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Does Counting Calories Help You With Weight Loss?

An Expert Explains Why a Calorie Deficit Isn't Helping You Lose Weight — Here's How to Fix It

Whether you're trying to manage your weight or adopt a healthier lifestyle, it's important to look at how you're fueling your body day in and day out. As a general rule of thumb, most experts in health and wellness advise following a diet that primarily consists of whole, minimally processed foods.

Obesity medicine physician and scientist Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH, explained that when it comes to weight loss and weight management, her strategy for people is to "look at the quality of their diet, as opposed to focusing in on or honing in on some core value," like going low-carb or solely counting calories.

When Dr. Stanford explains why people shouldn't solely focus on counting calories, she'll compare an image of a slice of pepperoni pizza (350 calories) to a meal consisting of tabbouleh, quinoa, chickpeas, and roasted peppers (approximately 700 calories). She explained that oftentimes, people will say they'd rather have the slice of pizza — not because it's good, but because it contains fewer calories.

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To navigate this mindset, Dr. Stanford said to focus on the quality of the foods you're consuming instead of the number of calories. Why? "Because I think it's shortsighted . . . It doesn't give you much information," she said. Instead, Dr. Stanford recommends focusing on eating foods that will fill you up, such as lean proteins, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. This is because these foods tend to have more volume as opposed to a single slice of pizza that "doesn't hit those signals in the brain that tell you, 'You know what? I'm full. I don't want anything else.'"

Although Dr. Stanford doesn't advise stressing over every calorie you consume, it's important to ensure you're eating enough food each day to power your daily activities. The USDA dietary guidelines recommend adult women eat 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day and adult men eat 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day. This number will vary depending on a variety of factors like sex, age, and level of physical activity; this formula can help you determine your caloric needs, but remember to focus on quality foods.

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