Should We Be Counting Calories


Did you at anytime feel low or depressed because of someone commenting on your weight? Have you ever wondered how you can reduce your weight? Many all over the globe believe that reducing food intake or counting each calorie intake is the best way to reduce weight. Will it help? Is it scientifically proven? If it is, how will it work? Let's see in the following paragraphs.

Obesity is a global pandemic affecting the majority of the population. The World Health Organization defined obesity as “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation”. It is calculated by body mass index(BMI), which is a simple calculation of weight for height. When BMI is over 30, it is called obese, and when it is over 25, called overweight.

Obesity does not only affect the health but also the social and psychological conditions of the affected person. There has been a rapid increase in the rise of obesity in both genders starting from childhood. It is estimated that by 2025, 21% of females and 18% of males of the world population will be obese.¹ Hence methods and precautions to combat the issue have to be addressed.

Understanding calories

What are calories

Calories can be understood as units of energy. Smaller units of calories are depicted as Cal, when there are a thousand calories, we call them Kilocalories(KCal). The calories present in our food are measured in KCal.

The function of calories in our body

The Calories in food will be useful in various body functions. Our food has Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats. The breaking of one gram of carbohydrate or proteins gives 4 calories, breaking down of fats gives 9 calories to the body (FNIC). 

Metabolism in the body means various body functions like digestion, respiration, and excretion, which require various metabolic processes such as the Krebs cycle, need energy which will be provided by the calories. Therefore, intake of good and required amounts of calories is required for the healthy functioning of body systems.

In general, males require a daily calorie intake of 2500 and females require 2000 to perform their body functions properly. Calorie intake helps in the regulation of body processes and also helps in the storage of the rest of energy for further usage. When this balance is disturbed, it may lead to various conditions like obesity, overweight and underweight.

Empty Calories

Have you ever heard about empty calories? These are calories that are of no use to the body and are obtained from highly sugary substances, alcohol, and soft drinks and alcohol. They are adequate in quantitative terms but qualitatively of no use. Therefore, one has to be cautious about the intake of these calories, as they may cause various metabolic diseases like diabetes, obesity and Hypertension, and eventually maybeheart attack.

Should we be counting calories? Let’s find out

Advantages of counting calories

To facilitate measuring the calorie intake, food products were imprinted with a calorie count as a Nutrition label. People have made it a habit of checking it before they buy the product. Even in restaurants, calorie count has been introduced below the title of a dish to ensure customers choose their low-calorie diet. Females have to reduce their caloric intake to 1500 and males up to 2000 to lose one pound per week.9

There are many ways to reduce calorie intake. These include a low carbohydrate diet, high protein diet, high fat diet, low-fat diet, liquid diet, meal replacement diet, and macronutrient diet. Most of these aim for a calorie intake of 600-1200 on a daily basis. Some studies have shown that  there will be substantial  weight loss with a low-calorie diet,² but a general doubt is how well this can support a normal body functioning. There was no consistent data implicating the proper nutrient supplementation during calorie-deficit diet plans.

Disadvantages of counting calories

One should not only consider the quantity of calorie intake but also the quality of calories that has to be taken into the body to ensure weight loss. You have to include vegetables, fruits and dry fruits that provide good quality calories, rather than junk food. processed food, and soft drinks can give the same or more amount of calories butt are proven useless to the body.

Right before planning calorie counting and low-calorie intake, you should understand how your body responds to low-calorie intake. Studies conducted with low-calorie intake certainly showed weight loss in most of the participants, but you should understand that you can never be on low-calorie intake for longer periods. This is because it can affect the metabolic process of the body.

Due to a low intake of calories, the body will thirst for calories and energy, and whenever the food enters the system, it starts converting all calories into stored fat; this in turn proves problematic because of weight gain. Many studies have shown  more weight gain than what  is lost after the study periods. That can be explained by, with prolonged calorie counting and calorie deficit dieting, the gut bacteria will be disturbed, increasing hunger, leading to more weight gain. Studies have also shown that there are improved levels of stored fats in the body after calorie-counting diets.³

Restricting food intake for a long time may result in psychological issues like eating disorder like anorexia nervosa, where the person, after eating, vomits all the food by inducing vomiting.³

Other ways to keep track of what you eat

There are newer ways of approaching this problem. 

