Is Less Better? The 3 Common Myths About Counting Calories

Mythen beim Abnehmen: Wie das richtige Kalorien zählen funktioniert

Most people think weight loss is just about cutting calories. Less is always more, right? But in truth, things are not quite so simple. For instance, what exactly is a calorie? We decided to take a closer look at the topic and today we would like to share with you the three biggest myths about counting calories for weight loss.

What to know about counting calories

What is a calorie?

The energy content of food is measured in calories. Calories is usually the first information you find on the nutrition label on packaged foods (before carbohydrates, protein, fat, sodium, etc.). A calorie is actually a unit of energy, work and heat. The number represents the amount of energy needed to raise one gram of water by 1°C at a pressure of one atmosphere. One calorie is equal to 4.18 joules. The number reflects the energy content of food. Our body needs this energy to maintain our bodily functions.

Losing weight, however, shouldn’t just be about counting calories. Most dietitians advise their patients against simply counting calories over an extended period of time. Why? Read on to find out:

Myth 1: Less is more!

If you consume fewer calories than you burn (caloric deficit), you will, of course, lose weight. But there are also limits to this! If you want to lose weight in a healthy way, then you should try to cut between 300 and 500 calories a day. It shouldn’t be much more than this over an extended time period. In this case, less is NOT always automatically more. If you severely restrict your calorie intake over a long period of time, your body will enter into “starvation mode”. This means your body will reduce calorie expenditure and make the most of every calorie it can get. So, what happens? If you return to consuming your normal daily calorie intake, you will gain weight. This is the dreaded yo-yo effect.

A varied diet ensures that sufficient fuel is available for running or bodyweight training.

Healthy food means less calories?

Don’t forget:

Your body is your temple. So, treat it that way!

Myth 2: All calories are the same

Many people believe they can eat anything they want as long as they don’t consume more than a certain amount of calories per day. But what they’re forgetting is that it is the quality of the calories that counts. Vegetables, high-quality fats, protein, etc. are absolutely essential. So, it also matters what is in the calories. Different foods influence our bodies in different ways, both positively and negatively. They also have an impact on our hormones.

You could live the rest of your life on burgers, fries and cola and probably not gain weight if you stick to your recommended daily intake of calories. But you certainly wouldn’t be healthy! Your cholesterol would be sky high, you’d be at increased risk of type 2 diabetes and you’d feel sluggish and queasy. A balanced diet provides you with plenty of complex carbohydrates, a variety of fruits and vegetables, valuable protein and essential fatty acids. If you eat healthy, fresh foods, you will feel good. 

Myth 3: It matters when you eat the calories

Your body doesn’t care if you eat the calories at noon or six o’clock in the evening. All it reacts to is what the calories are made up of. Nevertheless, a light meal in the evening is often better for weight loss. Good examples of healthy evening meals are cauliflower fried rice or stuffed tomatoes with beef and quinoa. You should avoid sugar-rich foods in the evening. They cause your blood sugar to spike, which promotes the storage of fat. And since we tend to just relax on the couch, our bodies don’t need these large quantities of energy in the evening.

If you have trouble falling asleep at night, try to wait two or three hours after dinner before going to bed.

Takeaway: If you want to lose weight, counting calories can help. It gives you a sense of how much energy a particular food provides you with. A food diary can also be a big help. But it’s also important to take a peek behind the scenes. The macro- and micronutrients in your food are just as important as the amount of energy (= calories). And don’t forget that energy is the fuel that powers your daily activities and your training! What type of energy are you fueling your tank with?


Julia Denner Julia is a dietician and sports nutritionist. Before she began her position as Communications Specialist at Runtastic, she spent several years working as a dietician in the surgical department at Vienna General Hospital. Julia is passionate about inspiring others to eat a healthy, balanced diet. View all posts by Julia Denner