Why counting calories is pointless

I used to count calories and macros for years. To the point if you ask me now, I still remember by heart what a banana goes for, the difference between a teaspoon of olive oil vs a teaspoon of honey, how much a new recipe is probably gonna be, all from the back of my mind. I was so strict with the counting, I even added my herbal teas, and each and every single one of the herbs and spices added in my cooked dishes.

The lowest weight I’ve gone that put me in the normal BMI index was 60kg, which was 12 kg less than what I weigh now. I wasn’t strength training back then. 

I had a flat belly but no abs.  So the mantra of “Abs are made in the kitchen” is absolutely false. Your abs need just as much hypertrophy as every other muscle in your body. But anyways, I had no muscle, no visible veins, in fact, I was hospitalized often those days, and all the nurses and doctors always struggled to find a vein to draw blood from. So basically, in the normal BMI range, I was a skinny fat 24 year old who was constantly hungry, irritated, dizzy, weak, and overall sick, trying to maintain that weight by eating 1500 calories a day. Anytime I would go over 1700 calories, I would gain weight, while still feeling constantly starving. As for my diet, that time I followed the 80/20 rule, meaning 80% of my calories at all times was healthy. And if I did have cheat days, I would still count the calories those days too, to ensure I didn’t eat back all my week’s deficit in one sitting.

But long story short, the numbers told me I should have been healthy, but I wasn’t. And that I should look good and feel good about my body, but I wasn’t. I didn’t even take a progress photo those days, because while I was getting compliments from everyone about my weight loss, I still hated what I saw in the mirror.

Fast forward a decade, 2 kids and a hysterectomy later, I’m now going through surgical menopause. That means belly fat, muscle loss, insulin resistance, risk for heart disease and over 20 menopause symptoms that made life hard for me. 

Yet, this is the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life. And for the first time, I love what I see in the mirror. At 72kg, I got abs, I got muscle, I got veins popping and all that by eating double the food I used to eat and without counting calories or worrying about macros. So how the hell is that possible?

Allow me to explain.

We’ve been on this planet for about 2.5 million years now. This calorie counting concept is fairly new considering all the time we’ve spent on Earth. Once upon a time we’ve hunted animals, foraged, fought wars, built pyramids and other magnificent structures that are still standing today, just with our bare hands, and obesity was never considered an epidemic nor cause for subsequent diseases. You see, while scientists, food manufacturers, influencers, supplement companies, the big pharma, and your iPhone apps are trying to invent new ways for you to lose that stubborn weight, somewhere down the line, we forgot the basics of health. 

The way I see it, the only way forwards is to go backwards. 


Because your body doesn't do numbers. Your body has more important crap to deal with. Hormones, stress, gut bacteria, neurotransmitters, nutrient absorption process and digestion, metabolism, immune system, inflammatory markers and disease. 

You don’t have to go deep to see the problems with calorie counting. Just look around you. We’ve all heard these sentences: 

  • I’ve reached a plateau.
  • I can’t seem to be able to lose the rest of the weight anymore, even though I reduced my calories even further.
  • I’m always hungry and I feel miserable.
  • I fell off the wagon.

If you find yourself saying “I fell off the wagon”, then you're on the wrong wagon. And I know, I’ve been there.

Then you have the other extreme of the situation. You see some 20 year olds on Instagram with their 6-pack abs, looking absolutely shredded. And you must be thinking, “wow, they look healthy, that’s exactly what I want for myself too, single digit body fat, that’s the name of the game”. A few months or years down the line, you start reading some of the complaints from both the influencers and their followers: Women losing their periods, men losing their sex drive, constant headaches and migraines, fatigue, insomnia, infertility, chest pains, hospitalizations for nutrient deficiencies, and developing hypothyroidism or other serious chronic diseases. 

You might be thinking, well, calorie counting is easy because I get to eat whatever I want and I don’t have to exercise. Is it though?

You go to a restaurant, you’re traveling or you’re invited to a friend’s house for dinner. Are you gonna count that? Are you gonna ask your friend “and what are the exact ingredients and amounts you added to the stuffing? How about the salad dressing? And is it low carb?” Or call it a cheat day and throw your entire week’s deficit out the window? 

How many meals and snacks do you have throughout the day? Don’t you find it tedious to check labels, weigh, measure, count, log, cook, eat, clean and poop several times a day? Do you really have that much time on your hands? And do you see yourself doing that over and over every single day for as long as you live?

You crunch numbers all day long, numbers that will NEVER be 100% accurate no matter how hard you try.

And whatever those numbers are, depending on the microbial composition, your gut microbiome can negatively or positively influence the efficiency of calorie harvest from your diet, and even how this harvested energy is utilized and stored, and there are several studies on the matter (check the links below if you like to read). 

A core gut microbiome in obese and lean twins

The Response to Long-Term Overfeeding in Identical Twins

An obesity-associated gut microbiome with increased capacity for energy harvest

The gut microbiota as an environmental factor that regulates fat storage

People are still debating on whether a calorie deficit lowers metabolic rate or not, although I must say, based on my personal experiences and some of the research studies I’ve read, if that’s all you’re doing to try to lose weight, that will definitely happen, hence why people reach a plateau and even start regaining the weight more rapidly than before. But another study also suggested that caloric restriction can increase pathogenic bacteria in the gut microbiome, so if that is true, and your gut is a driver of your body’s energy balance and fat storage, then shouldn’t we be looking at a more optimal and long-term solution? I mean, if calorie counting worked, why do we still have an obesity epidemic? 

Now you must be wondering, then why do I do now? How do I lose the weight without counting calories? Stay tuned as I will address that on my next article.

I am NOT a doctor, personal trainer, registered dietician, nutritionist, athlete, influencer, nor at the end of my fitness journey. The content of this blog is based on what worked for me and is for informational purposes only, not a replacement for medical advice from a professional. Furthermore, we and our bodies are unique, so everybody is different. My results may not reflect your own. Any action you take upon the information provided by ZenGainz is strictly at your own risk.