Do calories matter on keto? If you aren’t sure whether or not you should count calories while following a ketogenic way of eating, this post will answer that exact question.
In short, yes and no. The end. Good-bye.
Yeah, I know you are confused.
Before I go on and explain myself, I want to get this out of the way. What you are about to read is all my OPINION. Please don’t send me hate mail or comment on
I am not a doctor, and although I have a background in Nutrition, that does not qualify me to give you medical advice. You can read more about that in my nutritional disclaimer if you so choose.
Before I get into explaining my answer, let’s start with the basics;
What is a CALORIE?
A calorie is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius. That sounds so “scientific” I know, but most people don’t know the actual meaning of a “calorie.”
A calorie is just a measurement of the energy in food, or kilocalorie to be precise. Think power, when you eat you get energy, and calories are forms of energy.
So how do calories relate to losing and gaining weight? Well, there are about 3,500 calories in a 1 lb, so the theory is that if you “burn” or limit 3,500 calories you will lose 1 pound.
Sounds simple but it doesn’t quite work that way.
This theory is also known as the calories in = calories out formula. So mostly, it doesn’t matter what you eat, as long as you are eating “fewer calories” you will lose weight and if you are eating “more calories” you will gain weight.
As much as this idea makes sense and the numbers add up, let me tell you why I think it doesn’t work.
Why HORMONES Matter More Than Calories on Keto….
Ah, yes the big H word. Hormones control everything; Especially insulin. We all know about insulin. It’s what makes your blood sugar go up after eating a particular food.
Insulin response is what determines (in my opinion) if your body stores fat or burns fat. That is why the Ketogenic Diet works so well for weight loss. Eating low carb and keeping your insulin low allows your body to tap into its body fat to burn for energy.
There are Thyroid hormones. The thyroid is the master of your metabolism so if it’s slow, your metabolism will be slow and you won’t lose weight no matter how little you eat.
Cortisol is another hormone that affects weight loss. If it’s too high, your body will hold on to body fat, especially around your belly.
Then there is Leptin, which is in charge of your satiety.
Hormones matter, a lot.
Inside my weight loss program BSB Tribe, I cover all of the hormones you need to regulate in order to lose weight so if you think you have issues with your hormones, I would advise you to join the waitlist HERE so you can get that corrected.
NOTE: If you don’t regulate your hormones, you WILL NOT lose weight, no matter how little you eat or how much you work out.
Let me explain it to you from my personal experience.
My experience with eating low calories and low fat
All of my life, I had struggled with my weight. Also, for most of my life, I ate “low-fat” foods and stayed within a certain calorie limit.
Of course, when I was studying to be a Dietician I was also taught the calories in= calories out approach and that for clients you have to make a meal plan that reduces their calories throughout the week to equal 3500 calories either by food or exercise and then they will lose a pound.
Ok, but how come that wasn’t working for me? I spent so much of my life on a diet.
I would eat 500 calories a day and run 5 miles a day at least five times a week, but I was still overweight.
What was the deal? Why wasn’t I losing weight since I was restricting so many calories AND burning at least 700 calories by running every day?
I now know the answer to that question; Hormones. As long as I was ingesting carbohydrates, refined or in the form of quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice, and all of the other ones that are “healthy,” my body was still storing FAT.
That is because not all calories are created equal. Different foods have different metabolic and hormonal effects which determine if you burn or store fat in your body.
I would eat those foods, my insulin would go up, and it would signal my body to store those calories as fat. It was a never-ending vicious cycle I could not get out of until I discovered Keto.
This was really noticeable after my first pregnancy.
Not only was I breastfeeding, (burning calories) running (burning calories), eating low-fat foods, and cutting my calories drastically but I was stuck at the same weight for months.
When I decided to try Keto after my friend who had been on it for a while told me about it, and I felt like I had nothing else to lose. Well, forget I did — almost 20 lbs in a few months.
Why? Because I cut out carbohydrates from my diet my body was no longer secreting all of that insulin and storing fat. Instead, it was burning its body fat because I was in a state of Nutritional Ketosis.
Eating fewer calories leaves you hungry and is not sustainable
So many of the clients that join BSB Tribe tell me that they lost weight cutting calories but they gained it all back (and then some) once they started eating “normally.”
This is the EXACT problem with calorie counting diets.
Yes, cutting calories will make you lose weight. However, is it sustainable?
That is where we get into the topic of LIFESTYLE. I’ve said this before, and I will repeat it, KETO IS A LIFESTYLE.
The problem with low-calorie diets is this; you always end up hungry. They don’t sustain you. Do you know what sustains you? Fat and Protein.
Fat has nine calories per gram. Compare that to four calories per gram from carbs. Fat keeps you full.
This leads me to another point of why Keto works so well; Eating more fat keeps you full for longer so indirectly you are probably eating fewer calories without doing so on purpose.
Eating foods that keep your insulin low will result in less fat storage in your body and more fat burn. Body fat keeps your insulin low, along with most protein and low glycemic fruits and vegetables.
This is what I teach inside my program BSB Tribe and my clients are able to eat (a lot) of the RIGHT food and still lose weight AND keep it off (what is the point of losing weight if you gain it back, right?)
Ok, so now that you get my point of why I think calories don’t matter on Keto, let me share my view about how I think they do matter.
