating so healthy” but still fail to lose the weight that they so desperately want to lose. I certainly commend them for cleaning up their diet, but if their goal is fat loss they first and foremost must align their food intake with their daily or weekly energy expenditure, and calorie counting is a useful strategy to achieve this end.
The intuitive eaters
As someone who ascribes to this style of eating 99% of the time, I can say that there is something liberating about not having to keep count of every little macro nutrient that goes into my mouth. Intuitive eaters as a whole tend to have a pretty healthy relationship with food – they treat it like food and not as calories. This style of eating has a pretty steep learning curve as it takes awhile to adjust portion sizes, food choices and other variables in order to line them up with with ones goals and individual responses, but once a person is dialed in it takes little effort to maintain. While intuitive eaters don’t count calories per se, through portion control and certain food choices their calories are definitely controlled.
Is there room for both?
There is certainly room for both, but many people see it as more of a battle between the two ideologies rather than two halves of the greater whole. Which one is best for you? It all depends, as there are pitfalls and benefits to both strategies. Are you a goal oriented person who likes to achieve their results in the fastest way possible, no matter the difficulty? Do you need to achieve quick results in a short amount of time? Then calorie counting could be just what the Doc ordered. Create a menu, calculate the calories/macro nutrients and call it a day. Most restaurants these days offer caloric information online or in-house, so that works in your favor as well. Many physique athletes, models and Hollywood actors who need fat loss in a hurry, or who have to achieve a very low level of body fat have people who handle their nutrition for them, and while they themselves may not count their calories, you better believe that someone is doing it for them – when money is on the line, results can’t be left up to chance.
There are some people who, by counting calories, could do more harm than good for. If you find yourself obsessing over the numbers to the point of seriously stressing out, then I would give intuitive eating a try. Also, if you’re using calorie counting as an excuse to justify eating jelly beans, marshmallows or something equally as foolish all day as long as you stay in a caloric deficit, do yourself a favor and stop – in the end you’ll do more harm than good.
Are you the kind of person who likes to experiment and get in tune with your body? Are you more relaxed about the deadline for achieving your fat loss goals? Are you simply trying to clean up your diet and eat healthier. Then intuitive eating might be best for you. While it does take some getting used to, there are ways to tweak and adjust in order to keep you on track to hit your target. Are you eating healthy food and still not losing weight? Check your exercise intensity and frequency. Still not seeing results? Drop your food intake a bit. Rinse and repeat. Those who are successful without counting calories are doing just that. Besides, once you reach your fat loss goal, you should have learned enough to never have to count another calorie again.
If you are the kind of person who isn’t willing to put in the necessary time and effort into adjusting your portions, exercise intensity, food choices and other variables often in order to start to see results, then intuitive eating may not be for you. If you are someone who is prone to emotional eating binges, then calorie counting may be something for you to attempt in trying to get such urges under control.
It doesn’t matter if you want to lose fat, build muscle or just maintain your current physique In the end these strategies are just two more tools in a tool box and should be treated as such. Don’t use a hammer when you need a screwdriver, and don’t use a blowtorch when a welding gun will suffice. Both work, but it all depends on your goals, commitments, and what you are willing to sacrifice.