Calorie Counting: Is It A Universal Rule?

by Angela (Oh She Glows) on July 21, 2009

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Calorie Counting: Is It A Universal Rule?


Yesterday, Jillian Michaels was on The Doctors talking about metabolism. I only caught a few minutes of the show, but something I overheard really made me cringe.

Jillian said, “You HAVE to count calories. I don’t care how healthy you are eating. It’s a universal rule.”

WOW. That is one loaded statement!

I must say her comment made my blood boil a bit. It is a universal rule that you have to count calories to lose or maintain your weight?! I’m sorry, but I simply don’t agree.

I do think that counting calories is beneficial for many people. It helps people understand portion sizes and gives them a guideline for how much energy their body might need. On the other hand, calorie counting can become an obsession and a source of preoccupation that distracts us from the big picture.

I realize that her primary target is the typical overweight individual who probably doesn’t have much knowledge about calories, nutrition, and portion sizes, but what about all of the people who are on the extreme end of the spectrum with disordered eating? Do they now feel like they shouldn’t stop counting calories even though it might be driving them crazy?

In my opinion, calorie counting is NOT a universal rule, even though at one point in my life if you would have asked me I would have told you I could never picture myself giving it up. For my personality, calorie counting didn’t work because it was all-consuming. Soon eating wasn’t about how hungry I was, but how many calories I had ‘left’ for that meal.

Now that I have come out on the other side where I do not count calories, I think it is totally possible to eat healthy without counting and maintain one’s weight. I am living proof and I know many others who have learned to stop counting calories too! I actually think for me, it was harder to NOT count calories and lose/maintain weight because it meant that I had to really listen to my hunger cues and body signals and actually be in touch with my body for once. Calorie counting isn’t going to work for everyone. It obviously depends on the person.

I think somewhere along the line, our society has missed the big picture.

Instead of telling people that they must count calories to lose weight, it is perhaps better to ask WHY people feel the need to count every calorie that goes into their mouth. The obsession with calorie counting is growing, while our society gets heavier, heavier, and heavier

What we need to do is get back to the basics with our health. We need to stop micro-managing and start looking at the bigger picture of health. Eating whole, unprocessed foods that make us glow. Sweating a few times a week. Being good to ourselves.

Calorie counting can be a useful tool, but it can also mask and divert our attention away from our overall picture of health.


What are your thoughts about Jillian’s comment?


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{ 101 comments… read them below or add one }

Eliza July 21, 2009 at 8:13 am

Jeezum, Talk about a statement loaded with privilege! In most places in the world (even in the US) people eat to stay alive, and many of them struggle even with that. Calorie counting doesn’t even come into the picture when you’re not sure you have enough food to eat.


Paige @ Running Around Normal July 21, 2009 at 8:16 am

I *completely* agree with you. I once counted calories, and it consumed me, and unfortunately led to anorxia. This was many years ago, and I’m healthy now, and now counting calories. Like you, while I understand the importance and benefits of calorie counting, it is *not* universal and is *not* for everyone. Thanks for posting about this.


Kathy (Moving Beyond Perfection) July 21, 2009 at 8:19 am

I COMPETELY AGREE that calorie counting is NOT universal! I think society just needs to focus on wholesome and healthy foods more, rather than calories. There are so many unhealthy little “100 calorie packs” out there, but people think they’re good for them because they are only 100 calories. The calorie craze is now the new “Fat-free” craze. I know I myself became obsessive over the calories in food, and through that obsession, completely lost all understanding of what “healthy” truly means. I am SO glad I can finally stop thinking about calories. I will admit, sometimes, rough estimates to creep back in my head, but my margin of error is probably now +/- 50/100 calories and even if I eat 2500-2700 calories one day, I don’t think twice about it because we all have those splurge nights, or those days we are simply HUNGRIER because we were more active that day. And by the way, I am positive I’ve eaten many days of ~2400 calories and I am only 5’1. So all those BMR calories or w/e calories we “supposedly” need are BS, in my opinion. Oh man, sorry I wrote so much by the way! (And if you’re wondering how I can always comment at work in the morning, it’s because as an intern, I’m always the first one in my group to arrive since I go to this morning meeting beforehand, hahah)


Marissa July 21, 2009 at 8:29 am

I, too, heard Jillian’s statement on the Doctors yesterday, and I couldn’t believe I heard that. I thought that I mis-heard her, but soon realized that I didn’t. I think her statement was quite strong., and I think a lot of people can get way too obsessed with counting calories, leading to detrimental results. I do not agree with her statement, and, while I do like her, I think she needs to be more careful of statements like that. She has a lot of power and responsibility in her hands and she shouldn’t take it lightly.


Pam July 21, 2009 at 8:31 am

I feel you don’t have to count calories also! I feel eating intuitively is better!


Lizzie July 21, 2009 at 8:31 am

Angela, based on what I have read about your past experience with calorie counting and being able to move past that, I don’t think there is anyway you could have achieved the time and pace you did for the race over the weekend. You have learned how to fuel your body so that it is healthy and active and while calorie counting is important for some people (who don’t know anything about nutrition and need to lose weight for health), it isn’t the be all and end all. Maybe I am wrong about that but you were literally glowing after that race!

If you have time, check out this article:

which I thought might be relevant to your post.


Jocelyn July 21, 2009 at 8:35 am

Hey- I completely agree with you. When I first read that quote I got upset and started to think about the time when I counted calories religiously. For years I would write down every thing I ate and was obsessed about it! I counted calories like a mad woman and I stopped focusing on being healthy. I would eat food (even if they were overly processed– 100 calories packs were my best friend) and try to eat less than 1200 calories per day. I was never happy and I would constantly binge because of this. It wasn’t until recently that I changed my diet and just started eating fresh fruits and vegetables and stopped counting my calories that I became healthy and happy! I will admit, I took this a little far at one point and gained a lot of weight. I started eating too much of certain healthy foods (like avocado and nuts!) So i do believe in moderation but I DON”T believe in counting calories!


Shelby July 21, 2009 at 8:44 am

That comment is ridiculous! Calorie Counting just made me a slave to food. I thought about it constantly, was paranoid, and never happy eating. I haven’t counted calories in a long time and enjoy my food. Plus, I feel its more important to listen to your body and see when its full or hungry.


Amy July 21, 2009 at 8:53 am

You don’t have to count calories persae… but if you’re trying to lose weight, its kind of a given that you want to create a deficit.

Calories in – calories burned = weight loss.

A lot of time people rant that they are not losing weight, but at the end of the day, its quite simple, they are eating too much.

I was a victim of this… I lost almost 100lbs, but the scale was stalling. I didn’t get why I wasn’t losing. I was eating healthy foods, working out like a dog, but the scale wasn’t budging. I sat down and starting writing down my meal plans again.. and sure enough I was just eating too much. Even healthy foods have calories!

Jillian comes across as harsh sometimes I agree, but I think her no nonsense philosphies are BANG ON.


MarathonVal July 21, 2009 at 8:59 am

Just this summer I stopped counting calories when I became more high-raw, and so far it has worked for me. I’m not so much concerned about my weight, but more so the body fat percentage since that shows that I am building healthy muscle!


