A very hard question to answer as there is no one right answer to this question but each individual having their own right answer that suits their lifestyle and goals.
Calorie counting as mentioned previously is a great way to help an individual understand the quantity of the food they are consuming to help them reach that calorie deficit, after all a calorie is a calorie right?
Yes, at least from a thermodynamic standpoint, a calorie is defined as the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree Celsius (2.2 pounds by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit).
However, when it comes to health and your energy balance not all calories are equal. For example, this is why a calorie of protein makes you feel fuller than a calorie of fat, because protein is more complex to metabolise. For every 100 calories of protein you eat, you only ever absorb 70.
In this day we have become so fixated on the number of calories we are consuming, meaning we reach for those 'low calorie, low sugar' or 'zero cal' options that allows us to consume more food that might taste better than say whole plant-based foods, but is this really helping you reach you goals?
Yes calorie counting is a good way to lose weight, however long term we are missing the bigger picture of internally the health of your gut, hormone balances, long-term weight gain and more…
After all, 100 calories of sugar is not the same as 100 calories of sweet corn, this is due to the way your body processes each component and the more fibre and protein a product has the less of the 100 calories we absorb. Also think all foods burn calories (energy) in order to digest them, therefore the harder it is to breakdown a food for absorption, the more energy utilised to complete this process!
This is where a lot of people on their weight-loss journeys don't succeed as they are so fixated on calories and cutting out key food groups (carbs) thinking that this is what is making them fat. Forgetting that carbs are not just those ultra processed foods (fizzy drinks, cakes, sweets, zero-cal, zero-sugar foods!) but also fruit, veg, pulses. It's therefore not carbs making you fat, but the type and unsatisfied feeling from consuming these ultra processed foods which make you then eat more as you are never truly full. Cutting down on simple carbs like soft drinks, refined-flour bakery items, pasta and sweets will definitely have a positive impact on health. But eliminating carbohydrates like vegetables and fruit will have the opposite effect.
A diet that is high in plant-based protein and carbohydrates (mostly from vegs, nuts and legumes) is deemed the healthiest diet researches know for longevity and prevention of chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, hypertension and many other conditions. Our current western diet suffers from an increase in quantity and quality of calories consumed. Which effects fullness, insulin response, the process of turning carbs into body fat and metabolic energy expenditure.
If you go back to basics, focus on high quality, whole food, and less processed (its impossible to completely irradiate due to debates of what is processed and what is not) and focus on controlled portions, timings of consumption and learning what food group and type of food is suited to your body and keeps you full across the day but also is aiding those microbes within your body that impact the way you function more than you would know!