Some of them are:

  1. Intermittent fasting
  2. Intuitive eating
  3. Ketogenic diet
  4. Healthy lifestyle

The most popular of these is intermittent fasting. In this approach, you have to eat in the window period of 6 hours and fast for the rest of 18 hours in a total period of 24 hours of a day.⁴ Intermittent fasting is claimed to draw better results in weight loss than a calorie-deficit diet in the long run.⁵ The Body will get all the nutrients required for its function, but the gut will be idle most of the time. Researchers claim that it helps in improving gut bacteria that in turn helps in the proper functioning of the body, reduces hunger, reduced insulin release, and all together weight loss. Prolonged fasting periods are found to be the initiation  of a procedure called “autophagy”, where dead cells are destroyed by the body to meet energy needs. In this way, one can reduce their biological age(the way the body conducts its functions) to the chronological age(calculated from birth).⁴

Intuitive eating is a newer approach where no food is restricted or calories counted. The person eats whenever he feels hungry and stops when his hunger is lost. Researchers claim that this technique helps in weight maintenance rather than weight loss procedure. It also improves the psychological benefits to individuals.⁶

Ketogenic diet is another popular diet, where the person takes more amount of proteins with less or no carbohydrate intake. That results in the burning of stored fats from liver, releasing ketones in the blood, and as such, the name.⁷

There are ample techniques to reduce weight. Every process has its pros and cons. There will be no technique called an ideal. Everyone should identify the suitable technique based on their lifestyle, conditions of job, and situations in and around them. Psychological aspects are proven to cause more release of corticosteroid that again results in fat deposition. Therefore the psychological aspect of the individual also has to be taken care of.

Some can be obese and still be healthy, called Metabolical healthy obesity(MHO). They were proven to have a good balance of body functions compared to others. Though scientifically more research has to be conducted in this direction.⁸

We are humans but with varied genetic patterns, even our fingerprints cannot be matched with anyone on the globe. Then how can we assume the same old approach will work for all? When we are planning for weight loss, our sole purpose is to have good health and a healthy body weight.

Counting calories can work for some while  hitting the gym gives drastic results to others. these may also not cause any results. Intermittent fasting proved to be effective in most of the population. At the end of the day, having all nutrients on our plate with regular physical activity always ensures health. Therefore trying out varied approaches works.


Obesity is a universal health issue that cannot be treated with a singular approach. Multidisciplinary approach has to be administered. Psychological, social, and medical aspects have to be examined for each case. 

Proper intake of water has to be taken care of. Cautious intake of all nutrients into the body has to be done. Weight loss is not a single-day program but should be an everyday mission. You has to concentrate more on a healthy lifestyle rather than just counting on the calorie intake. When healthy conditions are set up, attaining a healthy weight will be a piece of cake.


  1. Trends in adult body-mass index in 200 countries from 1975 to 2014: a pooled analysis of 1698 population-based measurement studies with 19·2 million participants. The Lancet 2016;387:1377–96.
  2. Rolland C, Broom I. The Effects of Very-Low-Calorie Diets on HDL: A Review. Cholesterol 2011;2011:1–10.
  3. Benton D, Young HA. Reducing Calorie Intake May Not Help You Lose Body Weight. Perspect Psychol Sci 2017;12:703–14.
  4. Duregon E, Pomatto-Watson LCDD, Bernier M, Price NL, de Cabo R. Intermittent fasting: from calories to time restriction. GeroScience 2021;43:1083–92.
  5. Schübel R, Nattenmüller J, Sookthai D, Nonnenmacher T, Graf ME, Riedl L, et al. Effects of intermittent and continuous calorie restriction on body weight and metabolism over 50 wk: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr 2018;108:933–45.
  1. Van Dyke N, Drinkwater EJ. Relationships between intuitive eating and health indicators: literature review. Public Health Nutr 2014;17:1757–66.
  2. Paoli A, Mancin L, Bianco A, Thomas E, Mota JF, Piccini F. Ketogenic Diet and Microbiota: Friends or Enemies? Genes (Basel) 2019;10:534.
  3. Tsatsoulis, Agathocles, and Stavroula A. Paschou. ‘Metabolically Healthy Obesity: Criteria, Epidemiology, Controversies, and Consequences’. Current Obesity Reports, vol. 9, no. 2, June 2020, pp. 109–20. PubMed,
  4. Osilla EV, Safadi AO, Sharma S. Calories. [Updated 2022 Sep 12]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from:
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Swathi Gadadasu

I am Dr Swathi G, from India, with experience as a dental clinician for 8 years, oral physician and Oral Maxillofacial Radiologist for 4 years, an academician for 3.5 years, an academic writer for 3 years and a medical writer for 1 year. With sound knowledge of clinical, non-clinical, scientific and academic and medical writing, working as a Freelancer Writer at Work foster. Due to my passion for writing, completed many national and international Publications in various indexed and well-known journals.

  1. Hi Dr.Swathi your article is an eye opener for many of us who are suffering from social pressures for weight loss. This article helps to understand more about healthy diet rather than just counting calories.
    Thank you!


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