Elisabeth July 21, 2009 at 9:04 am

Calorie counting is completely unnecessary. The typical modern person wants an “off the shelf” fix to all of their body woes, and unfortunately (and fortunately) not everyone’s bodies are the same. A 1,200 calorie diet might be perfect for one person, but the next person will have passed out by lunchtime.

We DO need to learn how to read packages; know portion sizes, and eat what we want, when we want it–according to that correct portion size. If one is eating a balanced diet, full of whole foods, and following the cues that their body is telling them, calories don’t mean diddly squat.

You’re absolutely right–rather than learning how to count calories, people in need should learn how to listen to their own body. It all sounds very “tree-huggerish” to the average person, but in my opinion, it is a very ‘back to basics’ concept that everyone should learn.

I’m disappointed in Jillian for making such a broad and frivolous statement.


Nicole of Raspberry Stethoscope July 21, 2009 at 9:09 am

I love the Biggest Loser and respect Jillian Michaels as a trainer, but seriously, how can she write a book about biochemistry and metabolism? How much does she really know about this sort of thing?


Jessica July 21, 2009 at 9:10 am

Comments like that are very frustrating to hear, especially coming from someone who does have so much social responsibility. (I do typically like Jillian though!)

A couple of years ago a dietitian said something that really helped me move beyond my ED & obsessive calorie counting – which was a miserable thing for me. She said that I don’t do the same things every day so I don’t need the “same” food every day. It is really like an ebb & flow, or like the squiggly line effect that KATH talks about.

There were very few days when my “alloted” calories were spot on so most days I was either starving or (believe it or not) eating more then I was hungry for or needing at that time.

It is not simple and by NO MEANS universal!!! While I am AWARE of calories I am in no way a calorie counter & am a much happier person for it : )

Great topic!


Anne P July 21, 2009 at 9:13 am

Jeez what a ridiculous comment! I totally agree with you, Angela. While it may work for some people, I’ve never even tried it because I think it takes the fun out of food! I think everyone’s goal should be to just be able to listen to their bodies, not obsess over numbers.


Kristen July 21, 2009 at 9:14 am

As I don’t know the full context of the comment, I’d really like to give Jillian the benefit of the doubt…but such a hard and fast rule about calorie counting just seems like bad advice. There are far too many people who get obsessed with the numbers for that to be good advice for everyone.


Dana July 21, 2009 at 9:15 am

I think calorie counting works for some people, but I think you are right, people can get obsessed with it. I think you statement is so true about focusing on healthy eating, sweating, and eating good whole foods! Now if you are eating a whole bag of granola a day…haha. I think once you learn about portion sizes and control, that it is automatically in your brain and you know how much to eat without over doing it!

Dana (


Nicole July 21, 2009 at 9:16 am

I love Jillian, and when I read this just now, it really surprised me! That’s a pretty strong statement to make, and while I am sure she didn’t mean much by it..but geez, of course it’s not universal!


Anna July 21, 2009 at 9:20 am

Whoa. Yea, I agree that her statement is over the top. I don’t think there are really ANY statements about health you can make so broadly. Well, except maybe “smoking is always terrible for you” or something like that. I’m with you- plenty of people have lost and maintained their weight without every having counted calories. I appreciate some of Jillian’s outlook, but on some topics she is just far too dogmatic for me. She’s a trainer, for crying out loud, not an MD.


Whitney July 21, 2009 at 9:27 am

I love Jillian. That being said, I also hate calorie counting and refuse to do it. I eat in a way that satisfies me and makes me happy. If it is too much work, ie. calorie counting I get discouraged and upset.


Melissa July 21, 2009 at 9:28 am

How should I put this without sounding like I’m disagreeing with everyone else. Jillian is very much for calorie counting when people are trying to lose weight. But you have to take things into perspective that she really does help a lot of people who have no clue about what they are eating and how much they are eating. And while it’s not for everyone, for some people it really is helpful for them to count calories. Granted some people can go over board with it and get way to obsessed. But honestly if I don’t count calories I am unable to lose weight. Maybe some people can lose weight without counting calories, and if so that’s awesome. It’s just doesn’t work for me.

I also want to say that if you read Jillian’s book it’s not really based on calorie counting. It’s based on eating very healthy foods and knowing how to eat a balanced diet. So while she made that comment I don’t really know what she was thinking/.trying to get across to people. Because her metabolism book doesn’t come across that way to me.


Susan July 21, 2009 at 9:29 am

While I agree that you don’t HAVE to count calories (I’ve never been anywhere close to overweight and I’ve never counted calories), I can see why she would express such a strong opinion about it. If you want to truly show people how much they are eating (or not eating?), then calorie counting is the plain and simple way to do it. Calories in vs. calories out is very easy for people to understand, and when you’re talking to the general population, you have to dumb things down a bit. Plus, no one wants to hear “Welllll you could count calories, but you don’t HAVE to…” People want to hear “what works.” If you tell people to eat healthy and workout a few times a week, they don’t know what that means. If you teach them how many calories are in a hamburger, tell them to eat 1800 per day and walk for thirty minutes per day, then that is something they understand and can stick to. Do you HAVE to count calories? No. Does it work for a lot of people? Yes.


Danielle July 21, 2009 at 9:33 am

Well your post and a lot of the comments here are in agreement about calorie counting being bad, but I have to say, that is a bit hard to swallow. I have been trying to get away from the counting mentality and rely on my own hunger signals and what feels right and I have to say it is EXTREMELY hard for me to know how I am doing on any given day and whether I am successfully creating the deficit that I need to actually lose weight (nee dto lose about 25 lbs).

For me, maintaining is pretty easy to do without counting but to achieve a loss and really learn what the right portions are I am really ready to give up the notion of NOT counting. If I cant measure it, how can I manage it?


Shelly July 21, 2009 at 9:34 am

I kind of keep a mental estimate of how many calories are in my meals, but really I’ve found that being aware of my portion size, getting a good mix of carbs, fats and proteins, and focusing on eating more veggies and fiber has made much more of a difference than calorie counting ever has for me. I can attest that you can eat 1200 calories of junk a day and do yourself no favors. It’s hard to exercise or even have a good day when you feel gross and tired!
I shoot for at least 1800 calories a day now and make sure my day is loaded with good healthy food. I maintain my weight, look better, feel better, and have the energy I need to get through my day and exercise. And being able to feel good about what I’m putting in my body is priceless.
Lately, I’ve been extra hungry and haven’t felt guilty about eating more because I feel like the stuff I’m eating is nourishing me and I’m not going to have a bad outcome from that, even if I’m eating a couple hundred extra calories sometimes. I think my body must need it if it’s asking for it!


Meganerd July 21, 2009 at 9:35 am

Wonderful post! I think too many people (dieters or not) fall into the trap that calorie counting is necessary. It may work, but it’s not always healthy.

