I've written before that the goal of a diet is not fat loss per se,…
It’s one of the biggest questions out there – “do calories matter?”
Or put another way – “which is more important, food choices, or calories?“
Endless arguments, hurt feelings, and drama have been the result of this ongoing debate, particularly on Twitter. People become emotionally attached to certain foods, certain eating strategies, and people usually find a way to make it personal, when it isn’t.
But what’s the answer to this question?
Calories vs Food Choices
Where a lot of the ‘calories don’t matter’ messaging comes from, is from people who have been calorie counting for years with little success. These guys will say something along the lines of: ‘calories do matter, but it’s not very helpful if you’re not eating the right foods.’
I completely agree with this.
Now where I strongly disagree with this messaging is when you encounter the extremists (of which there appear to be many, but I think the reality is that these people are simply the most vocal, especially online) who say: “calories don’t exist, they never have done, and all humans were shredded before they knew about calories.”
Now that is demonstrably false, and it’s irrational ranting, and I obviously disagree with that.
It’s like saying “gravity doesn’t exist.” Evidently, you’re full of shit if you come out with something like that.
But the problem, as many (including myself) have encountered, is when you eat the ‘perfect foods’ – high protein, high fiber, zero sugar or alcohol, sleep like a baby etc. but you’re still not getting below that 12, 14, or 16% body fat plateau.
What are you going to do now??
The reality is that if you’re not in a calorie deficit, there is no way on this planet you’re getting any leaner. And this leads me to a crucial point:
Simply focusing on eating the perfect foods without thinking about energy balance is a fantastic way to unfatten yourself, and get your body fat levels down to a ‘healthy’ level. HOWEVER:
It will only take you so far, and you’re not likely to achieve anything impressive in terms of muscle mass, or leanness, without understanding how energy balance works.
At some point, if you want a great physique, you’re probably going to have to push yourself harder, suck up the calorie deficit, and endure a little hunger.
Calories In vs Calories Out
So the short answer to ‘do calories matter’, is YES.
But I agree that if you’re eating sugar, and/or not enough protein, the reality is that it’s going to be next to impossible to maintain a calorie deficit over the mid to long-term.
BUT, the other side to this is that ONLY focusing on the quality of your food choices will lead to you stalling out at some point, and this point is when you need to really understand about calories in vs calories out.
Because that IS what it comes down to if you’ve hit a plateau after eating ‘clean’ for a while.
I’ve had experience with this on Keto myself. I ate ‘perfectly’; VERY high protein, absolutely zero junk and almost-zero carbs (not the same thing btw), but couldn’t get any leaner than ~14% body fat.
I knew I had to drop my calorie intake, and that the quality of my food was not the issue. I needed to drop the calories, but in a way that was sustainable (I always knew the goal was to achieve 10% body fat and actually maintain it).
Decreasing the size of the eating window made it easier to eat less calories.
Eating fewer, larger meals (meal #1 & #2) and avoiding breakfast made it easier to eat less calories.
Drinking morning coffee made it easier to eat less calories.
Side note: If you want to see the detailed excel spreadsheet with my entire eating system on there, but tailored to you, check out the IF meal plans here.
And this is why the real answer to the “CICO versus food choices, which is more important?” is:
BOTH ARE CRUCIAL.
Eat the wrong foods, and you have no hope of maintaining the calorie deficit. But you can eat all the right foods, but it will only serve to ‘unfatten’ yourself. If you want to achieve any level of real success, you’re going to need to understand the basic laws of energy balance.
So if you want to do more than just ‘unfatten yourself’, and get into incredible shape, check out the personal, one-to-one coaching I offer in the Silver & Gold packages here, or get either the 007 Program, or the Warrior Program.