Research: Does counting calories help with successful weight loss?

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Counting calories may help with weight loss.


Many models of weight loss have been deemed successful; however, maintenance continues to remain a challenge.  Counting calories has been a long-standing suggested method of losing weight and keeping it off.   It has been long proposed as a self-monitoring method and it is considered an important behavior in both weight loss and maintenance of weight loss.  Many commercial diets used it as a method to monitor food caloric intake.  Unfortunately, there is limited research to back the use of calorie counting as a method to help with successful weight loss and maintenance.  In fact, I wrote an article exposing the myth that calorie counting was essential for weight loss.  

The good news is there is a new piece of research from 2017 that appears to indicate that calorie counting may be a successful method after all[1].  The purpose of this new study was to determine if participant self-selected form of monitoring caloric intake.  They looked at methods such as electronic, paper, or no monitoring in order to look at the significant differences in weight loss.  This study included 102 adult subjects that were enrolled in a standard behavioral weight loss intervention with their partners.  For each week, a diet record was completed and submitted.   No significant differences were observed between electronic versus paper monitoring. Regardless of calorie monitoring method, the more diet records completed by participants during the course of the intervention was associated with significantly higher weight loss at week 12, but there was no association at week 24 of the intervention.  Interestingly, calorie monitoring compliance for the first 12 weeks of the program was associated with better weight loss outcomes at 24 weeks.

The bottom line:  If you monitor your caloric intake and stick to it, you will likely have improved weight loss.  These findings suggest self-monitoring may be more important during initial behavior change which makes sense because it should help build healthy habits.  If the habits wane over time, so will the weight loss.  Although this study did not find differences in different forms or methods of self-monitoring in weight loss outcomes, it did show that monitoring, in general, does help.  It is not surprising that maintenance of weight loss was ultimately unsuccessful.  I would like to see further studies to look at this.  


J. S. Foster, A. Gorin, and A. Mobley, “For Successful Weight Loss, Counting Calories Matters but Method Might Not,” The FASEB Journal, vol. 31, no. 1_supplement, p. 136.8-136.8, Apr. 2017 [Online]. Available: 10.1096/fasebj.31.1_supplement.136.8″ target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”> [Accessed: 26-Jan-2019]
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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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