Should You Count Calories To Lose Weight?


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Diet

Lean 205lbs. without any calorie counting

My own diet philosophy is based on simplicity.

I never wanted to count calories and macros (protein, carbs and fat) because to me it’s “obsessive behavior”.

Counting calories and macros takes the fun out of eating and makes the whole process feel “robotic”.

Despite never counting my calories or macros, I lost 60 pounds of bodyweight by following these 10 simple diet tips and got lean for the first time in my life.

However, the problem with my 60 pound weight loss was the amount of time it took me to lose it all.

It took me 18 months to lose 60 pounds. This translates to a 3.33 pound weight loss per month which is extremely slow.

An optimal weight loss for a guy my size would have been about 8 pounds per month, therefore I’ve realised that I would have been able to lose all this weight much faster if I had counted my calories and macros and in this article I will explain why that’s the case.

The Benefits Of Counting Calories and Macros

Weight loss is largely a science.

If you consistently consume less calories than you burn, you will shred fat and eventually become lean.

Let’s assume that you’re an average skinny-fat guy who burns 2,800 calories per day and you get on a diet plan that has you eat 2,300 calories a day.

If you stay in this deficit for months you will make huge changes to your physique.

Each month you will get lighter and shred fat. In some cases you will stay at the same bodyweight while losing inches around your waist because you gain muscle mass while losing the weight.

Now assume the reverse scenario of someone who just “eats healthy” without counting his calories. The guy eats all the right foods, but he’s not in a caloric deficit.

No matter how healthy his food intake is, he won’t shred any fat.

And that’s why counting calories a huge benefit if you start out.

By tracking your food intake, counting your calories and tracking measurements and bodyweight regularly you will have hard data that shows exactly how your diet plan works.

If your diet plan doesn’t work, you can adjust it so it starts working. The data helps you adjust your plan so you’re on the right track.

Without the data you have to 1) rely on weight loss experience and 2) know your body very well. Most beginners can’t do either of these two.

How Much Effort Does It Take To Count Calories?

The number 1 reason to why I and many other guys don’t count calories is because of the effort it takes to do so.

Here are the general steps that I take when I create diet plans for clients:

  1. Estimate the client’s daily caloric expenditure (DCE). Muscle mass, overall size and activity levels determine the DCE.
  2. Determine the correct macronutrient split (protein, carbs and fat). The more active you are, the more carbs you generally need.
  3. Determine the right foods for the client’s goal. It doesn’t matter if milk is the healthiest food in the world if you hate eating it and don’t respond well to it, right?
  4. Find out how many protein, carbs, fat and calories there are in each food, then play around with the foods in excel until you create a diet plan that hits the client’s estimated DCE and optimal macro split.
  5. Find several options for each meal so the client doesn’t get sick and tired of eating the same foods day in and day out.
  6. Include regular refeed meals to ensure optimal testosterone levels.

And after I go through these steps, the client has to do the following to ensure that he sticks to the diet plan:

  1. Buy the right foods.
  2. Prepare them.
  3. Weigh them out for each meal and eat the correct amount.
  4. Each week he has to take bodyweight, waist and hip measurement. If the measurements go down, then great. If not, then dietary adjustments are needed.

As you can see, this is a lot of work, especially at the beginning where you have to do a lot of research and set up your diet plan.

In the next section, I will help you avoid the top 5 mistakes people make when setting up their diet plan.

5 Mistakes People Make When Setting Up Their Diet Plan

I know how difficult it can be to set up a diet plan when you’re a beginner and I learned during my personal trainer education that almost 9/10 people who lose weight, regain all of it within 2 years.

They regain it because they make a lot of basic diet mistakes, some of which I will list now:

  1. Too few calories: Starving yourself is a recipe for disaster. I can’t count the amount of times I see 200 pound guys go on 1800 calorie diets to lose weight fast. By doing stuff like that you mess up your hormones, lose muscle mass and feel like crap throughout the process. Aim for losing 8-10lbs. a month at most. Anything out of this range is usually muscle loss and water loss so don’t bother losing “weight fast”.
  2. Following a fad diet: Low carb, low fat and low protein diets are all fads. Your body needs all of them to function when you exercise regularly (which you hopefully do).
  3. Lacking diet flexibility: If I told you to eat chicken breast, tuna and brocolli with every meal, you would most certainly lose weight, but how long would you be able to sustain this? It’s human nature to crave variation, so don’t try to fight your nature. You will eventually lose and compensate by binging on all your favorite foods.
  4. Lacking refeed meals: Having your favorite foods once in a while is a great thing even though you are trying to lose weight. By having regular high calorie refeed meals, you ensure that testosterone levels stay high, that you maintain muscle mass and that you feel good throughout the weight loss.
  5. Not tracking progress: It doesn’t matter how well your diet works in theory. What matters is how it works in real life. You need to track progress every week to see if the diet plan works. If not, make adjustments. No online calculator is more precise than your own body’s response to a diet plan.

