Why Some Low Carb Dieters Should Consider Counting Calories!

By Jim Stone
Copyright © 2004

I want to discuss a possibility that most low carb dieters probably don't want to consider -- more on that in a minute.

First, let me make the observation that most low carb dieters follow a form of the low carb diet that says nothing about counting calories. In fact many low carb diets promise that you won't have to count calories at all.

Let's take the Atkins diet as a prominent example. The key to fat loss, according to Atkins is to make sure you get the right number of grams of carbohydrates. If you simply get your carb count fine-tuned, you will lose or maintain weight according to your goals.

And the thing is, this works very well for a while. Most people who start the Atkins diet lose 5-10 pounds the first two weeks, and then, if they stick to the plan, go on to lose a bunch more weight.

For some people the protocol works perfectly. They reach their goal weight, go on maintenance, and maintain their weight the rest of their lives.

But for many, probably a majority, it doesn't work quite so perfectly.

Many people lose weight for a while, and then stall for a considerable period of time, well short of their goal. This discourages them, and often they start eating carbs again and put much of their weight back on again.

And some find that if they have high levels of stress in their lives they can put weight back on, even while sticking to the low carb diet, even with a carb count under 20 grams a day.

Now I think these people still come out ahead in the long run. Low carb nutrition is helpful for a number of reasons, not just weight loss, but it sure can be discouraging when you gain much of your weight back again. So what is the solution for these people?

I hate to say it, but, if you find yourself in this position, it is entirely possible that you will have to begin counting calories, even while following a low carb diet.

And I'm not going to sugar coat this (no pun intended). Counting calories is a pain.

You eat dozens of different food items in a week. That means you have to figure out the calorie count of each and every item. And early on, you have to measure your portions very carefully to make sure you have an accurate count of your caloric intake.

You also have to make sure you record every meal.

Feel like snacking? Well, first, you either have to make sure you snack on a food you know the calorie count for, or you have to take time to figure out the calorie count for the snack -- and this can be harder than it sounds when you're really hungry! Then you have to record the item on some sort of daily calorie tracking device (for most people a simple notepad will do).

It is tedious, but it can be done. And, really, only a week or two of truly rigorous calorie counting is needed, because you will get a sense for calories after that. Although maybe every six months or so you will want to count calories for a couple weeks again to re-calibrate. But Don't Start Counting Just Yet

Counting calories won't help if you don't know some very important pieces of information.

First, you need to know how many calories you burn in a day. That way, if you know that you burn 2000 calories in a day, you can set your diet up to take in only 1600, and you will come close to losing a pound a week. Or you can burn off an extra 200 calories with exercise and eat 1800 calories and achieve the same results.

Second, you need to know that your body fat burns calories even when you are at rest. This is important because, as you lose fat, you will burn fewer calories. Some estimates show that for every 20 pounds of fat you lose, your daily calorie burn will drop by 100.

This is one of the main reasons for diet plateaus. You start with 2000 calories a day and lose 30 pounds. But then you can't lose any more, because 2000 calories a day has now become your maintenance level. And it has nothing to do with having a slower metabolism. It's just that there is now less of you there to burn calories when you are at rest.

So you need to figure out how many calories you need to consume to maintain your weight, and you need to be prepared to cut back your calorie count a little bit as you lose weight.

Almost no low carb diet plan talks about these things. The only one I know of is Dr. Gregory Ellis's plan in his book, Ultimate Fat Burning Secrets (If you are interested, just do a Google search).

Now Dr. Ellis's personality has been described as abrasive, but don't let this turn you off. He is the only one I know of who teaches low carb dieters about the importance of calorie counting. And he does a very good job of that. I am on record elsewhere saying his book is one of my three favorite low carb diet plan books (along with Dr. Loren Cordain's The Paleo Diet, and Dr. Wolfgang Lutz's Life Without Bread) So How Do You Determine How Many Calories You Need?

There are two approaches to determine how many calories you need to eat to maintain your weight.

First, if you keep a very good record of how many calories you consume for a couple of weeks or so, you can see what your weight does during that time and get a feel for how many calories you need to consume. If you reach the end of two weeks, and your weight hasn't changed, you have discovered the number of calories you need to eat to maintain your weight. If you want to lose weight, you can then make the necessary adjustments.

If, after two weeks, you have gained or lost weight, you can adjust your calories a couple hundred calories in one direction or the other and try again. You will eventually determine your maintenance calorie level.

Second, Dr. Ellis has some very scientific methods for determining how many calories you burn at rest in a day based on your weight, your age, and your height. You then add the calories you burn from exercise to get your total calorie expenditure, and then determine how many calories you want to eat from there.

The formula is a little bit too complicated to cover in this article, so I'll refer you to Dr. Ellis if you want to take this route. If I Have To Count Calories, Why Should I Choose A Low Carb Diet?

Now some of you were attracted to a low carb diet precisely because someone promised you that you wouldn't have to count calories if you ate low carb.

But now you've hit a plateau, and I'm here telling you that you should consider counting calories. Why not do a typical high carb diet, then. If you're counting calories, won't you lose the same amount of weight either way? And, if you eat a high carb diet, you can have all the pasta, bread, and desserts you've been missing out on.

There's nothing wrong with this reasoning so far. You can lose weight either way, as long as you are keeping close track of your calories.

But I want to encourage you not to lose sight of something very important that you've almost certainly learned by experience. You will find that you will face much more hunger with a high-carb, restricted-calorie diet than you will with a low-carb, restricted-calorie diet. A high carb diet will prove more difficult to stick to than a low carb diet.

I'm not saying counting calories will be a piece of cake on a low carb diet. When you are counting calories on a low carb diet, there will be times when you have eaten all your calories for the day and you'll still be a little hungry. You will have to stand firm. To help you stand firm, you can use many of the techniques I discuss on my site and in my book.

But keep in mind that, however much you struggle to keep your calories down on a low carb diet, it will be much more difficult on a high carb diet.

About the Author
Jim Stone is 35 years old and about to get his PhD in Philosophy. He has read widely about low carb, high fat, and paleo-type diets. He enjoys weight training, chess, and would like to learn Brasilian Jiu Jitsu. Jim enjoys writing about low carb nutrition and human motivation. Click here for more of his excellent work.

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