I agree with you that we need to listen to our bodies, get out and sweat, and feed ourselves with whole nutritious foods. That ALWAYS works.

thanks for the reminder :D


Melanie Z July 21, 2009 at 9:42 am

Wow! Funny how just yesterday I posted my best health tip that I’ve learned recently is that “it’s not about calorie counting.” While I love Jillian, and I agree that calorie counting does HELP loose the weight, it’s more about the nutritional quality of those calories that you’re putting into your body! Hmm, I think I have an idea for a new post!!! :)


katherine July 21, 2009 at 9:49 am

I actually don’t think Jillian meant the statement to sound as absolute as it did, but she’s definitely a person of extremes. The fact is, the vast majority of people have no concept of their hunger cues so counting calories is an important way of tuning in to your body’s needs. A person can say ‘I eat when I’m hungry’ but have had such a long-standing unhealthy relationship with food that they genuinely feel “hungry” for 4000 calories/day and have no exercise in their life. With the proper mindset, calorie counting can be a great way of recentering yourself to get a better idea of portion sizes and nutritional requirements. However, I don’t think it should be a long-term habit. I, too, fell victim to obsessive calorie counting because I took it to an extreme. At the end of the day, it’s all about moderation. But the first step HAS to be learning to really properly interpret your hunger signals and requirements.


Amy July 21, 2009 at 9:49 am

I don’t know the context for her statement…was she referring to people trying to lose weight? Or people in general?

I appreciate Jillian’s no-nonsense approach because some people just don’t realize how many (bad) calories they are putting in their bodies and how little they are burning.

However, I could never count calories. But I’m also not on a diet or trying to lose weight, so I can’t speak for people who have counted calories and had success. But who could count calories FOREVER, for every thing they ate, for the rest of their lives? If (and maybe she did) Jillian could have expanded on her statement, we might have learned more. I think she just mad people mad instead!


Heather July 21, 2009 at 9:50 am

I agree. Back when I first started to count calories for weight loss, I would eat 1200 calories of Lean Cuisines, Slim Fast shakes, and energy bars. I don’t think I ever purchased produce unless it was frozen. I used to even budget beer & pizza into my 1200 calories. I lost weight, but there would be times I was starving when I went to bed because I had used up all of my “food money”.

Now, I eat 85% fruits, veggies, & whole grains. I give myself 15% to eat whatever foods — like packaged bars, sweetened pb, vitamuffins etc. I don’t count calories, especially those from veggies.

This way of eating leaves me satiated, happier, and my GI tract loves me much more now. :)


Jenny July 21, 2009 at 9:54 am

I agree with you completely Angela. Calorie counting is a sure fire way to lose weight, but if that is not your ONLY goal (which it should never be, then it sets you up for disaster. It’s an addicting, restricting way to live, and while it’s effective, I do not think it should be the main focus of any weight loss plan.


Lexi July 21, 2009 at 9:58 am

It’s like you are reading my mind! I just posted yesterday about calorie counting. I am trying to move away from that obsession, but every now & then I feel like maybe not counting is for those in maintenance & since I’m trying to lose I have to count. It is so consuming though & I really want to focus on natural whole foods…but then again I’m not losing.
Thanks for this post!


Alex July 21, 2009 at 10:05 am

Great post, Angela.

I think it’s important to remember that Jillian Michals’ quote is just ONE OPINION. It’s part of her image to be the “tough cop” and her statement reflects this. I think we also need to remember that she is a SALESWOMAN. I know a lot of what she has to say is valid, but she is at the same time TRYING TO SELL HER BRAND!

Her word isn’t gospel.

It certainly doesn’t bare any truth for me (or the readers above!) so I think we can confidently say: “CALORIE COUNTING IS NOT A UNIVERSAL RULE!”


Susan July 21, 2009 at 10:05 am

I guess it depends on what your goals are. Calorie counting can be a good tool for people looking to lose weight, gain weight, put on muscle, or in Jillian’s case, maintain her “fit” look. I calorie counted for a year while losing 30 lbs and transitioning into maintenance mode. Learning the calorie counts in my foods was invaluable to me. But that’s just me. I don’t count calories any more and have been able to continue maintaining easily. I feel like I’m living a more “normal” life when I’m not analyzing every food that enters my mouth. But again, I’m not a personal trainer, I’m just a normal person trying to live a balanced life!


Rex July 21, 2009 at 10:09 am

I think from a stand point of loosing weight, it is a universal rule: calories in vs. calories out. To lose 1 lbs, you have to create a 3,500 calorie deficit; from training, cardio or food intake. If your stuck not loosing any weight, it is usually because of calorie intake. If you need 2000 calories a day to maintain and were only eating a 1,000 calories (even if the 1,000 calories are from fast food) you will lose weight. Calorie counting is not for everyone and it should not be. I don’t think it something someone should do for life or for a long period of time. I do think if you are trying to lose weight, without going to a “diet”, you can do so with calorie counting and still eat the foods you love without depriving yourself. Once you hit your goal, I think it is always best to find a more intuitive way of eating. I also think this rule applies for gaining muscle.

I think Julian’s point is based off her career of helping people to lose weight on The Biggest Loser, her personal training and books. I think she is selling what it takes to lose weight and not telling everyone in the world to calorie count! Just my opinion!


Brandi C. July 21, 2009 at 10:09 am

I do not agree with her EXACT statement, but it didn’t make me angry either. Here’s why…
I think the point she was REALLY trying to get across is that CALORIES IN need to be less than CALORIES OUT for one to lose weight. This just shows you need to watch how you words things when you are on tv. Also, she could have been focusing on people that have no idea about portions and healthy food. Which she should have addresses.


Brandi C. July 21, 2009 at 10:10 am



Valerie July 21, 2009 at 10:18 am

“Soon eating wasn’t about how hungry I was, but how many calories I had ‘left’ for that meal” – wow, that really struck a chord with me. I can relate, especially in the evenings when I’d be starving but I’d be too afraid to eat even a 100 calorie snack because I’d be over my daily goal by that much. Geez, even if I went over by 100 calories each day, over a week that would equate to less than a 1/3 of a pound tops that I wouldn’t lose. But calorie counting had me in that extreme frame of mind that every little bit mattered to the point where I was really sacrificing my own happiness to lose 0.2-0.3 extra per week.

I do think calorie counting can be a valuable tool, especially for those that are completely unaware of nutritional info. I was one of those fairly ignorant people. Sure, I’d read the info but had no idea whether it was good or bad based on the calorie content. I had no idea how many my body needed each day, so without knowing that, you could easily plow through way more calories than you need and be unaware of what it’s doing. Initially, calorie counting made me aware of proper portion sizes and how many calories I needed. It was just later on that it started to become obsessive as I counted every little thing, right down to a tablespoon of sugar that I’d put in tea.

I do think Jillian’s statement was more applicable to overweight individuals or maybe those just starting to lose weight. Like I said, it was a good thing for me early on. I couldn’t imagine counting calories for the rest of my life. I’m still aware of calories, yes, but I personally couldn’t write down every little tablespoon of food I ate, nor do I think everyone has to in order to lose or maintain.


Bree July 21, 2009 at 10:20 am

I actually don’t like Jillian at all, so it’s easy for me to disagree with almost everything she says. In this case, I agree that not everyone has to count calories. But like other commenters have said, I think many people do. Most typical American’s (Canadians) have no idea what intuitive eating and how to use food as fuel. I was so out of touch with how much I was eating, it was a rude awakening once I started weighing and tracking my food. For me calorie counting has worked, but I am not done with my loss and will continue to count until I reach my goal. I completely agree that it can lead to disordered behaviors in some people especially if they had a history or tendency of disordered eating.


