Do Calories Count?

Food Label and tape measure“Calories don’t matter! Just eat Paleo and you’ll be fine.”

Sound familiar? This is a common theme in the Paleo world. So I feel a little timid coming out and saying that I think calories DO matter. That is, in certain contexts. I don’t think calories should just be dismissed as a mythical concept that doesn’t have any bearing on your health or weight. And I certainly don’t think that people who ARE overweight and desperately needing to lose fat should be afraid to count calories.

Now for the caveats.

I also don’t think that everyone should count every calorie they eat forever and ever. No, sir, I do not. I think the process of counting calories is tedious, time consuming, inaccurate, and a little crazy- making.

So who should count calories?

1. Emotional Eaters

Some people have a sense that if they don’t eat everything on their plate, they’re going to starve to death. That they somehow need to eat everything in front of them because they won’t get more later. Evolutionarily, that makes sense, right? And I know how overwhelming that feeling can be because I used to be like that. But when you show a 5’4″ woman that she’s actually eating 3000 more calories a day than she needs to be, it may just help her believe that she’s eating too much food.

2. People whose bodies don’t tell them when they’re full. 

Some people’s bodies may not give them the proper signals that they’re full – that they’ve had enough. In a world full of super-sized everythings, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that we’re accustomed to eating too much. The problem here is pretty obvious: too much food is generally going to make you gain weight.

Even when people go from a SAD, addictive diet to a Paleo diet, this problem can persist. Everyone doesn’t magically know the appropriate amount of food to eat just because they change which foods they’re eating. So for those people who switch to Paleo and are still having a hard time taking the weight off, calorie counting may be their answer.

3. People who are fatigued, especially athletes.

There are plenty of people out there who are fatigued because they’re not eating enough food, especially athletes, and especially athletes who are trying to lose weight. You try running for an hour or doing a CrossFit class when you haven’t eaten enough that day and tell me that calories don’t matter :) Sometimes you have to see it on paper (or your computer screen) that, instead of the 3000 calories your body actually needs to do all that work, you’re only giving it 1500. Problem solved. 

Take Home Thoughts

So in all of these cases, I think a week or two of calorie counting can pretty much solve the problem. Sometimes just a few days of recording what you eat can be enough. Calorie counting is just one of the many tools we can use to connect our minds with our bodies.

Listen to Jonathan Bailor Talk about Why Calories DON’T Matter

I was prompted to write this post because I saw that Jonathan Bailor of is presenting on the Real Food Con tomorrow (Thursday, October 23) on calories. He’s pretty vehemently against calorie counting, and he has some good reasons for that. But I wanted to put my two cents in here.

Either way, if you want to watch Jonathan’s talk tomorrow, you can register to do that here. It’s free to watch and it’s pre-tty interesting.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on calorie counting! I hope it shed some light on the issue!

Until next time,



  1. Thanks Neely! I agree that athletes especially tend to UNDER eat. I work with a lot of tall skinny guys that “just can’t gain weight” and when we look at a week long food log, it becomes very apparent why they aren’t growing. I’m personally logging calories now because I’m trying to break my own personal set point. Thanks again!

  2. I couldn’t agree more. I recently lost 72 pounds and I did it by creating a calorie deficit. Over the last 4 months I have gone “Neo-Paleo” (I still eat dairy) and am maintaining my weight with ease. During my slimming down period, most of my calories were coming from protein, but now I have upped my fat intake and am happy with the results. I still maintain a high protein intake (about 1g per pound of bodyweight).

  3. I just continue to get more confused. Every article and thought from different sources have something different to say. I need real concise plan to follow. Like here is your weight, this is where you want to be and this is how you get there. Lately, I am depleted before I finish my workout. I have a protein drink with just water and 24g of protein in it and still run out of energy.

  4. I’m 50 years old this summer, and was a pretty high level competitor in track, basketball and Kick boxing/Boxing. I’m not sure why people think they are supposed to have tons of energy all through a vigorous long term workout? Part of being an athlete is being mentally tough, because the body is in pain and tired. There is no magic diet /metabolic bullet for sustaining energy throughout hard workouts. Yes you can maximize your ability to do these workouts by diet, but other factors play a part. Fatigue from too frequent workouts is often a problem, and lack of sleep is HUGE! If you are working out super hard, 10 hours a night sleep is probably a minimum to maintain anabolic hormonal production and cell repair. High level athletes sleep… a lot! If you are training like a high level athlete your body needs lots of sleep too!, don’t forget, that even if you are eating excellent (paleo, whatever…) If you train super hard, your diet is probably not giving uyou enough minerals vitamins and other micronutrients you need for maximum performance. Remember, our Ancestors weren’t working out like we are today. I think Mark Sisson’s take on this is correct. We did a LOT of slow movement throughout the day with SHORT periods of sprinting, and some heavy lifting. those of you doing “Insanity” 5 times a week, and lifting hard 3-4 times a week, plus your regular work schedule are putting WAY more demand on your physiology and emotional and mental limits than our ancestors did. Dr Michael Colgan, has talked about the nutrition that athletes need for many years, and it is way above the normal nutrition you can get, even from the Paleo diet.

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