Calories Count?

-Written by Jeff Muir. Jeff is lead trainer at Vagus Fitness, and has helped hundreds of people take control of their fitness through fact based training and nutrition methods.

Gluten-free, dairy-free, Paleo, caveman: much like the ‘low fat’ phase we saw in the 80’s and 90’s, these current trends in nutrition have had a profound effect on many individual’s body composition goals – and that’s great!

What is not great however, is how food has been pigeonholed into ‘fat loss’ foods or ‘clean’ foods, and how there now exists a massive population of ‘carbo-phobic’, gluten & starch avoiding scaredy cats.

Now let me start out by saying that if you’re a celiac, have an allergy to wheat, or sensitivity to gluten (and have been medically diagnosed by a doctor as such), this article doesn’t really apply to you.

Instead, this article applies to people who think: 

A) Calories don’t count.

B) Carbohydrates are counterproductive to fat loss and must be avoided.

C) Any combination of the above, or demonize a particular food group.

Firstly, above all, calories matter – a lot.

For over a century, weight loss researches have been conducting controlled studies (on humans, not rats) to see if reducing calories results in weight loss.

Guess what they found?

When people create a caloric deficit, they always lose weight.

When people eat more calories then they need, they always gain weight.

Now instead of linking tens of thousands of studies at the bottom of this article, I’ll leave it up to the naysayers to link me up to even a single controlled, human study that shows otherwise.

Here’s a conversation that I have with somebody once per week – it goes something like this:

“But wait just a minute Jeff – I cut out gluten, grains and all starchy, non-Palaeolithic era, and non Dr. Oz-approved carbs and I lost 15lbs in only one month….oh, and dairy too, humans don’t NEED milk”

Me: “That’s wonderful to hear, and I’m very happy you’ve made that kind of headway with your body composition goal. Now tell me, prior to your drastic dietary adjustments, approximately what proportion of your diet would you say was made up of carbohydrates?”

“Probably around 50% I would guess, so WAY too many carbs”

Me: I see, and approximately what proportion of your diet is now made up of carbohydrates?

“Probably 15-20% now, but only in the form of grass-fed, organic quinoa and non-GMO dinosaur kale - and I’ve lost SO much weight!”

Me: That’s excellent! So what you’re telling me is that you’ve reduced your daily caloric intake by a substantial number – in the form of carbohydrates?

“Yeah I guess….I just basically cut out carbs”

Important to note here, is that I don’t make judgments about these particular individuals with regard to their knowledge of nutrition.

We’re exposed to so much garbage on TV and in magazines, I often find myself undoing the twisted heap of misinformation that gets fed into our ears.

After all, I’m here to help, to educate, and to break the cycle.

The truth is, carbohydrates aren’t bad, but they do contain calories – just like protein and fat do.

In fact, both 1g of protein and 1g of carbohydrate contain the exact same amount of energy - 4 calories.

Does this mean that food quality isn’t important, and that you need not worry about refined sugars, hydrogenated fats, or eating lots of vegetables?


Although it possible to lose weight on a diet of chocolate cake and ice cream (it’s true), nobody in their right mind would believe this to be the most optimal way to improve one’s body composition – not to mention your performance in the gym would be about as enthusiastic as a T-Rex at a salad bar.

Conversation continued:

“So Jeff, are you saying that I have to MEASURE every single thing that I eat and drink, and track calories every day….that seems crazy to me!”

Me: Well it is and it isn’t. Based on your current activity level, we need to figure out how much food you need to take in each day to either; 

a) maintain your current weight,

b) continue to lose body fat, or

c) increase lean muscle tissue.

Once we figure that out, you need to go off on your own and measure out a single days worth of food with the particular protein, carb, and fat ratios I set our for you- this way, you’ll be able to physically see EXACTLY what that looks like in front of you.

Following that, just ballpark it, no need to be anal - because essentially right now, you’re just guessing.

“That seems so tedious and unnecessary, is it that important?”

Me: Let me ask you something; Say I was a financial planner and you just hired me to set up an annual budget for your family. Then I told you not to initially not worry too much about keeping track of dollars coming in and going out and to just guess – it would be safe to say you’d fire me immediately, correct?

“Yeah, of course, I mean the budget wouldn’t really work would it”

Me: Good, now we’re getting somewhere!

The fact is this; when calories are controlled, it doesn’t matter if you’re following a diet that our ancestors allegedly (and very arguably) followed, don’t eat yogurt, avoid bread, or only eat chicken that was raised by nuns who fed them wheat grass.

Whether you over-eat tilapia and steamed asparagus, or Pop-Tarts, your body doesn’t discriminate from an energy-standpoint – and you will gain weight, period.


In closing, here are a couple big take home points:

1.    Calories count

2.    Quality of food is important for optimal performance

3.    Your body doesn’t care if you eat ‘Paleo’

4.    If you don’t measure your food – even just once – you’re guessing

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Kyle Mahadeo