Why Cutting Calories Could Be Sabotaging Your Health Goals

How Many Calories Should I Be Eating?
Photo: Kelly LeVeque

Kelly LeVeque is a celebrity nutritionist, wellness expert, and health coach based in Los Angeles. Before starting her consulting business, Be Well by Kelly, she worked in the medical field for Fortune 500 companies, eventually moving into personalized medicine, offering tumor gene mapping and molecular subtyping to oncologists. Kelly’s client list includes Jessica Alba, Chelsea Handler, Kate Walsh, and Emmy Rossum. Guided by a practical and always optimistic approach, Kelly helps clients improve their health, achieve their goals, and develop sustainable habits to live a healthy and balanced life. This month, she debunks one of the most common weight loss myths—that you automatically need to cut calories in order to make progress.

One of the main ways most diets steer you wrong is by asking you to restrict or count calories, remove food groups, or weigh your food. But even if a plan doesn’t specifically instruct you to track, count, and watch calories, most clients I meet with initially believe they need to reduce calories if they want to lose weight. The idea of calories is so deeply ingrained in us that if we even allow ourselves to eat breakfast, we limit it to a hard-boiled egg, a non-fat latte, a protein bar, or a solo green juice.

Even as recently as 2015, the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services stated together that the best way to manage weight was to “control calorie intake” and maintain “appropriate calorie balance during each stage of life—childhood, adolescence, adulthood, pregnancy and breastfeeding, and older age.” This principle has been the sometimes silent, and sometimes overt, foundation of almost every diet published over the past 50-plus years.

But here’s the deal: Calories don’t count—they backfire. Calorie consumption guidelines diminish our underlying trust in ourselves to make good food choices. Furthermore, they ignore biological needs, blood sugar responses, and hormonal reactions. Eating those 100-calorie packs undermines and erodes an innate ability that we all possess: our bodies’ natural drive to find their ideal weight and set point. They spike your blood sugar, release the storage hormone insulin, and have you craving more sugar and processed carbohydrates in three hours.

Keep reading for three more truth bombs about calorie counting—and what to do instead.