Joanna July 21, 2009 at 10:28 am

See for an interesting article on how food calorie counts are even determined, and whether there are flaws in that system that can lead to a misleading “count”. while I agree with you, Angela, on the fact that eating wholesome, unprocessed, natural foods should lead to a natural balance in weight, obesity is a FAR greater threat to public health right now (in North America and Europe, and increasingly in Asia) than disordered eating, so the various advice given is mainly to try to address that.


Maureen July 21, 2009 at 10:29 am

I agree with you 100% there is a lot more to food than the number of calories, fat, sodium etc. I am new at it but I believe in listening to your body and eating healthy whole foods. The more healthy I eat the more my body signals it wants healthy food. Why just the other night it said it wanted more vegetables instead of something sweet. :-)
One of the reasons I do not watch this show is that it is extreme and must be hard for the participants to stick to it once they leave.


Robyn July 21, 2009 at 10:37 am

I follow WWers, so I count Points, which are based on calories, fat grams and fibre. I’ve always been overweight (ok, not always, only since I was EIGHT!) I don’t do well with “intuitive eating”. I don’t “listen to my body’s signals” well. I need the guidance of a system that keeps me in check. Maybe some day, after following the program long enough, eating sensibly will just become a habit and I will not have to count Points as much, but for myself, and may of the overweight people I know, we need the guidelines that calorie counting or Point counting provides.

I still have to make good choices, but within those good choices, I still need to know how much…the WWers Points system helps with that.


Robyn July 21, 2009 at 10:37 am

Sorry, WWers…Weight Watchers.


Tricia July 21, 2009 at 10:40 am

You rock! Jillian’s comment is ridiculous to me. I’ve also struggled with eating disorders and calorie counting demons for a very long time and only in the past couple years have really come to appreciate my body and actually enjoy eating. I’m a marathon runner and need those calories, if I still counted everything I need to make my body “glow” and perform the way I want and need I would go nuts!


lisa July 21, 2009 at 10:40 am

I agree with your statement as well. Except I do think calorie counting could help some people but it depends like you said on your knowledge of calories and nutrition. It also depends on your personaility. For me I’m in your boat if i count calories i tend to add them up and even if i’m not hungry decide to eat something just because it is within my calorie limit not because I am actually hungry. Listening to your hunger and body is hard work. Something that ultimately we all want to achieve but maybe for some calorie counting is a good start. It totally just depends where you are at.


Mandy A July 21, 2009 at 10:41 am

I think honestly it depends on the person! For me, calorie counting is NOT possible. I get too caught up on numbers… it makes my life SO stressful worrying about every last bit of what I had to eat in my last meal… will it leave me enough calories for dinner? What if I want dessert? Can I even snack?

I have a pretty sluggish metabolism… so I am one who has to eat smaller amount of calories… and I ended up in a bad, bad place when I was counting calories… ended up dealing with a binge eating disorder, etc… I had to let it go!


Angela (Oh She Glows) July 21, 2009 at 10:47 am

I think the funny part of all of it was the fact that Jillian didn’t give her statement any context whatsoever. I think if you are going to be in the public eye like that, you need to be more careful about clarifying such bold statements.
As I said, I beleive whether counting calories or not is going to be an individual thing. By no means is it a universal rule. Even if Jillian was referring to only those individuals trying to lose weight. What works for one might not work for others. In the spring, I was able to shed a bit of weight gain FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER- WITHOUT counting calories! I actually didn’t think it was possible. But it was.
I want to also mention again that it took me over 2 years to stop counting calories. I get a lot of emails from readers that are so frustrated with the addiction to count calories. I just wanted to clarify that it was NOT an easy process for myself to stop. At least 2 years of trying, trying, and trying more. This is the longest I have ever been without it and my thoughts are no longer consumed by food and calories. This is just my experience and my own viewpoints are obviously guided my my own battles with disordered eating!!! ~A


thedaintypig July 21, 2009 at 10:48 am

I TOTALLY totally agree with your thoughts!
Calorie counting can be useful to some people, as far as portion sizes go, etc., but EVEN then, it does NOT teach people to listen to their body.

I know some people on weight watchers, where each food has points (related to number of calories), and then there are special “unlimited foods” because they are so low cal. Instead of listening to their bodies to decide when to stop eating, they are allowed to freely and endlessly eat as much of the unlimited foods as they want. Sure, maybe you won’t gain weight eating pounds of sauerkraut each day (haha), but you are creating unhealthy mental eating habits.

Eat when you’re hungry. And eat REAL food. Stop when you are satisfied (but not full/stuffed), and eat REAL food. You don’t need to do math!

Have a great day!! :D


Lisa July 21, 2009 at 10:52 am

I didn’t see that program but if you read Jillian Michael’s books or listen to her radio program, she is very big on eating whole, unprocessed, organic and natural foods, and frequently rails against 100 calorie packs and lean cuisines being seen as “healthy” simply because they’re low-cal. But she also insists that no matter how healthy your diet is, you have to count calories to lose weight.

In my experience, this is correct. The body typically does not want to be in energy deficit. There have been studies that show that people who cut or burn calories one day will make up for it the next by taking slightly larger portions without even noticing it.

I don’t find calorie counting to be irresistible or addictive and harmful like some people here; for me it’s incredibly tedious, but it’s the only way I’ve found to consistently LOSE weight.

I absolutely think people can (and should!) maintain weight without it – who wants to count calories for the rest of their lives? And of course those with ED tendencies should avoid counting calories since it would end up being more harmful than helpful for them.


britt July 21, 2009 at 10:57 am

jillian is a big personality with a lot of followers and i hate to hear her say things like this. so many people take these things to heart and it is not a healthy way to live overall. i do understand if you are trying to lose a lot of weight you have to start somewhere, but for it to be a universal rule is crazy!!


kayla July 21, 2009 at 11:09 am

I agree calorie counting would be obsessive, however without it I wouldn’t have lost 25 lbs. It definitly can help a lot for people who don’t realize how much they are eating, but I think it can very quickly turn obsessive. That is what it did for me anyways. Normally I would be upset if someone said you HAD to count calories but you have to take in consideration that Jillian seems to only train very overweight people so I’m sure that is who she was aiming that comment at.


Kate July 21, 2009 at 11:09 am

About two months ago I got an iPhone app. that has you track your food and workouts and I thought it was the greatest thing EVER! Then I relaized that I was just eating to fill up the daily calories, mostof the time I wasn’t even hungry. I think that counting calories has its benefits, but it just doesn’t work for me. Even after I gained a whole buch of weight in first year of university I started eating whole foods and listening to my ody to lose weight. That is what works for me, and exercising….and of course NOT obsessing over food and exercising has helped me be happy! Counting calories never made me happy.


Tay July 21, 2009 at 11:11 am

Great great great WONDERFUL post Angela!! I completely agree with just about everything you said above. Honestly, calorie counting was probably the only way I would have successfully lost weight. I’m not great with listening to my hunger cues & weight loss because I munch too much. I’m generally able to maintain without strict calorie counting. But I honestly can’t help it, and still have a general idea in my head about where I am for the day. It took me a looonnngg time to get to this point, and I hope someday to live with one thought of calories entering my mind during a meal.

Everyone is different, and if you’re a binge eater, stress eater, and eat out of complete boredom ALL THE TIME, then yes, calories counting may be the way until you can learn to listen to your own cues. But a universal rule? Obviously not true, since so many people can just live by eating healthfully.