If you can avoid these 5 diet mistakes while creating your own diet plan and following it, you will be better off than 90% of people who regain their fat after dieting down incorrectly.

Client Case Study: From 0 to 10 Pull Ups In 5 Weeks

Setting up a diet plan and following it is a lot of work, but it’s worth it for those of you who are serious about transforming your skinny-fat physique.

One of my latest transformation program clients went from 0 to 10 pull ups in 5 weeks while working out just 80 minutes per week at home and sleeping 4 hours per night due to a demanding career.

And surprisingly, his bodyweight is almost the same as 5 weeks ago, but his waist and hips have both gone down in size which indicates that he shredded fat while gaining lean muscle mass.

Now imagine what he can do in just 1 year provided he sticks to the diet plan and we keep increasing his training intensity, frequency and volume.

He will shred fat, gain muscle mass and completely transform his physique from skinny-fat to lean and muscular.

Those are the type of results that a good diet plan combined with a good training routine can create.

In fact, my client’s progress has motivated me so much that I have finally begun to count calories myself to shred weight for summer.

My Experience With Counting Calories After 5 Years Of Not Counting

I’ll be honest with you, I don’t enjoy counting calories at all and I’m not nearly as strict on it as my own clients.

I don’t eat the right macros, and I don’t eat all that healthy.

When you’re lean and muscular and you train hard everyday your body is extremely good at partitioning foods for muscle gains.

That wasn’t the case when I was skinny-fat and couldn’t train hard everyday.

Back then, I needed to be much more strict on my diet to lose weight. Just looking at a cake made me fat.

With that said, I still have to put in everything I eat into a diet app called MyFitnessPal to ensure that I’m below my caloric maintenance which is around 3,500.

For example, today I ate a bunch of high calorie polish foods such as pierogi ruskie, kotlets and also yoghurt with dark chocolate for desert.

I put all these foods into my diet app, and I make sure that no matter what I eat, I stay under my target calories.

At this point in my training, it doesn’t matter as much what I eat as long as I hit my caloric target and get good variation in my diet.

Does this mean that I plan to count calories forever? Definitely not.

Once I’m 10% body-fat, I will stop counting calories and do my best to maintain my body without any obsessive counting.

If needed, I will kill myself at the gym for 2 hours a day to make sure that I don’t put on fat. I would rather do that than obsess about every single food I put in my mouth for the rest of my life.

Should You Count Calories To Lose Weight?

The answer to this question is simple:

If you’re skinny-fat and you have never been able to get to a lean 10-12% body-fat and maintain it for over a year, then you want to go 100% all in on your diet and do it right.

Make the best possible diet plan, weigh your meals, count your calories, track progress and make regular adjustments.

By doing this, you will be able to shred down and get lean in 3-6 months without starving yourself. (Unless you’re obese or lack the discipline to diet properly).

If you’re already lean or you have been able to lose weight before without a diet plan, then just do what worked for you without counting.

Remember, the goal of dieting is not to do it forever.

The goals of dieting are to 1) get lean, 2) stay lean and 3) learn how your body works and the basics of dieting.

You want to learn how many calories there are in different foods and how many calories you can eat to maintain your lean physique.

Eventually, you will be able to eat a relaxed diet that doesn’t require any counting while making consistent lean muscle gains, and you will only have to diet occasionally for 3-4 weeks at a time.

To me, this balanced approach to dieting is much better than the obsessive diet approach followed by people who count calories their whole life and can’t enjoy a meal without putting it into their calorie app.

I hope this post helped clear up some of your doubts about dieting.

Be proud but stay hungry,

Oskar Faarkrog

PS: I do not make diet plans for free, since it takes too much time and I’m currently fully booked with clients. You can get on the waiting list to stay updated on future opening on the link below:

http://oskarfaarkrog.com/transformation-program/



Download my bodyweight training program for skinny-fat guys (63-page PDF)



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Comments

  1. Hey Oskaar, your lats are looking better than ever bro.

    I had a question, would doing underhand front raises with dumbbells work my entire pec?

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      Thank you.

      Front raises are usually for front delts, however they do hit the pecs a bit.

  2. Anyone else experience binge eating from calorie tracking? I think I may have to take the simple route you’ve described elsewhere, personally.

    I first lost 12kg in 2010, simply by cutting out all processed foods from my diet and eating less. I didn’t track calories back then and I never felt the urge to just eat for the sake of it. Despite not tracking, I lost 12kg.

