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Counting Carbs vs. Counting Calories: What's Better for Weight Loss?

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Counting carbs or counting calories: that is the question when it comes to finding the more effective pathway for losing weight. While both methods have their proponents and detractors, the conventional wisdom has it that counting calories (as in watching your intake of calories) is the way to go for weight reduction and management. The reason goes back to the simple principle of weight gain being induced by eating an excessive amount of calories beyond that which you then burn off. Controversially, proponents of popular diets like the Atkins Diet advocate not counting calories, but counting carbohydrates instead, and they have their own body of research to show that they have had success in counting carbs instead of calories.

Arguments in Favor of Counting Calories

Doctors who argue in favor of counting calories instead of counting carbs commonly point to the fact that even foods that are supposedly low in carbs, like fried chicken or cheeseburgers, can give you a huge shot of calories. Their point is that you can still gain weight from low carb foods due to the presence of high numbers of calories. They also caution that you must be on the lookout for calories even in foods that are low in fat, since low fat foods do not necessarily mean low calories or an entire absence of calories. A common piece of advice that doctors also have for people who are trying to count their calories is simply to track them for one week. Keep a log of all your caloric intake for one whole week; this will enable you to cut out calories a lot easier because you can now see what foods they're coming from.

Arguments in Favor of Counting Carbs

The popularity of low carb diets such as the Atkins Diet, and to a lesser extent, the more moderate low carb diets like South Beach or Zone, means that they do work, too. The Atkins Diet in particular can be viewed as something of a controversy because its guidelines turn on their head a lot of what conventional doctors and dietitians have been telling their patients for a while. In the Atkins Diet, you are encouraged to eat fat, because this is viewed as fuel that your body needs and then burns up. Furthermore, carbs are the enemy in this approach to reducing weight while calories are not looked at as anything that should be treated with concern. The philosophy of Atkins is that by limiting carbs, your body switches to burning fat automatically for energy, instead of burning carbs like glucose.


Both counting carbs and counting calories are effective for weight loss. It is basically just two different paths to ultimately get to the same goal of weight reduction. However, the important distinction is that, depending on whether you're counting carbs or calories, you will be eating a vastly different selection of foods under each approach. If you like eating fatty foods while still losing weight, go with the Atkins Diet, but if you would rather eat foods that restrict fat and are low calorie in nature, stick to counting calories.

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