Hangry Pants July 21, 2009 at 11:11 am

In Jillian’s defense, if someone is very overweight and needs to lose weight for health reasons I can see how they need to count calories. Being intuitive right off the bat like that isn’t going to work. Perhaps calorie counting specifically is not required, but something that gets the person trying lose loads of weight in touch with portion size, calories in each items and total calories consumed is probably necessary at first. If the person could be intuitive on their own they probably would not be obese. I think the same applies for someone underweight that must gain. Something has happened to throw off the natural intuition of eating there. That said, I obviously do not think it’s a universal rule. That’s just ridiculous. I personally could never count calories, but I am not trying to lose weight either.


Barbara July 21, 2009 at 11:12 am

I don’t agree with her at all. I tried counting calories once, but then eating became a burden. Today I try to eat lots of veggies and healthy grains and I exercise. And you know what? I have no idea how many calories I’m eating yet I’m still maintaining my healthy weight.

I think we should start listening to our bodies instead of being ruled by calculators. Listening to my body + eating healthy not processed foods + exercising = the right calories intake. It’s as simple as that.

Oh and since I’m already writing this comment I just wanted to add this about Jillian. I think she is a fitness expert and damn good at it, but I had decided to stop listening to her when it comes to food. Why? Because I think she tends to take it too far. I understand she needs to be in top ideal shape all the time, but I believe most of us don’t. I’m going to have that glass of wine at dinner and that cookie with my coffee. And then I’m going to go out and have fun, bike or swim or walk around and enjoy life. And in the end I’ll be a couple of pounds heavier than my “ideal” weight, but a LOT happier.

(of course if a person is overweight they should educate themselves about calories in the beginning but to do it for the rest of someone’s life? No way!)


Jess July 21, 2009 at 11:18 am

That’s kinda crazy – I never want to be a slave to what I’m eating anymore and that just reinforces being a slave to what you’re eating! ugh!


The Healthy Apple July 21, 2009 at 11:22 am

Great post–I agree with you…I’m very surprised that Jillian said that….it’s more important to ‘eat what you want’ and to eat ‘everything in moderation’….i agree with you that it’s so important to listen you your own body/own hunger signals instead of counting calories…life is too short to count anything you’re putting in your mouth! Eat clean and healthy most importantly, eat for your health — and you’ll feel great!

Wonderful post.
The Healthy Apple blog


Erin July 21, 2009 at 11:25 am

I disagreed with some of the post and I think calorie counting and food journaling is helpful as an accountability system and that is what it should be used for. If a person becomes obsessed then it is unhealthy and they should regulate that however they see fit. Food is an addiction to many people.
Depending on if you are on a maintenance or weight loss program matters as well. Finally if you can afford to eat organic and non processed food that is great, many people can’t and many people fall into the psychological comfort that food provides.
Jillian has alot of knowledge and deals with chronically overweight people so her universal message is to count calories. She doesn’t address disordered eating and probably cannot speak to something she doesn’t know much about.


Katherine Feeney July 21, 2009 at 11:30 am

I couldn’t agree with you more!!! There are too many factors involved…I like the WHOLE FOODS approach :-)

Great post Angela!


Lynn July 21, 2009 at 11:36 am

Sure calorie counting *might* not be necessary if you have a small amount of weight to lose (5-15lbs) because you haven’t been paying attention to your foods and/or have simply been inactive, but for people who are extremely overweight and have issues with overeating, “listening to your hunger” most likely won’t work. As easy as listening to your hunger sounds, the reality is that it’s HARD to do especially if you’ve been in a habit of eating mindlessly for many years. Calorie counting helps show you true portions along with the amount food of your body actually needs to be properly nourished. In a way, calorie counting helps the majority of people start eating a healthier diet as well, because fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean meats etc., are lower in calories and they fill you up. There is no way that I would have ever lost almost 100 lbs if I had simply “listened to my body.” I NEEDED that education of calories in vs calories out in order to suceed.

Jillian gets results and if you read her books or listen to her weekly radio shows, you would see just how much work she puts into informing people OUTSIDE of the Biggest Loser. She may not be a doctor but she certainly worked closely with many of them to write Master Your Metabolism. Check out the index section that lists all the articles/research/book/studies etc.

Just my two cents.


Stacy July 21, 2009 at 11:55 am

I agree with Jillian. Calorie counting works for me, but I’ve reached the point in my life where I’m not totally obsessive about it and don’t even think of restricting them to unhealthy levels like I did back in the day. When I started really paying attention to the numbers (not just calories… but fiber, protein, and fat) everything clicked with me and I lost weight and became a much healthier eater. I think it’s important for people who are trying to lose (or maintain) weight to understand that it all comes down to eating fewer (or the same) calories than you burn. I think all of the successful intuitive eaters understand this basic principal… they just don’t need to whip out the calorie counting books and websites anymore.


Menden (SkinnyMenny) July 21, 2009 at 11:56 am

Wow, I’m surprised that Jillian would make such a black & white comment.

However, I can understand why she’d say that someone who is trying to lose weight would need to watch their calorie intake, period. If you’re taking in more calories than you’re burning, you’re not going to lose weight, right?

For me, calorie counting is not really an option. First of all, the “formulas” of how many calories I’d need to maintain are always way off of what I’d normally eat in a day. (My boyfriend weighs 75 lbs more than me, and we usually eat a pretty similar amount of calories in a day…now how is that possible?!)

I’m trying hard to learn to listen to my body’s cues and not focus so much on a specific number, but it’s sure easy to get obsessed with it!


Chloe July 21, 2009 at 11:59 am

I completely agree with you and think that Jillian’s comment, although true for some part of the population, is generalizing to the extreme. I know that I can lose weight by watching my portion sizes and making better choices, as well as keeping up with exercise.
Counting calories can lead to obsessiveness that is not healthy for individuals, and doesn’t teach you how to listen to your hunger or satiety cues.
I wonder what Bob thinks?


Angie All The Way July 21, 2009 at 12:04 pm

Angela I do see where you are coming from. The fact is that there is NO universal rule that applies to everyone about anything, right?! Many people have lost many pounds many different ways because what works for one, never is the answer for everyone. The same goes for not counting calories – not for everyone.

While I didn’t see her on The Doctors, I follow her, read her books, listen to her podcast and I know what she is about. It is pretty darn hard to boil down all of the science that goes into our metabolism into one universal statement and maybe she was wrong to try because that statement does not fairly represent what she believes and what she has researched at all. Maybe she didn’t feel the need to give the comment context because she has already done so much of that through her books, her site and her podcasts? Her bad?

Personally, as a girl who has lost 120 lbs at present, it had to be an equation for me to “learn how” to eat as my body should. I stopped counting and my weight loss stalled. Even after all of that learning to lose that much weight, I still wasn’t “listening” to my hunger signals even though I am still trying. I’ve read “Intuitive Eating” and it all sounded so perfect “if i could just get there” ya know? I WILL get there some day and I appreciate you saying how long it took you, it goes to show you how much of a process it truly is to not have to count. I think in reality, people like JM try boil it down to a “fail proof” science like counting because there’s no mental work that goes into that part. The mental work is your own porogative.


