There’s no getting away from the fact that the number of calories we consume plays a key role in whether we gain or lose weight. In fact, for many years we were led to believe that it was the only variable that mattered. More recently, there’s been a backlash with many arguing that in fact we shouldn’t track calories at all. The answer lies somewhere in the middle. If we consume more calories than we burn, we will inevitably gain weight. But blindly chasing a calorie deficit is also a flawed strategy in the long-term, and here’s why.

Not all calories are equal

Calories tell you about the energy in food, but little else. A ready-meal may have less calories than the equivalent freshly cooked meal, but little of the goodness. We should focus on the vitamins and minerals we are getting from each meal, as well as calorie intake. They are vital for the optimal functioning of your body, including control of the hormones involved in fat burning and appetite, without which it is hard to sustain a healthy physique. And don’t automatically avoid foods simply because they have high calorie counts; the likes of avocados, nuts and salmon are packed full of amazing nutrients, they metabolise slowly and lead to greater satiation.

Slow the sugar rush

Our bodies react differently to the same number of calories depending on their source. For example, protein has a higher thermic effect than carbohydrates and fat, and therefore we burn more energy in metabolizing it. More importantly, simple carbohydrates that break down quickly into glucose (high GI), such as refined sugars, white bread and most branded breakfast cereals, cause insulin spikes, fat storage and energy crashes… and leave us feeling hungry.

So it’s important to consider the source of your calories, as well as the total number. Limit refined carbohydrates to avoid the consequences of their rapid conversion into glucose. Instead, keep things balanced by combining low GI carbohydrates (e.g. wholegrains, sourdough, most vegetables) with lean protein and healthy fats, which will further slow sugar release, as well as provide essential nutrients.

Beware the “Low-Calorie” fad

Companies looking to cash in on the rise in healthy eating have flooded the market with low-calorie products. But when the low-calorie count comes via heavy processing, removal of naturally occurring fat & protein and substitution with refined sugars, sweeteners & chemicals, then these products are quite possibly doing more harm than good due to their sugar and chemical loads. Always know what’s in your food.

Satisfy your hunger

Diet foods may well have enticingly low calorie counts but if they’re made of heavily processed ingredients with minimal nutritional value as mentioned above, they are unlikely to keep you full for long. By relying on these foods not only are you short-changing yourself in terms of essential nutrients, you’re quite possibly setting yourself up for a fall when the hunger pangs inevitably strike.

Enjoy your food

You’re more likely to be able to sustainably manage your weight and body composition if you have a healthy relationship with food. Not only is obsessing about calorie targets likely to be highly time-consuming and restrictive, the constant focus on food could well leave you feeling hungrier than you would otherwise be.

At SHOT, we recognize that calories do matter, which is why headline macronutrients are displayed on our in-store screens and printed menus. But we also know that it’s not the complete picture, which is why we go further and provide the full nutritional breakdown for each dish, including vitamin and mineral levels and their associated health benefits, on our website. Our data is also available on