    Now last year, I started cutting again, but this time I calorie counted. I did so from August til November and lost 5kg. But I still have a good 10kg to go before I’m 10-12% and now, I just can’t for the life of me carry on. I try to start dieting again and can’t go a day without just thinking ‘screw it’ and eating everything, this is since I began calorie counting. It’s been like this since January and it’s frustrating me. I’m still 3-4kg down, so it isn’t as if I’ve wasted the previous dieting effort from last year, but it’s driving me literally insane. I cannot go ONE DAY without breaking the diet. I think it may be time to scrap the calorie counting and just play the simple card; I lost 12kg with it before so I think I’m answering my own secondary question here.

    • Okay I’m back to update and clarify something; it may be useful for others.

      I somehow forgot to mention in the above comment that the calorie counting diet phase I did last year was at 1800cals a day. When I started up again this year though, it was 1300cals I was aiming for, not 1800. So it wasn’t a fair comparison and no wonder I was bingeing.

      I today accepted that I’m going to have to raise calories, and have set my calories back to 1800. I included a good amount of my favorite binge food in that and still hit my macros spot on each day. I haven’t felt the need to binge at all as a result. Granted, it has only been one day yet, but it just hasn’t crossed my mind to consume the whole house at all, whereas I usually last 8 hours max.

      Moral of that story: I’m not psychologically suited to extreme approaches. Had to raise calories back to a smaller deficit. Any of you guys or girls in a similar situation, try accepting a smaller deficit. It has worked out better in 2 ways to be honest:

      1) The increased calories now allow me enough protein and carbs to ensure I’ll lose zero lean mass.

      2) my binges are gone. Exteme deficits are no use if you end up bingeing on other days and therefore averaging it back out anyway. You’ll be more likely to overconsume at some point and therefore not be in a deficit at all. So it’s clear that in that case, a smaller deficit THAT REMAINS A DEFICIT, is better than an extreme one, of which averages out into maintenance or most likely a slight surplus when you can’t take it anymore and binge on 1 or 2 days.

      • Chris D says:

        I had a similar experience several years ago. I did a typical low fat diet, counted calories, cardio and some weight training (I did not lift heavy). Started at around 1800 kcal day with a few cheat days here and there. I lost 25 pounds in 3 months (5’8″ – 190 to 175) not bad. I was hungry most of the time though. I then stalled for 2 months. Added more training, no change; dropped calories to 1300 a day, no change and became ravenous. Cheat days didn’t help, I just became more hungry the next day. I think Oskar is right, you need to eat balanced, add more fat from natural sources (olive oil, butter, beef, etc) to control hunger. Your body craves fat and denying it only puts you in an endless pursuit to get it which ultimately leads you to gorging on junk food and giving up.

        • Leighan says:

          Another issue: At first, eating foods you wouldn’t particularly eat otherwise to get an ideal macro ratio is tolerable, but then after a while it gets dull as hell. It’s been said that the best diet is the one you don’t know you are on, and I agree with that. It removes all the psychological stress and the feelings of restriction. Hence why not tracking calories can be the best route if you can manage to stay in a deficit without doing so.

  3. Another great article, Oskar! I have a question about body composition. I’m 38 years old and have been trying to build muscle. 5 years ago I weighed 180, dieted and exercised down to a pathetic 130, started barbell heavy weight training about a year and a half ago and am now weighing 170. I am 5’10” and still want to build muscle. my body seems to still be lean except under my chin and around my waist. My waist ha increased from 29 inches to 34 inches. I feel great again at a higher weight and my testosterone levels are better again. I just don’t like the bulging belly! Why is it going there and nowhere else? I train 6 days a week and I’m constantly hungry! should i cut back on food intake it accept the belly and continue barbell training and trying to build mass?? I would assume my bodyfat is 12-17%. Thanks!

  4. Hey Oskar, I didn’t count calories in the past two months, just ate two meals per day (lunch/dinner) and some beverages in between. Doing this I lost two inches off my waist in two months. Do u think this is a good rate, or is this too slow? Some people lose 3 inches in just one month, but not me. Do u think it is safer to lose weight slowly so i won’t lose muscle?

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      Two inches is quite good, but did you track your hips too? You might have lost a lot more around the hips. Also, how much did your weight change?

  5. Haha! You made my day with “pierogi ruskie” and “kotlets”. Greets from Poland :)

  6. My biggest struggle is and always will be diet structure. To me, the latest thing I have read that “drops weight fast” is the steak and eggs diet.

    But what is the point? I am 250lb and lets say I lose 80lb from doing that diet. What happens after the drop the fat? Do I just stick with the diet.

    I mean, it seems to me that any diet is worthless if you can’t stick with it LONG TERM!

    Everyone says the steak and eggs diet is the best diet out there to drop fat but if I know I won’t that way for the rest of my life then what is the point of starting it in the first place.

    No offense, but I’m just tires of going to 10+ fitness blogs a week trying to find the right answer. I just want to drop the fat, keep it offer forever, and never have to visit another fitness site again looking for more answers.

