Will I gain weight if I stop counting calories?
There is no simple answer to this question. There is no yes or no because what it comes down to is if you are able to:
- Control what you put in your mouth (without measuring or weighing it)
- If you’re able to burn more calories than you eat.
This is the essence of losing weight, you have to burn more calories than you put into your mouth.
So, therefore, if you’re not able to burn more calories than you give your body then yes you will gain weight. However, that is not because you’re not counting your calories it’s because you are eating too much food. And it is easy to eat too much food when 1 you’re not counting calories and 2 you’re not used to restricting what you eat.
If you are currently using a food scale to track your macros/ calories I really recommend this post about how to break free from the scale. We use these tips and know they work 🤩
So let’s dive into mechanisms of why it’s so easy to gain weight when you don’t count calories or macros.
Table of Contents
Loose track of how much you eat
When you don’t count your calories or macros (I am waaay more fan of counting macros than calories) it is so easy to lose track of how much you’ve eaten during a day or during a meal. I think this is one of the main reasons as to why people actually gain weight when they stop tracking.
So, if you’re able to somehow keep track, even though you’re not counting this can be a nice trick. Personally, I think this is really hard. But how I have solved it is to box in the days, and plan my meals in advance. Even though I don’t food prep them, I have planned them in my head. This is how I plan the day in my head during the morning:
Breakfast: 2 eggs, 2-4 pieces of ham (depending on what we have) and a piece of bread, salt on the eggs
Macro reasoning: a little low on protein, high on fat and about right on carbs
(I want more fat than carbs at breakfast in order to stay full longer, I want to eat the fat as far away as my workout as possible)
Lunch: an animal protein source (depending on what they have in the canteen at work), lets say chicken.
Chicken, salad, tons of cucumbers, 4 cherry tomatoes, red beets, no carbs, olive oil for fat unless there is for example salmon, then this is my fat
Macro reasoning: here I can eat some extra protein because I had less for breakfast, some fat, but not too much, lots of salad, and a balanced intake of carbs
Snack before working out: either I bring food, preferably a protein source with some vegetables, or I eat a protein bar and a banana
Macro reasoning: Protein bar to keep full, banana as a carb source to get energy during my workout
Sweets during facilitating a workshop at work (I visit teams all the time and they always have sweets…🤯): Carbs & fat
Macro reasoning: there are none, I am a weak person and has no willpower, but it’s ok, I’ll just “steal” some fat & carbs from my night snack.
Dinner: animal protein (maybe eat a bit more and eat less for a night snack) lots of salad and sweet potato, some fat in the form of olive oil (or creme fraiche/ cheese)
Macro reasoning: Enough protein and carbs to help the body and muscles recover. Some fat to stay full.
Night snack: Coconut “yogurt” with granola, a dash of honey and some cranberries.
Macro reasoning: fat in the coconut “yogurt” keep me full and it has some protein in it, but I “stole” some for dinner so ok that it’s not packed. Granola, honey and cranberries because it is just soooo gooood!! 😋
So, I eat all this during a day without counting calories or macros (not always sweets of course), but I try to keep track of what I eat and add or subtract whenever it feels right. Sometimes, I make mistakes and I realize I should have eaten more of that or less of that. But it’s a learning process. What I also have noticed is that my ability to keep track often has periods to it. Some periods I am really good, others I’m not and I need a tool to keep me straight.
Underestimate the calorie or macro density of the different foods
Another factor that contributes to people gaining weight while not counting calories or macros is because they simply underestimate what macros the different food sources contain.
I think we have all been subjected to this, I know I have. I often am, still.
So, here I think its important to be realistic and honest with what you’re having. If you are fooling someone, it’s only yourself.
Staying true to some foods can really really help. I have some foods that are my “go to”, I know what they contain and I know approx how much I can eat of them. If you have those foods this will be much easier to avoid.
If you need tips & tricks on how to create a sustainable diet I recommend you read this post, these are the tricks we use ☺️
You burn fewer calories than you think you do
Most people think they burn way more calories than they actually do. This means that they will gain weight, again, because you have to use more calories than you eat.
In my experience this is twofold.
- People think they burn more calories just existing than they actually do, so therefore they eat more, or
- People start working out and they think that burn lots and lots of calories, but they might not. And because they have been working out they feel they deserve a big tasty dinner and maybe some snacks. What actually happens is that they eat more than they should.
An important tip here is to weight training instead of classic endurance workouts such as running. Weight training actually ensures you’re body continues working and burning calories up to 24 hrs after you’re done. It also ensures you get more muscle, and to build and maintain muscle your body will burn more calories. So just existing when you’re muscular will take more calories than if you’re not🏋️♀️
You like eating food and it releases endorphins
Let’s face it. Food is tasty, it makes you feel full, it makes you feel good and it releases tons of great endorphins (aka feel-good hormones) in your brain. So, naturally eating is (for most people) associated with something positive.
This is an important reason why you can gain weight when not counting calories. Simply because eating great food tastes nice, so you want to eat more. What also is a common trap is that eating is a social thing. This means that if you are in good company while eating (or doing other things like watching TV) you become less mindful about eating and observing when you’re full and should stop.
Therefore, a good tip here, that I have used myself. Is to only eat when I eat. No people, no reading, no podcast or TV. Just eating. This ensures that I am 100% present and can observe when I am full or not.
To conclude I must say that it might be easy to gain weight if you’re not counting macros or calories. But it is not the not counting that is the problem, it is all the habits that we have created around it. I believe that if you’re able to address some of those habits that you have, not counting calories and not gaining weight might not be so far away!