“Calorie counting, Eat less/Move more” DOESN’T WORK

For many of us, trying to make improvements in our health, lifestyle, and nutrition, we feel like it always comes with great sacrifice and struggle. We have all been through it before … “Monday it starts! More workouts, No cheat days, 100% clean eating! I’ve got my calorie-count app ready!”

Fact 1; The last 20 years conventional weight loss advice has called for eating less and moving more.

Fact 2; Over the past 20 years, weight gain rates have exploded.

In 1959 a study estimated a 98% failure rate with only 2% of caloric restriction dieters were able to maintain only a twenty-pound weight loss for two years.

Women’s Health initiative followed over 50,000 women for seven years. One group increased exercise by 15% and reduced caloric intake by an average of 360 calories a day. Another group changed nothing. The weight difference between the two groups was less than 2 lbs and the exercise/caloric restriction group actually grew an average of half an inch on their waistline over a year period.

Kai Hubbard, winner of season 3 Biggest Loser said of losing all the weight on the show, “It was the biggest mistake of my life.” They don’t have a reunion show because “we are all fat again.” But why? The Biggest Loser diet restricts calories to 70 percent of baseline energy requirements, usually from 1200 to 1500 allowed per day. This is combined with several hours of high intensity exercise, six days week. In fact, they trained more than double the hours our athletes spend preparing for the NFL combine. Average weight loss for BL contestants was 127lbs in 30 weeks. Six years later 13 of the 14 contestants gained all of the weight back plus some.

The main reason for the weight regain is the contestants’ metabolism had slowed significantly. Danny lost over 239lbs, however, his body was now burning 800 calories less per day than it had previously. Eat less, move more doesn’t work because it’s based off a false idea that energy is stored like a single compartment model. This model suggest we are like a bathroom sink; calories flow into or out of this sink. Excess calories pool in the sink and can be easily accessed if our bodies require more calories- for example, exercise would drain calories out of this sink. Whether calories are stored as glucose, glycogen, or fat, all calories are treated the same. Single compartment model is a complete fabrication and does not exist outside our imagination.

It is more accurate to think of a two-compartment model, because there are two distinct ways energy is stored in the body; as glycogen and as body fat. We have a limited capacity for glycogen, once full, excess calories must be stored as fat. Think of glycogen as a refrigerator. It’s designed for short term storage, food in and out, limited space. Body fat is more like a basement freezer. Designed for long term storage, can be difficult to access, and great capacity. Let’s say your metabolism is the refrigerator. When you calorie restrict, you shrink your refrigerator and force the body to get bigger deep freezers for body fat. Your metabolism slows down as an adaptation to caloric reduction, you can actually eat less than you used to and still gain weight. Your body will adjust over time to calorie reduction by making you lethargic, tired or just limited how much you have to give physically, mentally, etc.

Both body fat and glycogen can be used for energy in the absence of food. The type of food you eat and how you train can alter what fuel source your body uses.

Still not convinced? More reasons to stop counting calories;

  1. First of all, food labels can be inaccurate to say the least. They are often averages due to the fact that calories can be measured in different ways, meaning there can be up to 20% error in the calories listed on the food label!

  2. We absorb calories from food differently. Although there is a science to the average amount of calories we absorb per gram of nutrients (carbohydrate, protein, fats), it is not always true as we absorb less calories from nuts and seeds but more from different fruits and vegetables.

  3. There are also individual differences among absorbed calories depending on the individual's gut bacteria.

  4. Preparation of food can also determine how many calories are absorbed. For example, the difference between eating a cooked baked potato to eating it raw is almost 100 calories respectively. Who is going to eat a raw potato?

  5. It is also challenging to get an accurate gauge of your servings by purely eyeballing the food, which can again give you an inaccurate count.

More reasons to stop relying purely out-training your eating habits.

  1. Devices are best to measure your human performance, not how much you burned to see how much you should eat. Human performance is vitality and should register with all of us.

  2. An individual's genetic make-up also determines how many calories are burned each day, some individuals with the FTO gene burn over 100 hundred less calories per day.

  3. People that live in cold environments with fat containing more mitochondria (where energy is produced) can burn 400 hundred calories more per day.

  4. Sleep can also have a detriment to the amount of calories burned. One night of disrupted or inadequate sleep can decrease your caloric expenditure by up to 20%.

  5. Hormonal activity plays a role in caloric burn. Did you know a female’s daily caloric expenditure can change throughout the month?

To put this in context, there is no denying that weight gain and weight loss are hugely related to energy balance. It’s not as simple as consume more than we burn - we gain weight, burn more than we consume, we lose. Too much time has been wasted on a process which is inaccurate and causes psychological restrictions, leading to stress and an unhealthy relationship with food. Making steps to progressively improve your nutrition has shown to be very successful and sustainable.

Whether you are looking to lose weight or gain muscle, habit-based nutrition is VERY effective.

Take a look at these 5 habits and see which ones you can start implementing today.

  1. Eat slowly and stop at 80% full (Until you’re no longer hungry, instead of, until you are full)

  2. Eat protein-dense foods with each meal

  3. Eat vegetables with each meal

  4. Eat the majority of your starchy carbohydrates after exercise (for fat loss) -Whole grain bread, rice, pasta, potatoes and oats

  5. Eat healthy fats daily -Olive oil, olives, nuts, avocados, vegetable oils and fish oil supplements

Pick a habit that you feel 90% confident you can achieve and go for it! Track your progress while you are changing the habit(s). Take pictures, measurements such as waist size, body fat percentage, and jot down some notes on how you are feeling throughout.

Scrap the calorie counter for now and find habits and adjustments that better fit into your lifestyle.

Stay tuned for more consistent blogs coming to educate you on the following;

  • Nutritional fads (where they are right, wrong, and how to apply to YOU)

  • Practical ideas

  • Family strategies

  • Situational

  • Frequent Recipes


Co-written by Sam and Bobby.

Bobby Stroupe RSCC*D

Twit @bobbystroupe Insta @stroupebob

Sam Broadbent MS CSCS PN1


Validity of Consumer-Based Physical Activity Monitors

JM Lee, Youngwon Kim and Gregory J. Welk 2014

Energy-balance studies reveal associations between gut microbes, caloric load, and nutrient absorption in humans

Jumpertz et al. 2011

A Common Variant in the FTO Gene Is Associated with Body Mass Index and Predisposes to Childhood and Adult Obesity

Frayling et al. 2007

Precision Nutrition

J Berardi & Hellen Kollias

The complete guide to fasting

Jason Fung MD, Jimmy Moore

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