EatingRD July 21, 2009 at 12:08 pm

wow, I couldn’t agree with you more. Universal is a very strong word, and I don’t believe it should have been used. Like you said calorie counting can be a great tool in the beginning or if someone is training for a very specific athletic goal, but in the overall picture of health it can be quite debilitating. I used to count calories when I first got interested in nutrition because it is very interesting, but it kind of spiraled into being overbearing and not healthful. I don’t count calories now, but try to listen to myself. I like to keep an overall picture of what I’ve been eating without getting specific and caught up if I eat more one day vs. the next. It’s all about balance and health!


Kate July 21, 2009 at 12:19 pm

I couldn’t agree with you more, or disagree with Jillian less. Calorie counting has become a nation-wide obsession. I think that it may help short-term with some individuals when they are just beginning a transition into a healthier way of eating, but in the long run, constantly counting calories and tracking numbers is NOT healthy, physically or mentally.

I developed an eating disorder at age twelve just a few years ago and I believe that part of it stemmed from hearing so much talk about “calorie-restriction” and “low-calorie” diets being best for weight loss, etc. etc. Needless to say, I think that calorie counting causes more problems than it fixes. I still count calories out of habit (and fear that I will relapse back into ED if I start losing weight on accident again from eating too little), but I desperatley wish that I could stop. Do you have any tips for me?

It is tough to stop, especially if you were as obsessed with counting as I was. I had to start small. As in, I wouldn’t let myself count the calories for a meal like breakfast. I was obsessed with measuring portions so I started with that and figured I now could just ‘eye ball’ my portions. It wasn’t practical for me to measure my food for the rest of my life. So I started small…it was hard and I was worried that I would be eating too much, but that was more of the obsession talking than anything. So I would not count breakfast…but then old habits die hard and I might count lunch and dinner and ‘estimate’ breakfast. Gradually, it got easier to the point where I didn’t have a running tally in my head. Sometimes I would go to count what I had eaten and have to physically redirect my attention elsewhere and distract myself. I also think a renewed focus on nutrition has helped divert my focus onto something else. Some people may think that an interest in nutrition is simply the obsession in another outlet or form, but you have to judge that based on how you feel. I have never been happier since I gave up counting and that is how I know it is working. Everyone will be different. ~A


Samantha July 21, 2009 at 12:30 pm

I think that you all have found a great way to eat and stay fit…however, I think, as others have said, that she is trying to make a point about creating a calorie deficit.

The bottom line is, it’s calories in vs. calories out–not how many carbs you cut out of your diet or how much protein you fill your plates and shakes with. If you want to lose weight, you need to cut your calories and exercise.

That’s all. If you are in a happy place and have lost weight/feel good at your weight–then you don’t need to count calories. However, for those of who want to lose a few pounds, I think it’s common knowledge that we need to pay attention to what’s going into our mouths. Yah, I’m exercising like crazy, but if I’m balancing that out by eating a whole pizza then I’m not going to lose weight.


Gillian July 21, 2009 at 12:30 pm

I went through a stage where I was obsessed with calories and I was completely miserable. I went to France and freaked out because most of the labels didn’t have calories. It was liberating. I started to eat a wider variety of foods, glow a little more, and didn’t pack on the pounds like I thought I would!


Cait (Cait's Plate) July 21, 2009 at 12:36 pm

It’s hard to say – people who are really over weight often need that guidance. Calories in vs. Calories out is often a really helpful tool for them because they just have NO concept of what’s going into their bodies.

The hope (I believe) is that eventually they’ll reach a point where they no longer need to count and can rather focus on whole foods and balanced food groups.

I really dislike calorie counting myself and am lucky that it’s not something I need to focus on…but in Jillian’s defense, I guess I can see how it can help these people to be informed. Maybe not calorie COUNTING but calorie AWARENESS would be the ultimate thing to achieve?

Great topic Angela – loved it! :)


Rachel July 21, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Wow, there seem to be a lot of great comments on here that I can’t wait to read through…

I’m a little conflicted about Jillian’s comments, because I guess I can see validity to them if I think if it this way: maybe calorie counting should be a universal rule of a VERY LIMITED AUDIENCE – i.e. her audience of people who are significantly overweight, or whose only ED is binge eating, or people who are very uneducated about health and nutrition. In that case, I do think people need to count calories, or do some sort of tracking like that, in order to get started with weight loss. Otherwise, building knowledge and awareness (without “counting”) is leaving out a pretty big component of nutrition.

But what happens when women who don’t fall into that category listen to Jillian talk about a universal rule? Yeah, I think that’s a bit dangerous, for all the reasons you laid out.

I don’t know if I’ve said anything different than everyone else – gonna go read now! Thanks for a great topic!


Linda July 21, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Hey there! I am currently on a weight loss journey and am following the clean eat diet that doesn’t endorse “counting calories” It was strange for me at first not knowing exactly how many calories I was taking in each day. I actually checked just out of curiosity cause I had no

But I can’t tell you how great it is not to have to be consumed by that almighty number any longer!

What a fantastic post! I heart your blog!! :D :D


N.D. July 21, 2009 at 12:43 pm

I’ve calorie counted before – it can be awful. I was miserable!!
I totally agree with you. Thanks again for spreading the word!


Kim July 21, 2009 at 12:44 pm

I know Jillian is famous for her “tough love” approach, but blanket statements like that just make her sound unqualified. Yes, if you are trying to lose weight, calorie-counting is one option. However, it’s not the only option and it’s NOT a requirement, as she implied. Glaringly, she failed to mention that taking it too far can have very serious consequences. But then, this is an example of why I’m not a fan — her “tough love” statements feel so sales-gimmicky, instead of as coming from a thoughtful, seasoned field expert.


Vanessa (Last Night's Leftovers) July 21, 2009 at 12:50 pm

Wow…this is exactly the kind of post I would write. Love it! I hate blanket statements about what you “have” to do to lose weight or be healthy. I’m sorry Jillian, but I’m pretty sure my life and lifestyle demand a different approach than yours.

Counting calories makes me crazy and obsessive about everything that goes into my mouth. Why would I do that to myself when I can eat real, wholesome food and pay attention to what my body tells me?


Shannon July 21, 2009 at 12:55 pm

What a timely post. Couldn’t agree with you more, Angela.

I just began outlining some principles over at my blog that I’ve adapted to naturally…because they work for me.

Two months ago, I was married to The Daily Plate over on Don’t get me wrong, that’s a great tool, but I was consumed. I had access to it on my phone, at work, at home, and would find myself “saving up” my calories so I could have a greasy fatty binge-fest at the end of the day. How is that good for you? It’s not.

Since I’ve given up calorie counting, I’ve never felt cleaner. Period!


Faith July 21, 2009 at 1:09 pm

I can’t believe Jillian said that! :( I completely agree with you Angela!


Allie July 21, 2009 at 1:11 pm

I wish I could say that I completely agree like most everyone else but I don’t. I find a lot of the people who don’t count calories now did at some point to lose the weight they wanted to. I agree that we need to get back down to the basics of eating whole unprocessed foods and look at health in the bigger picture but just because counting calories makes some people obsessive doesn’t mean it will for all.

Counting calories isn’t universal but, like you said, it’s a great way to understand portion control and get a handle of what you are putting into your body. Counting calories doesn’t equal poor food choices.

It’s easy to say that people should just pay attention to their hunger signals and focus on intuitive eating when you’re already there but when you’re not there yet there and have 80+ pounds to lose you need to find what works for you.


