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Conquer Your Weight

Episode #69: Why I Don't Recommend Calorie Counting

Show Notes

April 17, 2024

While some people are obsessed with counting every calorie or macronutrient or "point" that they eat, I find that these methods are not the best fit for a majority of people. In today's episode, we'll discuss why I recommend using the Notes App on your phone or a good ole notebook to record your food log.

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Dr. Sarah Stombaugh: This is Dr. Sarah Stombaugh and you are listening to the Conquer Your Weight Podcast, episode number 69. Announcer: Welcome to the Conquer Your Weight podcast, where you will learn to understand your mind and body so you can achieve long-term weight loss. Here's your host, obesity medicine physician and life coach, Dr. Sarah Stombaugh. Dr. Sarah Stombaugh: Hello everyone and welcome to today's episode. We are talking about a hot topic, which is why I do not recommend calorie counting. This is something that I discuss with every single patient who comes into my clinic and they often have a lot of resistance, and I will share with you the reasons why I think calorie counting, macro counting points, counting why those may not help you to achieve the goals that you are set for yourself in the way that you think that they may. But before we do, I want to invite you, if you've been listening to my podcast, following me on social media and thinking, oh my gosh, I wish I could work with someone like her, please reach out. I would love to connect with you, learn how I can best support you in your goals. I see patients across the state of Illinois and Virginia by telemedicine. I have an in-person clinic in Charlottesville, Virginia, and I'm happy to help anyone who reaches out to help connect them with someone who is going to provide them the best support to reach their health and their weight goals. So if that is you and your thinking, gosh, I would really love that support. Please reach out to me at That's I look forward to connecting with you. Alright, let's talk about calorie counting, macro counting points counting and why it is not the right fit for most people. So you have heard of millions, maybe not millions, hundreds, thousands. There's so many out there of apps that are out there to count calories, to count macros or points counting systems like Weight Watchers, and I want to talk a little bit about who those are for and who those are not for and why it may not be the best fit for your weight loss goals. So in coming into my clinic, I'm often assigning people, every single one who comes in, I'm asking them to log their food, and what I ask people to do is to use the notes app on their phone or traditional notebook, pen and paper to write down what it is they're eating and when they're eating it. Over time, we layer on things like the hunger scale where we're paying attention to what is our hunger, what is our fullness or a satiety and starting to pay attention to am eating at times where I'm actually hungry. Am I listening to my body when it says that it's full? Am I stopping eating? If a food has been presented to me at a time that I wasn't really planning on eating, am I checking in with my body to even see if I need that first? Am I eating in the morning if I'm not hungry? Am I eating late at night? Because it's a habit starting to pay attention to. Let's just bring this awareness to what is actually happening and we build this skill over time and through that we're talking about things like macronutrients, our carbohydrates, our proteins, our fats, paying attention to which foods best fuel our body, foods that make us feel full, help us to stay full for longer and using that over time to develop a food plan that is going to help you hit your weight goals as well as your health goals and most importantly is filled with foods that you actually really enjoy. I often have people who are picky coming into my clinic and they're like, I've never been able to lose weight before because I hate lettuce, or I hate broccoli, or I hate this or that, these other healthy foods, and that is okay. I'll tell you, I have had lots of patients who are self-proclaimed picky eaters who have done really well by paying attention to the foods within their preferences that are best going to suit their needs. So that as sort of a general rule, is the framework that I use to support my patients in food logging. Now, the reason I do that instead of paying attention to calories or to macros or to points is because then we are training our bodies to look outside of ourselves for cues of when to eat and what to eat rather than looking inside and paying attention to what our bodies are actually asking for. So let me talk through this a little bit. If you have ever logged in some of these apps, as I'm sure most of you have, thinking about apps like MyFitnessPal or LoseIt to name two of the most popular ones, they're great. I have personally logged in them, they have lots of different food items. You can scan foods, you can enter foods on your own. The thing is, it can be really challenging to do that accurately. And so for example, if you imagine that you've made a salad in your home and you're trying to estimate what went on to that and you're literally writing down, okay, there were maybe two cups of romaine and 10 cherry tomatoes and half of a cut up chicken breast and some sliced cucumbers and maybe about one carrot, and all of a sudden the salad that you ate that you maybe really enjoyed, now you're trying to log it and it takes you literally five minutes to enter all of that information into the app and then what you're getting is potentially accurate or potentially not depending on how well you have or have not eyeballed that food. If you think about serving yourself oatmeal for breakfast in the morning, did you measure that oatmeal or are you just estimating? We know that people are notoriously really, really bad at estimating how much food is on our plate. So then are you getting out the measuring cups? Are you getting out your food scale and weighing things and all of a sudden if we want to bring accuracy to this, we've made it really pretty complicated and we have started to weigh our food and measure our food and count how many tomatoes are on the plate and all of these things that make the process really not fun and really cumbersome more than anything. And so as you're eating throughout the day, you're carving out five minutes here or five minutes there, and before you know it, you've dedicated 20 minutes to logging your food throughout the day. And that's a really big chunk of time for really anybody. Most of the people who come into my clinic, one of the number one complaints they have is how busy they are, how busy their lives constantly are, how they feel so pressed for time. And so if we are asking people to add in 20 minutes in order to log their food, that is going to be a really big task that they will probably do to be honest, as you probably have in the past logged food day in and day out and dedicated the time and then all of a sudden a couple days go by or a couple of weeks go by and a few different things happen. Either one, you're like, oh my gosh, this is exhausting. Forget about it. I'm not