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Should you count calories?

Can counting calories help you lose weight? Though there is some scientific data to support the correlation between calorie reduction and weight loss, there can be some downsides to tracking calories. Kristen Smith, MS, R.D., a bariatric surgery coordinator at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital, weighs in.

“Counting calories may lead to weight loss, but it is often difficult to maintain this habit over a long period of time,” says Smith.

Studies have shown that reducing your calorie intake by 500 calories per day, or 3,500 calories per week, can help you lose one pound per week. However, this is a generic rule that doesn't account for a person’s gender or the metabolic effects of weight loss over time. 

“The calorie needs for adults can vary greatly depending on weight status, activity level, height and many other factors,” Smith says. “So, counting calories often leads an individual to feel unsatisfied because they’re focusing more on the calories versus the food content that they are consuming.”

Healthy weight loss tips

If you want to lose weight, Smith offers the following tips: 

  • Eat balanced meals. “It’s important to aim for a balanced meal that focuses on lean protein and fruits and vegetables that will keep you satisfied for the long haul, but don't provide a lot of calories,” she says. “Vegetables really contain a minimal amount of calories and they contain a lot of fiber, which can keep you feeling full for a long period of time.”

  • Read food labels. Pay attention to the serving size on food labels. “You may pick up a small individual package of chips or pretzels, and it may actually have more than one serving,” says Smith.

  • Do not add too many additives to your food. Be cautious of the potential added fats or extra calories you could be using when you cook your food in oil or butter. It’s okay to use these ingredients for cooking, but keep them in moderation.

  • Make small changes.  “If you are trying to lose weight, making small changes can be successful,” Smith says. “Some people make the mistake of trying to give their dietary intake a complete overhaul and they find that hard to maintain for the long haul. But simply making small changes can lead to positive long-term results in the future.”

Learn more about nutrition from Living Better experts.

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