Diana July 21, 2009 at 1:12 pm

I think it really depends on what your goals are and what stage you’re at on your journey to health. Calorie counters are great tools if you’re looking to lose weight. However, it is easy to get obsessed about it and take it to the extreme – often having a negative impact on your health. I agree with calorie counting – in moderation – like everything else!


JB July 21, 2009 at 1:17 pm

wow…where do i even start about that comment? i despise the concept of calories with a passion. i think it only leads to obsession and an unhealthy view of food. we don’t need numbers when it comes to health, we need intuition and knowledge. i don’t agree with jillian one bit on this one. i wish calories didn’t even exist. people get far too wrapped up in them. since when did these numbers (which is all calories really are, in my opinion) assigned to food become so many people’s deciding factor when it comes to what to eat? we should listen to what our bodies want, not deprive ourselves based on calories. i agree with everything you said, angela. jillian michaels…i’m so disturbed!


Lina July 21, 2009 at 1:44 pm

I totally agree with you, Angela. Calorie counting is NOT a Universal Rule. For me, it was a very dangerous psychological game I’d play. I was an active anorexic for YEARS and you can bet that I counted every little calorie that went in and if I felt particularly guilty when my intake would hover around, or God forbid, over 1000 calories, I exercised until I was sure they were all burned off. I continued with calorie counting throughout my recovery and it wasn’t until I stopped counting that the destructive and disturbing thoughts would go away. Now I focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods 80% of the time and spoil myself 20% of the time. I also workout 4-6 days a week and focus on making myself stronger–not thinner. I hover around 120-125lbs (I’m 5″5) effortlessly. And the most beautiful thing? This has been the first time that I actually love and appreciate myself.

Yes, calorie counting can be beneficial to those who are just beginning to change their lifestyle for the better but for those out there like me who count calories out of habit, compulsion, and do it obsessively, should NOT embrace this “universal rule”. Total BS. I’m a little saddened that someone like Jillian Michaels would be so narrow-minded.

Moderation is key. Not calorie counting.


Kari July 21, 2009 at 2:03 pm

I have to say that I don’t believe that calorie counting is a “universal rule” but I also don’t believe it to be as bad as some people make it out to be. For some people, like myself, it is a very helpful tool. I have been doing it for two years to help maintain my weight. It keeps me honest with myself about what I eat. I do agree that some people can become completely obsessed with it, but there are others that aren’t obsessed, but more use it as a tool. It seems that most people think it is this horrible thing and completely unnecessary. I just wanted to comment on the positive side and say how helpful it is to me.


Heather July 21, 2009 at 2:03 pm

I also saw this episode by accident actually & yes she did say that. Jillian spends a great deal of time working with the obese who really need some concept of what they are eating. In that instance, I absolutely feel it’s necessary.

But part of the show too (right after she said that) was showing what portion sizes are in comparison to things like a couple dice (for an ounce of cheese), deck of cards (for 3 oz of meat), etc, etc, etc. I think that she “implied” that you can loosely guide your days by using those comparisons rather than toting around a food scale, etc.

You can lose weight without counting calories & even Weight Watchers has a program (formerly called Core) where you can lose (I’ve done it & eat that way now) without counting. You still have to be conscious of portions but nothing extreme.

If you eat whole, unprocessed foods, you can drop the weight without counting. I did it & dropped a significant amount of weight doing so.

Sorry for the ramble! lol


Carla July 21, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Initially I think we need to know which foods are high in calories and which are not. Lots of people really don’t know how to put together a healthy diet and therefore would benefit from calorie counting during the first few weeks or months of making changes in how they eat. But ultimately once they have learned about calories and good choices, I agree that it would be best if they were too free themselves from counting calories. Great post!


Allison July 21, 2009 at 2:20 pm

I’ve never counted calories and I swore to myself a long time ago that I never would. Instead, as I decide what to eat throughout the day, I think stuff like, “Have I gotten a decent amount of protein so far? How many veggies have I eaten? Is this really a craving for crackers or do I want some fruit instead? Calcium? Maybe I should have a glass of milk…”

After all, I *could* count calories…there’s 500 in this cookie, say 800 in this milkshake, another 150 in the candy bar, 80 in diet soda…oh, I’m around 1500 now! Great! Yeah, 1500 calories of crap…


Eve July 21, 2009 at 3:11 pm

You have touched on some really great points. I completely agree that calorie counting is NOT a universal rule. It’s true that most people need to be AWARE of calories, gain nutrition knowledge. But they don’t need to count or obsess. There is a fine line between both. For some people it’s necessary and for other’s it’s a disaster. That’s the way it is with most things in the nutrition world – that’s why diets don’t work and you need to do what’s right for YOU!


Em July 21, 2009 at 3:26 pm

Actually, given the audience, I think it was a solid comment. Most people are not at your level, or at the level you ever were. I see obese people everywhere, people on diet pills, etc… These people are not athletes, they’re not working out, they’re not worried about their overall health. However, they’re driving the costs of medical insurance through the roof, they have heart disease and diabetes, they die at 50 years old after miserable lives, and they teach their kids horrible eating habits. I think teaching them that you cannot lose weight if the number of calories you ingest is higher than the number of calories you burn is a positive. I think making them hold a food journal with corresponding calories is a great tool to make them realize that they’re eating 3000 calories a day and expanding 500 (random numbers).

Most people are not aware of their eating habits. They don’t know that the huge 36 oz latte they just bought has enough calories to last them for 2 days, but zero nutrition. I think drawing their attention to that fact is actually good progress. I realize that it’s terrible advice for people struggling with an eating disorder, but I don’t think Jillian’s target audience was bulimics, I think it was the average housewife who’s 30 lbs overweight and plopped on her couch all day. And for her, a little attention tug might have been a lifesaver.

So should she have given advice to target people with an eating disorder, who represent about 1 to 4% of the population in the US, or should she have given advice to target the 62% of overweight people in the US?


Marcia July 21, 2009 at 3:40 pm

Hmm… I don’t think calorie counting is a universal rule, no. But I do totally see where Jillian is coming from. And for the record, she used to weigh around 175 lbs, so she knows of what she speaks.

The “listen to your body” idea is great – GREAT!! If you can do it. Not everyone can. Some people have screwed their bodies up so much over years of bad eating that they simply don’t have the ability to “listen to your body”. And making small, gentle changes in your diet WORKS!! But it can take a long time…my friend at work (a guy) lost 30 lbs this way. In 3 years.

Personally, I lost 57 lbs on weight watchers. Basically calorie counting. Say what you will about the WW plan, but if you truly follow the plan and the recommendations, you will be eating a well-balanced diet. The “free” foods on WW are veggies, and you aren’t going to get fat on cucumbers and carrots.

I stopped WW when I kept adding more food back into my diet and lost weight even faster.

But when it came to losing those last 15-20 baby lbs…I *had* to start counting again. And periodically, if I gain weight on vacation, I *have* to do it. The older you get (I’m 39), the harder it is to maintain a certain weight. I simply cannot eat like I did in my 20’s (course I couldn’t then either, ‘cuz I weighed 182 lbs). Every once in awhile you have to revisit what you are eating.

For some people, this means gently cutting back…1/2 glass of wine instead of a full. Give up cheese 3 days/week. Cut back to 1/4 avocado on your salad. For others, it has to be more concrete.

