When starting a keto diet, tracking your macros (protein, fat, and carbs) is definitely recommended. But what about counting calories? Is that necessary? This is a common question for keto beginners. The short answer is – it depends! Here’s a detailed look at the pros and cons of counting calories on keto and guidance on whether it aligns with your goals.
What is the Purpose of Counting Calories?
Let’s first understand what counting calories aims to achieve. Monitoring your calorie intake can help ensure you are eating at a caloric deficit for weight loss or a surplus for muscle gain. Apps make tallying calories easy. Here are the main reasons people track calories:
- To create a daily calorie deficit that drives fat loss. This equates to eating fewer calories than your body burns.
- To avoid inadvertently eating at too high of a surplus which can reduce fat loss or lead to weight gain.
- To make sure you are eating enough total calories and fueling your body properly if trying to build muscle and strength.
- To accurately track your macronutrients since protein and carbs contain 4 calories per gram, fat contains 9.
- To quantify exactly how much you are eating for precision in hitting macronutrient targets.
Why Focus on Macros Over Calories on Keto?
Counting calories has become popular for weight loss, but on the ultra low-carb keto diet, prioritizing your macros takes precedence. Here’s why:
- You want your calories to come from the right balance of protein, fat, and carbs to maintain ketosis. Just reducing overall calories without considering macros may throw off the keto ratio.
- Fat is calorically dense at 9 calories per gram, so calories can add up fast. Limiting fat could compromise ketosis.
- Appetite regulation improves for many on keto due to ketones, protein, and fat keeping you fuller. This reduces uncontrolled overeating.
- Being in ketosis and burning fat for fuel naturally supports a calorie deficit and weight loss for most people without calorie counting.
- Protein intake should be adequate to preserve lean mass but not excessive, which requires tracking macros.
Drawbacks of Counting Calories on Keto
Here are some reasons calorie counting may not be necessary or beneficial for some following a keto diet:
- It’s highly restrictive and difficult to sustain long term for many people. Ketosis suppresses appetite naturally, so forcing calorie limits can backfire.
- It increases the likelihood of under-eating, which can slow your metabolism. Consuming adequate calories fuels your body properly.
- Overemphasizing calories distracts from focusing on food quality and micronutrient density, which is crucial for health.
- Appetite and calorie needs can fluctuate day-to-day based on activity, stress, sleep, and hormonal changes. Rigid calorie counting doesn’t accommodate this variability.
- For individuals recovering from chronic dieting, calorie tracking can trigger disordered eating patterns or an unhealthy relationship with food.
Should Calories Be Ignored Completely?
While counting calories strictly isn’t required, paying attention to your caloric intake as a point of data can still be helpful for some. Here’s how to find a balanced approach:
- Use calories as a loose guidepost: Get a general sense of appropriate calorie ranges without obsessing over each number. Apps make this easy.
- Weigh yourself weekly: This gives insight into whether you’re achieving a deficit. Weight fluctuates day-to-day.
- Listen to your hunger/fullness cues: Eat more on active days or when genuinely hungry. Don’t force feed.
- Assess your goals: If focused on muscle gain in addition to fat loss, calories do matter to ensure you are eating enough.
- Seek professional guidance: Consult a nutritionist or keto-savvy doctor to determine if tracking calories would benefit you specifically.
At the end of the day, there is no one-size-fits-all answer on counting calories for keto. While macro tracking takes priority, loosely monitoring calories can provide helpful data points for some individuals depending on their goals and circumstances. The most sustainable approach focuses on high quality food, adequate protein, hunger satisfaction, and keeping carbs low enough to maintain ketosis. If in doubt, experiment under the guidance of a healthcare practitioner. Finding the right balance for YOU is the ultimate key to long-term keto success.