Should you count calories on a low carb diet? Usually you shouldn’t. But sometimes, when you run into problems, tracking your food intake can be helpful.
Should You Count Calories on a Low Carb Diet?
The short answer: No. The entire premise of a low carb diet is that while you need to monitor your carb intake, there’s no need to count and measure anything else.
A low carb diet is naturally satiating
Some opponents of low carb diets claim that there’s nothing magical about eating low carb. There’s no metabolic advantage that allows you to eat more calories while not gaining weight.
Even if this is true, and the only reason people lose weight on a low carb diet is lack of hunger, this is still an amazing advantage of low carb diets. After all, most people break their diets simply because they can’t take the hunger anymore. I remember my husband, years ago, trying to lose weight on a typical low-fat diet of 1500 calories per day. He was MISERABLE! He walked around hungry all day. Obviously, this was not sustainable, and he gave up after a few weeks.
Later, when he started a low carb diet, he was amazed at the lack of hunger. He wasn’t eating a lot – but he felt strong, energized and satiated. As a result, he’s been able to stick with a low carb diet for the past five years – effortlessly.
The fact that low carb diets are so satiating means that as a general rule, there’s no need to count calories.
It’s difficult to gorge on meat and veggies
Another aspect of low carb diets that makes calorie counting unnecessary is that they tend to be self-limiting. Most of us can grossly overeat carbs – think a bag of potato chips or a sleeve of Oreos. But when it comes to steak, there’s usually a very defined moment when you just can’t have another single bite. You’re done!
Fat, when not attached to carbs, is especially self-limiting. Most of us experience nausea and even diarrhea if we overeat fat.
It’s not about the calories
This is a controversial topic, and I’ll devote a separate article to it later. But for now, let’s just say that while calories are not entirely insignificant, new research tends to support the view that the amount of calories consumed does not tell the whole story, and that what you eat is more important than how much you eat.
Calorie counters tend to obsess over their allotted amount of daily calories, fretting whenever they go over it by just 50 calories. But when you feed your body properly, with real food that is also low in carbs, I don’t think there’s much of a difference if you eat 1800, 2000 or 2200 calories per day. Your metabolism should take care of any excess.
It also doesn’t make sense to try to eat the exact same amount every day, because you’ll have different energy needs on different days.
Counting real food is inaccurate
Counting calories might work if you eat a lot of packaged foods, where you have the exact calorie count on the label. But when it comes to natural foods, things are different. A ribeye steak, for example, can vary a lot when it comes to its fat content and to how trimmed it is. It’s very difficult to estimate calories in fresh meat – and it’s really unnecessary.
Sometimes counting calories is a good idea
If you need to troubleshoot your low carb diet, you might want to enter your food into a tool such as fitday.com for a few days. For example, if you’re feeling tired and rundown, you might not be eating enough calories or enough fat. Or if you’re gaining weight on a keto diet, you might be overdoing it on the calories. In these cases, logging your food can be useful. But for the most part, the answer to the question “should you count calories on a low carb diet” is that no, you should not. Just focus on limiting your carbs, and the rest will fall into place.