Should you count calories or carbs to lose weight? Yes- you should count calories at the start of your diet.
Why should you count calories?
Because the over- riding factor for whether you gain, lose or maintain weight is your calorie balance, or calories in vs. calories out.
Plain and simple, if you eat more calories than you burn in a day/ week/ month/ year, you're going to gain weight no matter what combination of macronutrients (protein/ fat/ carbs) you eat.
Counting carbs is only necessary when you're on a strict low-carb diet, or on the Keto diet.
If you eat less calories than you burn over the same period of time, you're going to lose weight.
If you're a beginner, this is the number 1 principle you need to know. It really is that simple to get started.
(Listen up… If you're in a diet slump, start a food journal, it's the most important tool in your arsenal and it'll help you keep track of your calories).
As you progress in your dieting journey, (as you get closer to your ideal weight) macronutrient ratio comes into play.
For example, lets say you're a month into your weight loss program.
You're following a solid exercise program and you're on an 1,800 calorie per day diet.
Where the 1,800 calories come from will make a difference.
Losing Weight By Counting Macronutrients
The macronutrients; protein, fat and carbohydrate have different physiological effects on the body.
Meaning, when and how much of each that you eat can make a difference in your body composition (fat loss).
For simplicity's sake, lets take 2 different macronutrient ratios:
A. 1,800 Total Calories
40% of total calories from Protein
30% of total calories from Fat
30% of total calories from Carbohydrate
B. 1,800 Total Calories
20% of total calories from Protein
10% of total calories from Fat
70% of total calories from Carbohydrate
As you can see, the total calories exactly the same.
However, for someone trying to lose body fat, choice A will be more effective than choice B.
Because your body reacts to and assimilates the macronutrients (Protein, fat and carbs).
Lets take a look at how they affect your body composition:
The amount and type of carbohydrate (70% of total calories vs. 30%) will make a huge difference in fat storage, and fat utilization for fuel.
Dietary fat has gotten a bad rap over the years, and it seems like the powers that be are finally waking up to the facts.
Eating fat does not make you fat.
On the contrary, it can be your biggest asset in losing body fat.
How Does Eating Fat Help You LOSE Body Fat?
Eating fat can help you in several ways. First of all, it satiates you.
This means a meal with a higher amount of fat and a lower amount of carbohydrate will stave off feeling hungry for a longer period of time.
Fat takes longer to digest than carbohydrate.
Fat also stabilizes insulin levels, whereas a higher carbohydrate meal will raise insulin levels quickly, and then soon after, your blood sugar levels plummet.
This is that phenomena where you feel like you've just eaten not too long ago, but damnit, you're hungry!
The truth is, your body has enough fuel, but the high carb meal threw your system out of whack and makes you feel like you need to eat again.
Think of the fuel gauge in your car.
Lets say you just filled the tank and you're hitting the road. An hour into your trip, the fuel tank is on empty.
You know there's fuel in the tank, but the gauge is telling you otherwise.
If you go to fill the tank up again, fuel can spill out and go to waste.
Burn Body Fat by Eating Fat
The body is smarter than that. Mistakenly sensing your body's fuel tank is empty, you go to fuel up again by eating.
The body doesn't actually need the fuel, so it's going to store it for future use. What may that storage area be? Body fat.
By lowering your carbs and increasing your fat intake at each meal, you avoid this fat storage scenario.
As Eugene wrote about on his blog in Supplements Worth Taking #1 – Fish Oil (DHA/ EPA), fats like extra virgin olive oil and fish oil actually have properties inherent to them that speed the fat loss process.
What About Protein?
Protein is the Golden Boy.
Every cell in your body is made of protein.
Every biochemical process that happens in your body needs protein. That how important it is.
As far as it's effect on your body composition, it has a huge impact.
Here Are 5 Ways Protein Helps You Lose Weight
- Protein is needed to make muscle fiber. Muscle fiber is your body's natural Fat Burning Furnace. For this reason alone, protein is king.
- Protein is a fat burning food that satiates you- in combination with fat, it works wonders when you're dieting. Protein also takes longer than carbohydrate to digest, leaving you feeling fuller, longer.