    Sorry for the rant. I’m just tired of it all, you know?

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      Great comment.

      I completely agree with you that you should only diet in a way that is sustainable. That’s what I have always done and that’s what I still do now with counting calories.

      Counting calories takes me 10 minutes a day because I simplified the process. When I lost 60 lbs I didn’t count anything and ate my favorite foods.

      And that’s why you don’t find a complete diet plan on my site (besides my own which I posted a few months ago)… Because everyone is different so promoting one diet as “the diet” would be the same as saying that everyone can use the same diet with success. That’s false. Genetics, body composition, allergies and so on determine the best diet for you.

      Here’s a good book about “diet cults” that you see today: http://www.amazon.com/Diet-Cults-Surprising-Fallacy-Nutrition/dp/1605985600

      I’m reading through it now, and I think you will be able to relate a lot with it.

      • I reading hundreds of articles on so many diets and for one reason or another can’t stick to any of them, I think the best thing for me to do is to just create my own diet. Everything from what I eat to how much to when I eat it. Of course this takes a ton of experimenting but I have to do something. Every diet was created by somebody in which that diet worked for them personally.

        I mean come on. I hate eating eggs. I have no chance with the steak and eggs diet!

        A 29 year man in the prime of his young life shouldn’t weigh 250lb. I should be lean, mean, and living the dream!

        • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

          An alternative to dieting is to eat whatever you like and track calories. Once you hit your daily limit, be disciplined enough to stop. Start with a small caloric deficit and see how that works.

  7. I know you can do it Oskar, if you have already cut down 60 lbs before there’s no way you can’t do it.

  8. I don’t think counting calories is a MUST!!! Personally I was able to maintain my weight without counting calories by listening to my body… eating when I’m hungry, eating just enough to be satisfied rather than until I’m bloated like turkey for Thanskgiving… I do admit I have to gain muscles for football training and I started counting calories using same app you use for about a month… Key is not being strict about calories… I only pay attention to the carbs and proteins and learn about my body… I found that if I eat around 300-350g carbs, I don’t wake up starved and I’m full of energy… few times I went 200-250g carb and I felt miserable the next day…. counting calories has some merits.. it reminds you to eat and be mindful of what you consume…

  9. Matheus says:

    Oskar i am a skinnyfat and thanks to your advices i made huge transformations
    but i have a question, i already see a 4 Pack abs in the light a little bit but i still have that last bit of fat under my lower belly, on my chest and specially on my love handles do you Think that i should bulk or continue the Cutting
    thanks for the help

  10. Perfect timing.
    I began lifting weights/dieting in February. I started out at 5’11” and ~220 lbs of regular fat mess.
    The thing is, I went completely low/no carb and was only eating once a day (probably way under what I should’ve been eating).
    I also lifted during that time however, and right now I’m sitting at 180 lbs. with decent musculature. I can’t see my abs yet, but my strength has been increasing on all my lifts (albeit probably slowly due to the lack of calories for so long).
    I realized I couldn’t maintain my way of severely cutting calories so I started eating more frequently and with bigger meals and I am surprising staying at/around 180 lb. despite the increase. I also started eating some carbs such as fruit and vegetables, although I still am not eating starchy/grain carbs.
    My question now is basically, do I count calories until I get my abs visible and then slowly try to add weight but stay lean that way? I feel once I get around 170 lb my abs will start to show.
    What’s a good amount of calories to shoot for while I finish cutting? 2,200?
    Thanks!

  11. Awesome article buddy, I’m starting to get into it and it gets a lot easier once you’ve got a few foods in your app and you can reuse them for example I have porridge nearly every morning and so i already know how many calories I get for my first meal every day. Also one tip is not too obsess too much like if you have a banana and its 1gram over its not gonna make any difference in the long run, remember to chil and enjoy life whilst you count because that’s the reason most of us are here anyway because we want to enjoy life without worrying about our shit looking bodies ;)

    • Oskar Faarkrog says:

      Thank you Josh, I agree that it get’s easier. I put a lot of “standard foods” in that I eat most days and now it takes me no more than 10 minutes a day to track my calories. I saw a 1 inch loss on my waist so far in just 2 days while being full and energetic. And great point on not obsessing too much. I just do my best to estimate the amount I eat without actually weighing the foods, however, if I was a beginner, I would be as precise as possible until I get a feel for it all.

      • hey oskar, is white rice good for losing weight? I heard that white carbs are the bad carbs when comes to losing the fats.

  12. Hey oskar,

    You made some really good points here! especially about fad diets.

    I always listen to people saying that you must avoid carbs or fat like they are evil. But this is wrong because having a balanced diet, without excluding anything (or overeating anything) is really important.I hugely believe that there is always a sweet spot where everything can be combined.

    Great advice, keep it up!

    Regards,
    Damian

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