The Dark Side of Calorie Counting

Picture this: you hire a coach or personal trainer. You say you want to lose weight. They tell you that you’ll need to work on your diet and not only exercising,  and then suggest downloading an app like MyFitnessPal so that you can start tracking your food.

Sound familiar?


Calorie counting is a tool that most coaches use with their clients, and for good reason. It DOES work. I’m not denying that at all.

However-it might not be the best tool for all clients. Usually I can tell right away if it’s a good idea to put my client on an app like MFP or not. Sometimes, I’ll start them on it and then realize a few weeks into it that it’s not the best option. Sometimes it doesn’t become apparent for months that it was a bad idea.

Calorie counting can become extremely obsessive. It can drive you crazy. I’ve seen clients completely lose their minds over it, because something they ate tipped them over their allotted calories for the day. This obsessive compulsive behavior can be really hard on your clients.

It can make them resent you for making them count calories.

It can cause a lot of stress, on themselves and on their family and friends.

It can cause self-doubt.

It can make them want to just give up because “well, I’m 10 calories over today, might as well just say screw it for the rest of the day”

It can turn all their friends against them because all they care about are the calories in their glass of wine on girls night (not speaking from experience or anything……)


I don’t count calories anymore because that’s exactly what happened to me when I did. I was obsessed. Everything I put in my mouth went into the app. If I went over my calories, my day was ruined. I often ended up doing hours of unnecessary cardio to make up for it. I was really depressing to go out to dinner with, because half the time was spent entering food into my phone. I didn’t like to go out because I didn’t drink alcohol and I always felt like a Debbie Downer at the bar.

So, how do you help a client with their nutrition without counting calories? You EDUCATE them.

Educate them about whole foods vs. processed foods. Send them recipes. Talk to them about supplements (if they take any). Teach them how to grocery shop effectively. Help them create a meal plan that works for them.

DON’T do it for them. My clients do not get meal plans that tell them exactly what they are allowed to eat per day. They won’t learn anything that way! I help them create a meal plan based on their goals, what they like to eat, what they have access to, and more.

I start out by asking them for 4-5 days of food tracking, including at least one weekend day, without them changing anything about their diet. I’m looking for totally normal days.

**Note: food tracking and calorie counting are different things. There is a big difference between asking people to write down what they eat and entering it into an app that will tell them every little thing that’s in that particular food**

After I have some idea of how they typically eat, I start out by having them eliminate and/or replace specific foods. Starting out slowly means they won’t burn out in a month.

I do encourage people to track their food. JUST writing down what they eat, and not how many calories were in it. I find that tracking forces them to think about what they put in their mouth and often doesn’t become as obsessive as calorie counting does. And if I start to notice that it’s making them crazy, then we stop. No more tracking.

Every week when I get their food log, I challenge them to change one thing. One small thing per week can make a big difference in a year.

For example, it could be switching to whole grain bread. It could be replacing peanut butter with PB2. It could be reducing their weekly alcohol intake. It could be adding a protein shake. It could be bringing lunch to work rather than buying lunch. These small things add up!

In short, I am teaching small lifestyle changes, rather than over-hauling their entire diet at once.

Chances are, your clients have probably been eating the way they do for their whole lives. It’s going to take more than one session to change that.

Putting restrictions on clients, like telling them they can only eat a certain number of calories per day, can cause more harm than good. I’ve seen high level athletes lose their minds over it. I’ve seen totally average soccer moms lose their minds over it. I’ve seen bikini and bodybuilding competitors lose their minds over it.

In my opinion, teaching good habits and making lifestyle changes is much more effective than counting every calorie that goes in your mouth.


4 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Calorie Counting

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