For the record, I expect I’m eating 1800-2000 cals/day. I am not currently counting. But I occasionally still do, and it’s a wake up call when I can’t trim off those few lbs I’ve gained here and there.

It’s easy to get obsessed by calorie counting, but for me it was part of the journey. NOW that my eating habits are very healthy AND I exercise regularly, I can maintain my weight pretty easily. But it was a hard road to get here and there are more bumps to come.

I have a couple of friends who are trying to lose baby weight. They haven’t adjusted their eating to the post-nursing stage. Or they don’t exercise. They are starting to make the commitment to work out more and eat less.

I have another friend who has recently gained a few lbs. Her answer has never been to watch her diet, and I think if she counted calories for a few days, it would be a wake-up call.


Angela (Oh She Glows) July 21, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Awesome thoughts guys! Loving reading through them. I think one thing is very clear- counting WORKS for some, and doesn’t for others! Of course it is a useful tool for some and not for others. Like many of your pointed out, that is her tough love approach, take it or leave it, I guess! :) ~A


Jenn July 21, 2009 at 4:28 pm

I completely agree with you Angela (and with many previous comments as well)

The context, or lack thereof, is what sets this statement up for failure. To say “It’s a universal rule.” implies that every individual in the world should be bound by it. This is simply impossible with poverty, famine and hunger in many places.

I think it’s obvious that the people in the world who are starving need to eat MORE calories and the people who are overeating need to eat LESS calories. Duh….but her statement didn’t come across that way, did it?


kelly July 21, 2009 at 5:10 pm

I have counted calories or points on and off for a long time and I just don’t want to do it any longer. I am really trying to listen to my body. I feel like I’ve been ruled by counting calories for most of my life and I want to be done!!!


Michelle Hisae July 21, 2009 at 6:10 pm

Amen, sister! Wow, what a great response from everyone. I totally agree that calorie counting IS NOT the way to go. For me, it just creates unwanted stress in my life. Sure, it’s a quick fix, but in the long run, you won’t know intuitively what you need/want to eat because the labels on food were dictating that for some time.


Becky July 21, 2009 at 7:33 pm

Yikes!! I agree, calorie counting doesn’t work for everyone, myself included. I am the same, it would consume me and I feel like I would be depressed because I couldn’t eat what I want or even if I was hungry. Who wants to be a grouchy, obsessed person all the time?! LIFE IS TOO SHORT :)


[email protected] July 21, 2009 at 8:04 pm

That is horrible advice. Calorie counting would never work for me. Eating real food, knowing when I have had enough or too little, moving and resting my body, drinking water, and really just getting in tune with myself is how I stay fit and healthy.


Meredith (Pursuing Balance) July 21, 2009 at 9:02 pm

I think getting an idea of how many calories is in different food products is a good idea, but counting every calorie is not! It’s so much more important to learn to eat intuitively.


Kate July 21, 2009 at 9:07 pm

Great post! I am currently struggling with obsessive calorie counting and it seems the more I try to stop, the worse it gets :( I don’t need to lose an weight, just maintain. I’m a runner and very active (and not obsessive with it), so that helps. Is there a book someone can recommend that might help me get things under control? I already read Intuitive Eating and that was helpful. I seem to do well when everything in my life is going great, but when I feel like things are out of control I try to control it by counting calories. I’m really struggling right now because it’s taking over my life. Thank you!


Jessica July 21, 2009 at 9:55 pm

i agree… if you can listen to your body who needs to count calories?


Molly July 21, 2009 at 11:39 pm

wow, what a damaging statement to make — especially for those who have had a history of eating disorders. i agree that everyone should have a KNOWLEDGE of calories in versus calories out and the general number of calories in a given food. i also agree that the people she trains on the biggest loser probably do need to calorie count in order to obtain this type of awareness of calories. but to make such a blanket statement really annoys me.

i am with you- once i stopped counting calories i gave myself license to ate whatever filled me, even if that meant healthy but calorie-dense foods (pb, avocado, etc.). when you are calorie counting the emphasis is strictly on one data element and doesn’t take into account the other nutrients in a food. ugh! thanks for addressing this.


leslie July 22, 2009 at 9:32 am

I know I’m really late to this discussion, but I loved the post, so I’m still adding my thoughts.

I really could not agree more with your last statement about getting back to basics. I have days where calorie totals enter my head – it’s one if the last bad habits I am still breaking. But my method now is simply to remember that the foods I eat are nutritious and real. Some days I eat more of them, some days less. It always evens itself out.

There is such a focus on the overweight side of our society, and I
understand that it is an issue that has to be addressed. But it
drives me crazy that the other side, the people who take the advice
too far and suffer from eating disorders are basically ignored. But
as long as the media and so-called respected fitness professionals
create diets and focus on calories, those of us prone to eds/with ed
histories will lose out. Calorie counting is not a necessity. Eating
real food, exercising, and accepting ourselves is. That mentality helps everyone, no matter which end of the weight spectrum you are on. I don’t know what has to be done to make this way of thinking mainstream – I would love to find a way!


PY July 22, 2009 at 9:36 am

Is there any way to slowly STOP counting calories when I am already depending on it to maintain my weight?


Andrea (Off Her Cork) July 22, 2009 at 10:57 am

I like Jillian but I think it’s a bunch of hooey. I do not count calories. I have no patience or desire to do so. I could not even begin to tell you how much I consume in a day because I have no idea how many calories are in what. I eat what makes me feel good, watch portions, and create a healthy balance. Works for me! :)


liane July 22, 2009 at 1:21 pm

I actually picked up Jillian’s new book at the library, and have been reading it the past few nights. In it, she actually says it’s not all about calorie counting, that eating whole foods is the better option. There was an example about eating a processed food package which was 200 calories versus eating an apple and another non processed food which had the same caloric amount, and the whole foods would be the better option.
But she does mention that calorie counting is good for people who are just starting out in their weight loss journey, or those who tend to overeat, so having that restriction helps them figure out portion control etc…
So… i’m just wondering the context of her discussions on that TV show… was she discussing people like the contestants on the Biggest Loser who have to pretty much start at the beginning and learn how to make healthy choices, where calorie counting would be benefical?


Sarah August 4, 2009 at 9:23 am

I definitely would not call it universal but I do think it is essential for initial weight loss. I did it for over a year before I hit my goal and now I pick it back up occasionally when I have a slight weight gain, just to get some perspective on how much I am really eating.

The key is to not get obsessed and obviously to stay within a healthy range. I don’t think people with a healthy relationship with food need to do it to maintain their weight. I just know for me, I have a bi-yearly “slip up” (usually once in the Summer and sometimes the Christmas holidays) that requires me to go back and reassess.


Kathryn August 5, 2010 at 5:27 pm

Again, late on the game with this one – but I’m finding that I need to revisit a day or two of calorie counting every month or two. Just to get an idea of where I’m at and what does my day look like…am I slipping into bad habbits? I dropped calorie counting a while back and I started liking food again. I did feel my pants getting a bit more snug the other day so I’m thinking I may need to revist it, but first I’m going to just try even harder to listen to hunger cues and make consicious decisions when I eat…do I really need a heaping tablespoon of almond butter? Maybe just a slightly rounded one :)


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