going to do this anymore. That may happen. You may find that you are in a routine with eating your foods, which can be a good thing to have this routine of what are the foods that I'm eating over and over again? That's actually a really pretty positive thing to know. These are the foods that serve my needs. I have them sort of saved in the app, so I'm able to do those over and over again. So that may be a good thing. It may also though lead to feelings of boredom. And so you're fighting between do I change up the food that I'm eating versus do I just keep it simple for the sake of not having to enter something else into my app? The other thing, and this happens really frequently is it encouraged us to start eating processed foods, prepackaged foods, maybe foods from restaurants because a lot of these apps have done a really nice job integrating with different menu items at restaurants with prepackaged foods. Most of them have barcode scanners, so you can actually scan the food items that you're eating in order to get the most accurate information into the app, except for that as encouraging you to eat these prepackaged processed foods, foods from restaurants which may not actually be in line with our goals, even if they are the easiest thing to enter into our app. So even when it's working, it can be this really cumbersome thing. And so starting to think about, okay, is that in line with your goals? And then what happens at times when the app is not readily available to you, whether it's just during the course of the day, so that evening you're going to go back and log your food, or if you've gone on vacation or you're at a wedding or another event where you're able or you're not able rather to log those foods and you're just sort of guesstimating, is that best serving your needs? Maybe yes, maybe no, only you can answer that question. The other thing is thinking about what if I am starving? What if I've been logging my food, I'm counting my calories and it says that I've eaten too many calories today, so I'm trying to cut back and I just simply feel miserable. What do you do in that situation? Or what about when you have extra calories? At the end of the day when you have logged all of your food and you look at that and there are 400 calories leftover, and you may have been feeling completely satisfied at the end of your day until you realize there were 400 calories left over and now all of the items in your life that may be 400 calories start entering into your mind, well, I could have a brownie or I could have that ice cream bar, or I could have a glass of wine. Or all of the sudden we're thinking about things that we can do with those extra calories. Even though a few minutes ago before we knew that we had extra calories, we are actually feeling perfectly satiated. So I want you to think about this a little bit. There are people listening right now and people who I talked to that are like, no, Dr. Stombaugh, I really love using those apps. It really helps me to understand the breakdown of my different macronutrients, whether I'm getting the carbs, the protein, the fat, understanding how many calories I am using on a day-to-day basis. And for people who are like, I absolutely love doing this. It suits my needs, it totally fits me. That is great. You do not have to stop doing that. You're absolutely welcome to do whatever you feel like is best serving you. But I find that it's really interesting just how many more people are having issues with restrictive thoughts that are coming up. They see those calories, they may feeling like, oh my gosh, I can't believe I eat that much. Or Oh my gosh, I'm only eating this little, why can't I lose weight? Oh my gosh, I have those extra calories. Wow, I'm traveling. I have no idea what I just ate. I'll get back to it on Monday. All of those different thoughts that leave us feeling sort of desperate and out of control and frustrated and restrictive. If there are a lot of negative thoughts that are coming up when you try to use these apps, then it is probably not the best fit for you. But like I said, if you're like, no, I really love it. I enjoy doing this. I enjoy logging in this way, it helps me meet my goals, by all means, you are the boss of your body and you get to choose what makes the most sense. And I even say that to my patients while I often start them out in this more general food log, paying attention to the foods they're eating is starting to understand what is and isn't serving their body and really paying attention to those internal signals rather than those external signals. It is common that patients are like, Hey, I feel like I'm in a really good place with my mindset and I'd like to try logging in this way just so that I can have a better idea that it can be pretty consistent day to day. And I will tell you, that is just fine. I know there are people out there who absolutely love logging their calories or their macros or their points or whatever it is, and you do. I live with one, my husband, y'all have heard me talk about him before, does power lifting. And one of the things that he is frequently working on is sort of toying with his nutrients in order to best support his weightlifting goals. And so he's recently in a bulking phase. If you don't know much about bulking, it means that you are both eating a lot and doing certain type of workouts in order to grow your muscles. A lot of times growing muscles may also grow your fat mass. And so it's very common in a power lifting world that people will bulk and they will gain this muscle mass and then they will do a cut where they try to decrease their calories, decrease their fat and their carbohydrates in order to cut some of their excess body fat. And so he uses an app by which he is logging every single thing that goes into his body, and he really loves it. He really enjoys that. He eats very similar food day to day and will adjust some of his things as he needs to. But when he's eating a new meal, it can be a really pretty complicated thing to log. I timed him once and it took him seven minutes to log a brand new meal, and that's common, and that's okay because that's in line with his goals. I am supportive in him doing that. But as I was saying, if it's sort of day in and day out, you're eating different things and by the end of the day you've dedicated 20 minutes to logging your food, is that in line with your goals? Maybe yes, maybe no. Only the answer to that. So like I said, lots of great apps out there, lots of great ways to do it. You need to pay attention what is working best for you? What keeps you in a great head space where you feel like you are making loving decisions for your body? Were you able to nourish your body where you're able to pay attention to? What is your hunger? What is your fullness? What are the foods that are best going to serve that? And what allows you to feel like you are partnering with your body rather than fighting with your body. So if this is something that's interesting to you, you're interested in learning more, come on over to my website. I would love to connect with you, learn how I can support you in your weight loss journey. Thank you so much for joining me today. I look forward to seeing you all next week. Bye-Bye.
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