Is calorie counting the only way to achieve sustainable weight loss?

  • Weight loss can be complex if you don't know where to start.
  • While eating fewer calories than you burn can lead to weight loss, you can regain the weight.
  • Recent research has found out more about caloric deficit.

In these times, there's a never-ending search for the best weight-loss diet. Ideally, we want a quick fix that will lead to significant weight loss in a short period of time.

Unfortunately, after short, drastic regimes, people tend to regain the lost weight fast.

Weight-loss plans that are considered most successful are the ones that control calories, include all the necessary macronutrients and don't exclude any food groups. But how good are they really? Let's look at the most recent research in terms of long-term success.

An energy balance 

Weight gain is a result of an imbalance of energy: too much food (energy) consumed, compared to the amount of energy used (expended). The excess energy is converted into fat and stored in the body.

Although this sounds simple, the factors that influence energy intake and expenditure are varied and complex. It involves numerous biological, genetic, environmental, behavioural and psychological factors.

Restricting your calories 

An initial calorie deficit can certainly lead to successful weight loss. This means that you need to be taking in less energy than you are expending. The good news is that according to research, even modest weight loss (5–10% of bodyweight) can result in significant health benefits, reducing your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and inflammatory conditions.

There are various versions of calorie restriction: moderate (1300–1500kCal per day), low (900–1200kCal per day) and very low (<900kCal/day).

Choosing one depends on individual goals. If you are someone who usually consumes 3 000kCal per day, a daily energy prescription of 100kCal would be rather difficult to achieve (and certainly too challenging to keep up).

The problem with only focusing on calorie restriction is the long-term sustainability (>6 to 12 months). Avoiding regaining lost weight can be challenging.

The reason is that if we do not change our habits and long-term behaviour when it comes to food, we can easily fall back into the habits that caused the weight gain in the first place.

As we lose weight, our bodies need fewer calories to sustain our lower weight. And, in some cases, dysregulation of appetite can be a problem. A study noted that for every kilogram lost, there was an increase in appetite of about 400 kilojoules (100kCal) per day – which of course makes sustaining weight loss more challenging. The body has compensatory mechanisms that start to increase appetite and reduce the satiety (fullness) effect, which can lead to overeating.

A better method

It appears that the most effective weight loss plan (that also focuses on improving health outcomes) aims to focus not only on the quantity of food consumed (calorie control) but on the quality of the macronutrients, such as carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

There is a strong body of evidence that shows that besides changing your behaviour and habits around food, you need to engage in physical activity to sustain weight loss in the long term.

A registered dietitian can support you by helping you develop the systems and skills needed to change your habits. They can also calculate an individualised eating plan, taking your unique lifestyle, food preferences and nutrient requirements into consideration. They can develop a plan that is affordable, accessible, culturally acceptable, and enjoyable (so that you don't feel too restricted).

In summary

To conclude, calorie counting or calorie restriction is an essential part of a successful weight loss programme. However, we need to reach beyond that to sustain weight loss in the long term. Following an individualised, nutritionally-balanced eating plan that tastes good, addressing bad habits and getting moving will all ultimately form part of the new lifestyle you need to develop to sustain weight loss. 

Image credit:   

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
What are your thoughts on the possibility of having permanent Stage 2 or 3 load shedding?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
I'll take that over constant schedule changes
13% - 1012 votes
Why are we normalising Eskom’s mess?
72% - 5586 votes
I've already found alternative ways of powering my home/business
15% - 1183 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.