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If you’ve ever tried calorie counting, it’s likely you’ll know that it can quickly become a huge inconvenience. When you’re trying to slim, weighing, measuring and counting every calorie that passes your lips can be tedious and impractical – and our survey of over 2,000 UK adults and over 2,500 Slimming World members* shows that calorie counting alone is not a sustainable way to lose weight.

Our study of UK adults found that:

  • 72% said that counting calories takes away the freedom to enjoy food
  • More than half of adults (51%) agreed that calorie counting can lead to an unbalanced diet
  • 69% of those who had previously tried calorie counting said they found themselves focusing on the number of calories rather than the nutritional value of food
  • 29% said they chose to use their calories on less-healthy high-calorie snacks
  • More than half (51%) of calorie counters who didn’t find calorie counting a sustainable way to lose weight said they found it too difficult to keep count
  • 36% struggled in any situation where they weren’t sure of the calorie content, for example, eating at a friend’s house or in a restaurant, and 31% felt too hungry
  • Nearly a fifth (19%) of adults who had calorie counted reported that they went to bed hungry every night

In contrast, our poll of Slimming World members found that eating a diet based around low energy dense foods – foods that contain fewer calories per gram – gives them the freedom to enjoy food and lose weight.

Our study of Slimming World members showed:

  • 81% said they’ve learnt how to cut calories without counting calories
  • More than two-thirds (67%) of members who had tried calorie counting in the past agreed that it can result in an unbalanced diet
  • 62% agreed that in their experience calorie counting doesn’t lead to long-term weight loss success
  • Over three-quarters of members (76%) said that they always feel satisfied or full when following Slimming World’s Food Optimising plan

Professor of appetite and energy balance James Stubbs from the University of Leeds says:

“The best evidence for effective, sustainable, weight loss is to use techniques to self-manage food intake, physical activity and lapses in weight that we all experience during a weight loss journey – and to use evidence-based behaviour change approaches that are more likely to help us change our habits around food.

A lot of people give up on diets because they feel hungry or deprived. Eating low energy density foods can help overcome that problem. Gram for gram, low energy dense foods contain fewer calories than high energy density foods, so people are able to eat a larger volume of food for the same (or lower) calorie intake, leading them to feel fuller.”

Slimming World macaroni cheese

Try a recipe: This delicious mac ‘n’ cheese will hit that comfort food spot

‘I lost over 7st and never counted a single calorie’

Caitlin Trick-Slimming World member

“I’d lost count of the number of times I’d tried to lose weight by calorie counting. After a few days of eating nothing but poached eggs or baked beans on toast, I’d be ravenous and cranky. I’d soon get tired of counting everything and go back to having toast smothered in Nutella for breakfast, sandwiches and a pasty at midday and a takeaway pizza in the evening.

Food Optimising was completely different. I started my days with lots of fresh fruit and fat-free natural yogurt. Lunch was a home-made soup or an omelette filled with plenty of veg, and for dinner I made something really tasty like beef tagliatelle or shepherd’s pie. Because I was filling up on Free Foods like lean meats, fruits and vegetables, I didn’t have to worry about counting calories all the time – and I didn’t feel hungry at all. When I found out I’d lost 6lbs after my first week, I started to believe I could actually lose weight.”

More on the blog: Read Caitlin’s full story

How Slimming World can help

We have a deep understanding of the psychology of weight loss, developed over more than 50 years, including our liberating Food Optimising eating plan. We know that when a diet leaves you feeling hungry and deprived – as well as being difficult to follow – you’re less likely to enjoy a successful slimming journey. That’s why Food Optimising is so effective – it’s an easy-to-follow healthy eating plan where we’ve done the number crunching, so you don’t have to!

  • Free Foods are the lowest in calories per gram and the most satiating, so they fill you up for as few calories as possible and keep you feeling satisfied and fuller for longer. They also play an incredibly important psychological role, because they prevent you from ever needing to worry about feeling hungry, deprived or guilty about what you’re eating.
  • We encourage you to make delicious meals from Free Foods and your measured Healthy Extra choices first, and then, if you need them (and you still have room!), you have your Syns.
  • Syns are those foods which are higher in calories, so they do need to be controlled. They’re there for you to enjoy as you choose – after all, a little bit of what you fancy does you good! They also remove the burden of ever feeling deprived and add flexibility and freedom.

More on the blog: Discover your five favourite Free Food recipes

Carolyn Pallister, Slimming World’s head of nutrition, research and health, says: “While counting calories can work for some people and may work in the short term, the survey highlights how, for many slimmers, it can quickly become boring and limiting and leave you feeling hungry.

From a health perspective and to aid weight-loss, it’s important to think about the foods you eat and not only the number of calories in them. Choosing less energy-dense, more satiating foods which are high in protein and fibre will help to keep you fuller for longer.   

A key part of successful long-term weight management is giving people the know-how and support to change their habits around shopping and cooking. Members of our community-based groups learn to plan and base meals on foods which are naturally low in calories and that will fill them up and keep them satisfied for longer. These foods are the basis of a healthy diet so members learn to base meals and long-term eating habits on them and eat them without having to measure every mouthful.”

Hear more from James and Carolyn in the Slimming World podcast Let’s talk calories

More for members: You can find out more about how we make calories as easy as one, two, Free – and get plenty of ideas for making the most of Free Foods – in our Cut calories, without the counting feature on the exclusive member website.

*Between 7th and 18th May 2021, the survey questioned over 2,500 Slimming World members and a representative sample of 2008 adults in the general population completed an online survey asking their opinions about previous weight loss methods and weight management.

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