Don’t worry, in the end; I will give you some advice on how I think you should approach it if you so choose to take my opinion.
Why calories DO matter on Keto
This is where I am going to reverse roles and become Dr. Jekyll.
Calories matter on Keto because you can still eat too much food and not lose any weight while being in Ketosis and even quite possibly gain weight.
If you are eating too many calories while in Ketosis in the form of too much fat in your diet, too much dairy, and too many processed keto junk foods, your body will focus on burning the fat from the food and not its own fat.
It’s not rocket science. Did you think you could eat fat bombs and drink bulletproof coffee all day and lose weight?
I’m going to tell you a secret that many people in the Keto community don’t want to say; KETO ISN’T ABOUT HITTING YOUR MACROS.
“How do I get my fats in?” “I can’t get my fats in, how do you guys get your fats in?” That is all I hear on Instagram and Facebook, and it’s starting to get annoying.
FOOD QUALITY > HITTING YOUR MACROS.
You don’t need to “get your fats in.” Fat should be a tool to keep you full. Adding more fat into your Ketogenic diet keeps you full for longer, keeps your insulin low, and helps your body produce more ketones which in turn helps your body burn its own fat.
However, if your body is getting TOO MUCH fat, it will be focused on burning the fat you are eating instead of your body fat.
Eating too many calories in the form of dairy, nuts and Keto sweets will stall your weight and may cause weight gain.
This is the exact reason why I teach a Holistic Clean Keto Way of eating paired with Carb Cycling inside my program BSB Tribe.
The reason Keto works so well is that eating nutrient-dense foods such as fat and protein raises satiety which leads to eating less.
One of the signs that you are in ketosis and becoming fat adapted is that your appetite goes down. You could look at the time and realize that you have skipped lunch and you’re not even hungry.
Should You Focus On Calories with Keto?
If you are a Keto Beginner
Don’t focus so much on calories. Start by focusing on keeping your carbs low enough to get you into nutritional ketosis. If you don’t know how to do that, read my How to Start Keto for Beginners Guide.
Also, focus on eating whole, real foods. If you come from the standard American diet, Keto is going to be very overwhelming at first so get the basics down and don’t worry so much about hitting all of your “macros” and counting calories.
Eat less fast food, learn how to cook wholesome meals, and put enough butter and oil in your meals to keep you full.
Slowly adjust to this new way of eating
If you are a Keto Veteran
What are your goals? Are you looking to lose more weight? Do you want to maintain your weight loss?
You have to decide on what your goals are and adjust from there.
If you need to lose more weight, lower your fat intake, remove keto junk foods, and limit dairy.
Are you snacking a lot? Cut down.
If you aren’t incorporating HIIT and strength training into your routine, now would be the time to add that in slowly.
Little steps like those mentioned above can make a difference when it comes to weight loss and overall health.
If you are happy where you are at and are looking to maintain you probably don’t need any advice.
You can keep doing what you are doing, and if you start gaining weight, you can revisit this post.
I hope I didn’t confuse you too much. It’s tough to give a defined “yes” or “no” when it comes to calories.
There are so many variables.
Some people can eat fast food for almost every meal and are “skinny” so how does that make sense? I call those people “Fat Skinny” because their insides are probably FAT AF, but that’s irrelevant here.
We all process foods differently and at the end of the day it’s not just about “the calories.”
More articles about Keto Diet:
- How to Break a Weight Loss Stall on Keto
- How To Get Back Into Ketosis Fast After a Cheat Day
- Why You Should Clean Keto Carb Cycle
- Is Clean Keto Carb Cycling Right For You?
- What is Clean Keto Carb Cycling?
If you want to learn how to do keto the right way without worrying about counting calories, I invite you to work with me in my weight loss program, BSB Tribe. You can join the waitlist HERE.
Keto Recipes to try:
Irene Gebe-Norris says
Thank you, I cannot seem to eat enough fats, so I try to stay lean, pretty much carb and sugar free. It works for me and when I cheat, I make sure those carbs and sugar are worth it., and then resume eating clean..
Margareta Campobassi says
Thank you for a very easy to understand explanation reggarding calories and fat. Like you, I have spent my life watching the fats, and sugars always choosing the lite or diet option. So, I still find it hard to increase the fat in my diet, to get enough. I did start using fat bombs etc, and found my weight loss stalled. I have now cut them out, and find that if I eat a ripe avocado, it makes me just as happiy as a fat bomb! Not sure where it stands in the greater scheme of things, but it works for me. I enjoy your posts, they are fun and informative.
Margareta, thank you for reading it! I think Avocado is fantastic. It’s easy to over do it on the fat bombs so I try not to eat a lot of those myself. It seems like you’re on the right track! Thanks so much for commenting!!
very good information on diet
Thank you so much for reading!
I’ve been on keto since July of last v year, lost 35 pounds and content. I eat lots of green and protein have cut all carbs and sugar and I feel great. 67 going on 68 yrs young. I bake, and do my own ice cream which is my vice. Thank you.???? for all the info you give us.
That is amazing!! Good for you! Keep up the amazing work!
I really liked this article, I feel like other one’s I’ve read will only focus on calories in vs calories out or they’ll look at just hormones. I thought it was really helpful that you described them as more working in tandem.
Erin, thank you for the feedback! I’m glad this post was able to give you some clarity! Good luck with your journey!