TheĀ Inside Out StrengthĀ Blog

Simple and practical strength training, nutrition, and mindset content for the busy dadĀ looking to build muscle and burn fat effectively

Should You Track Your Calories?

Mar 21, 2024

I'm sure you know a friend (or at the very least, a social media 'influencer') who's lost weight without counting calories.

He's probably the same friend that tries to sell you on that same 'diet' that helped him out so much every time you talk to him (and probably the same friend who does CrossFit)

'Bro, you've got to get on carnivore like right now. You're missing out'

If he saw such good results, there has to be something to it

And best of all he didn't have to count any calories

And he's shredded

So calories don't matter as much as we think...right?

Not so fast.

Calories absolutely matter when it comes to:

  1. Losing weight/dropping fat
  2. Building lean muscle
  3. Doing both #1 and #2 at the same time (body re-composition)

But does that mean that you should count calories?

This is where it gets a bit more complicated.

Keep reading to help determine if counting calories is right for you.

When it comes to weight or fat loss, all popular 'diets' succeed for the same reason

I tried _______

  • Intermittent fasting
  • Paleo
  • Carnivore
  • Whole30
  • Vegan
  • Keto
  • Weight Watchers

And I lost weight without counting calories

It's hard to argue that it's 100% possible to lose weight without counting calories.

But don't get confused into thinking that calories don't matter that much.

In fact, from a weight loss or muscle building standpoint:

Calories are all that matter.

Whether you choose to count them or not, you better at least understand why weight loss happens on these different diets.

Intermittent fasting: makes it easier to eat less calories when you put a shorter time window on your eating

Keto/Carnivore/Paleo: removes easy to overconsume carbs/sugars/processed foods, therefore limiting overall calorie intake

No matter which popular diet you research, if the goal is weight loss, they all have their unique way of achieving a calorie deficit.

Which means, in theory, that you could succeed on any one of them without counting calories.

But here's the kicker that most people choose to ignore:

You can also follow any fad diet known to man AND fail on it when it comes to dropping weight or body fat.

I know this firsthand, because I've tried just about all of the diets listed above (and more)

Well...not vegan

There's certain lines I won't cross.

And the truth is, I've seen some success on just about all of them.

However, none of those diets got me to my desired end result

In fact, most of them followed a fairly predictable cycle:

  1. I heard about or researched a new or popular diet
  2. I got excited about said diet
  3. I jumped all in on that diet
  4. I saw some great results at first
  5. The results slowly faded, and I found myself stuck (sometimes this was 2 weeks in, or 2 months in, but it always happened)
  6. I told myself there had to be a better way and that the diet must not work
  7. I jumped back up to step #1

If this sounds at all familiar, it's because you've been there too

I used to not know why this would always seem to happen

But the more I reflected, the more obvious it became:

When you start anything new, your motivation is high

You're more strict when you start something new.

Let's take intermittent fasting as an example to show how this tends to work:

You heard about this great new diet called intermittent fasting.

Sounds awesome.

Eat whatever you want, but it has to be only during certain hours of the day.

You fasted from 8pm to noon each day (commonly knows as 16:8 intermittent fasting - 16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of an eating window)

8:01pm hits, the kitchen is closed. No exceptions

A few weeks in you've lost some weight

You also began to get hungrier, and started to eat a little more during your eating window.

Your eating window became a little more 'flexible'

You were up later and hungry some nights so you ate at 9 or 10pm.

You started eating breakfast once or twice a week or snacking during your 'fasting window'

And while these seem like such small things, these little compromises can certainly add up to move you from a calorie deficit (which leads to weight loss) to a calorie maintenance or surplus (not losing weight)

The fitness industry loves to sell you on the idea that you can eat whatever you want and still lose weight

Which is true...

If you play by the rules.

Most people want the freedom to eat whatever they want, without playing by the rules of weight loss.

It's like following a budget.

You can technically buy whatever you want, but there are rules you need to follow if you want to have money in the bank and avoid being in debt.

