• How does calories counting compare to other tools? (iStockphoto/Getty)Source: iStockphoto/Getty
The down side of calorie counting is that it takes a lot of effort. So is it worth it (and how does it compare to other weight loss tools)?
Jo Hartley

8 Aug 2017 - 2:01 PM  UPDATED 8 Aug 2017 - 2:44 PM

For many Australians, trying to lose weight is an ongoing battle. But, navigating the numerous interactive weight tracking options available to assist can sometimes be the hardest part.

Type in ‘weight loss’ into the App Store and you’re faced with thousands of choices; diet plans, trackers, workout companions and tips. Scroll through social media and you’re bound to be invited to sign up to a healthy weight loss challenge or join a weight loss group. 

However, one of the more traditional and popular tools for weight loss is calorie counting. Working on the principal that weight loss is all about energy in and energy out, so you can – theoretically – track every step.

The down side is that calorie counting takes a lot of effort. So how does it compare to other weight loss tools?

“For calorie counting to really be affective, we need to know quite a lot about an individual’s metabolic rate and their exercise regime,” says GP Dr Sam Hay. “This method works best when you can accurately match the energy in to energy out, but this is where the problem comes in.

“For calorie counting to really be affective, we need to know quite a lot about an individual’s metabolic rate and their exercise regime,” says GP Dr Sam Hay.

“It’s very hard to accurately measure the amount of energy we burn in a day as it varies greatly. The higher your muscle mass, the more you burn, and the greater the intensity or longer you exercise for, the more energy you burn. So, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.”

If I delete my calorie counting app, how do I track my energy consumption?

Dr Hay says that if you want to really get scientific about it, you can get a DEXA (dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry) body composition scan which will determine your lean muscle mass, and then estimate your metabolic rate.

Dietitians can also help to effectively predict what your energy requirements are for your age, sex, body size, and exercise targets: based on the assumption that you want to lose weight.

For those who truly struggle with motivation or knowledge, Dr Hay suggests having a chat with a doctor, seeing a dietician, being personally trained or attending a group fitness class.

What about exercise apps (that don’t focus on calorie counting)?

Dr Hay says he’s supportive of exercise-based apps, as a means of offering people movement-based support, information and guidance. But, he says, users should still be mindful to exercise caution when choosing an app.

“It’s important to ensure that apps come from reputable trainers and are evidence-based,” he says. “The other challenge is that, if you don't know what you're doing, you're at risk from injury because you're not closely supervised.”

Dr Hay advises that people should mix up their exercise routines by using a few apps. For example, he recommends balancing a high-intensity circuit app with a shorter body weight circuit app.

Text-based apps are also thought to help people to lose weight in so far that they help people to comply with their exercise and diet plans. But are there other options aside from apps that could potentially help people to lose weight?

Text-based apps are also thought to help people to lose weight in so far that they help people to comply with their exercise and diet plans.

In fact, two specific studies explored the efficacy of text messaging services for weight loss. Both studies focused on African Americans.

In one study, 50 obese African American women used a fully automated intervention system, which included daily text messages for self-monitoring tailored behavioural goals (such as 10,000 steps per day and no sugary drinks) along with brief feedback and tips.

The results show that around 70 per cent strongly agreed that daily texting was easy and helpful, while 76 per cent felt the frequency of texting was appropriate. At six months, the women had lost a mean of 1.27 kg, compared to those on an education program who gained a mean of 1.14 kg.

Similarly, another study explored if text message intervention would increase physical activity in the African American population – a population less likely to meet the recommended physical activity guidelines than Caucasian adults.

On receipt of the text messages, 39.2 per cent of participants strongly agreed that they had increased their knowledge about physical activity options.

Over 39 per cent strongly agreed that they could increase their physical activity and 33.3 per cent strongly agreed that a text-based program helped them achieve their weight loss goal.

Despite the weight loss results experienced by the sample group, one fact remains – the best calorie counting, text-messaging or exercise-based app, on their own, cannot make you healthy. You need to be motivated to achieve a good sense of health and reach a healthy weight. As Dr Hay says, the only thing that you can truly count on to make it a success is yourself. 

Want to know more about how calorie counting can help or hinder your weight loss goals? Watch ‘Adam Ruins Everything’ on SBS Viceland on Tuesday 8 August at 8pm to discover whether extreme weight loss programs actually work. (Adam Ruins Everything will be available to view on SBS On Demand after broadcast)

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