- Protein has a high TEF (Thermic Effect of Food) rating, meaning the body burns many calories simply in the process of breaking down the protein foods you eat- adding to your caloric deficit.
- Protein is comprised of amino acids, which are used as the building blocks for your hormones and neurotransmitters.
What's this got to do with fat loss?
Well, having a healthy hormonal and neurotransmitter profile affects your mood in many good ways, which include keeping you in a balanced state of mind while dieting (less cravings).
They also keep your tolerance high, which means they bolster your “stick to it- ness”.
Protein should be eaten with every meal (with a bulk of your total protein intake being consumed in a liquid form surrounding the workout).
Calorie Counting Key Points
1) They're both important, but as a beginner, keep it simple and focus on taking in less calories than you're burning each day.
2) Once you're more familiar with proper eating for fat loss, start manipulating your carbohydrate and fat intake while keeping an eye on calorie count.
3) Eat protein at every meal!
FAQ- here are some questions that have been asked since this article went live:
Choosing Fat Over Carbs to Lose Weight?
When you're trying to lose weight, eating fat in place of carbs can actually help your efforts. It's a myth that eating fat makes you fat.
It's eating too many calories from fat that can make you fat.
Fat does not raise insulin levels as much as carbs do.
So when you cut out carbs and eat fat instead, your insulin levels go down and you're able to burn more fat for energy.
What's more, certain dietary fats can help you feel full and satisfied, so it's easier to stick with a reduced-calorie meal plan — key for anyone who is trying to lose weight.
Is It More Important to Lose- Weight or Fat?
Most folks think in terms of losing weight, but what you really want to lose is body fat.
Body “weight” can fluctuate by the hour because it includes water weight. Body fat is just that- fat.
So, you want to lose fat.
Using a scale for tracking isn't advised because it will only tell you how much water + fat you're retaining and not about how much fat your body burns.
You need to use a tool like calipers to measure your body fat.
Do You Need Carbs and Fat to Lose Weight?
You don't necessarily need carbs- you can get by just fine without them.
Eating a diet high in fat and moderate protein, like the keto diet, will put your body in a position to lose weight.
That being said- if your diet plan includes carbs (while staying below your calorie allotment for the day), carbs are fine.
Should I burn fat or carbohydrates to lose weight?
Short answer: burn both.
The long answer is more complicated and comes down to insulin and blood glucose levels.
Carbs raise your blood sugar, which causes the body to produce insulin (the storage hormone).
Insulin stores carbs as glycogen (when there's room for it) and also store dietary fat as body fat.
So, you want to keep insulin low.
To do that, reduce carbs and bump up the number of good fats in your diet.
Eating fat only makes sense if you're using it to replace carb-heavy foods like bread, pasta, starchy vegetables, etc.
Should I track calories or fat when trying to lose weight?
The short answer is both.
Calories help you understand how much energy (or heat) your body gets from the food you eat; fats are one source of that energy.
So, in terms of weight loss, it's important to find out how many calories you can eat per day without gaining or losing weight.
A simple way to do this is by counting calories.
To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than your body uses in a day.
By keeping track of what you're eating every day, you'll be able to see how many calories are in each serving of your favorite foods.
You can then use that information to cut back on some of your favorite go-to's to start losing weight.
An easy way to make the calorie counting process easier is with intermittent fasting.
Should I count calories or carbs?
The short answer is both.
You need to eat the right amount of calories every day to achieve your weight loss goals, but you also want to control your carbohydrate intake so that insulin levels remain low and fat burning stays high.
This is especially important on very low-carb diets like the Keto diet.
Is it the combination of carbs and fat that make you fat?
No. Eating fat and carbs doesn't make you fat.
It's eating too many total calories from all foods (fat, carbs, protein) over your daily calorie limit that makes you fat.
Do carbohydrates make you look fat?
No. If you look fat, it's because you have more body fat than you'd like.
One caveat is that you can have a temporary bloated appearance from eating too many carbs in one sitting.
Especially after an especially salty meal. The carbs and salt can cause you to hold water under your skin.
Does it matter if your calories are from fat or carbs if your calorie count is in a calorie deficit?
For fat loss, the bottom line is your calorie deficit.
When you're in a calorie deficit, you're going to lose fat regardless of the macronutrient content of your diet.