If you've tried one, two, three (or more) different diets over the years, but found yourself stuck in the same cycle I did of getting partial results, then it might be time to get serious about your consistency with tracking your calories.

Let's talk about who could do really well with tracking calories, and who might be better off taking a pass on tracking calories:

You might benefit from tracking your calories if:

  • You've tried several other 'diets' that haven't worked

If you've tried several diets listed above (or not listed above), lost some weight, and then got stuck (or gained the weight back) then it may be beneficial to track your calories. The main reason that those diets didn't work long-term for you is because you weren't able to maintain a calorie deficit.

This may have been something you knew you were doing. Maybe you let yourself fall off on vacation or regularly found yourself sneaking some extra food or snacks into your diet. Maybe it was happening without you knowing: you thought you were eating less than you were or didn't realize that calories were still the only thing that matter.

*For you keto and low carb-ers, carbs aren't fattening and eating fat doesn't have some superpower that keeps you from gaining weight. It's 100% possible to remove all carbs and still gain weight.

  • You do well with lists, numbers, spreadsheets, and organization

If you thrive with a little bit of structure, accountability, and something you can see visible progress with - then you'll probably do great with tracking calories. The people that seem to thrive with it don't get overwhelmed with the process of tracking.

If the thought of this makes you anxious, it may not be a long-term strategy for you.

But just because it's not a long-term strategy doesn't mean you might not benefit from tracking for a few days, weeks, or months to better understand how much you're actually consuming.

  • You have a specific weight loss or fitness goal

I don't always track calories. But you better believe - that when I'm getting serious about a goal of leaning up, dropping fat, or putting on muscle - I'm certainly tracking my intake as closely as possible.

Without a doubt, when I'm tracking, my results are more consistent, more predictable, and more effective.

Since starting tracking again 6 weeks ago, with the goal of dropping body fat, I've lost on average ~1.2 lbs per week almost every single week.

And when you follow the right program to go with it, that's almost all body fat that's being dropped as my strength continues to climb.

If you're ready to get dialed in, then tracking is probably your next step to unlocking more results.

You might not benefit from counting calories and tracking macros if:

  • You have an unhealthy relationship with food

If food and following a diet makes you anxious, then increasing the focus on calories or weight loss is probably not a good idea.

This will only exaggerate unhealthy tendencies and could make your relationship with food even worse.

To take it one step further, I'd recommend to stop following popular health/fitness social media accounts and email lists (including this one) and to seek out support on the real reason why there is anxiety around it.

  • You don't have the time or energy in this season of life to commit to the process

As I mentioned above, when I'm looking to get dialed in on my health, fitness, and body composition - I'm certainly tracking calories

However, not every season of life is a time to be dialed in on health and fitness.

Maybe you're a new parent, starting a new career or business, moving, or prioritizing other things right now.

That's never permission to go off the rails, but that doesn't mean you need to take more time and energy (that you probably don't have) and pour it into calorie tracking.

  • You don't want to do the work

Plain and simple.

If you're not ready to do the work that needs to be done to get the results you really desire - then just own up to it.

Don't make excuses for why it can't work for your situation.

I've seen people get in the best shape of their life from all backgrounds, experiences, and situations.

If you want it bad enough, you'll find a way to make it happen.

The biggest problem with calorie tracking is that it reveals the truth

 If you accurately track everything, and don't get results, it forces you to face the fact that you're eating in a way that doesn't support your goals.

And this can be a hard pill to swallow.

If you 'half track' by putting in most of the food you eat, but leaving out things here and there - then it reveals a problem with your integrity.

Which is an even bigger problem than any diet your following.

So make sure if you're going to get serious about your goal that you have the right help in your corner to guarantee you don't compromise your results.

You've done that one too many times already by jumping from one diet to the next, or from one workout to the next, and it's time to finally get the results you've been putting off for years.

I help men just like you find the last program and eating style you'll ever need to both get results and maintain your results for good.

If you're interested in learning more how to burn fat, build muscle, and maintain it for life - click here to fill out a form and set up a time to chat.


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