Counting Calories on Keto, Paleo, and Carnivore Diets:

A Nuanced Approach

yellow and green fruit on brown weighing scale
yellow and green fruit on brown weighing scale


The concept of counting calories has been a cornerstone of weight management for decades. However, when it comes to specialized diets like Keto, Paleo, and Carnivore, the traditional calorie-counting approach often falls short. This article aims to delve deeper into why not all calories are created equal and how metabolic hormones can significantly impact your eating habits and overall health.

Counting Calories: The Traditional Approach

The conventional wisdom has been straightforward: consume fewer calories than you burn to lose weight. While this calorie-in, calorie-out model provides a simplified approach to weight management, it often overlooks the quality of the calories consumed and how they interact with your body's unique metabolic processes.

Keto Diet and Calories: The High-Fat Paradigm

In the Keto diet, the primary focus is on consuming high-fat, moderate-protein, and low-carbohydrate foods. Fats are more calorie-dense, providing 9 calories per gram as opposed to 4 calories per gram for proteins and carbohydrates. However, fats are incredibly satiating, which often leads to reduced overall caloric intake without the need for strict calorie counting. The high-fat nature of the diet also supports stable blood sugar levels, reducing the likelihood of hunger spikes throughout the day(1).

Paleo Diet and Calories: The Whole Foods Focus

The Paleo diet emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods like lean meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. While the diet doesn't explicitly require calorie counting, being mindful of portion sizes can be beneficial, especially for those looking to lose weight. The nutrient density of the foods on this diet often leads to increased satiety, making it easier to maintain a calorie deficit without feeling deprived(2).

Carnivore Diet and Calories: Protein-Powered Satiety

The Carnivore diet is unique in that it consists mainly of animal products, which are naturally high in protein and fats. Protein is particularly effective at inducing satiety due to its influence on hunger hormones like ghrelin and peptide YY(3). As a result, many people find that they naturally eat less on the Carnivore diet, negating the need for meticulous calorie counting.

Not All Calories Are Created Equal: The Role of Satiety

The concept of satiety is crucial when discussing calories. Foods rich in protein and healthy fats often have a higher satiety index compared to high-carbohydrate foods. For example, consuming 200 calories of avocado will have a different impact on your hunger levels than 200 calories of a sugary snack. The former is likely to keep you full for a longer period, reducing the need for additional caloric intake(4).

The Hormonal Landscape: Blood Sugar, Ghrelin, and Metabolic Hormones

  • Blood Sugar: Foods that cause rapid spikes and subsequent drops in blood sugar can lead to increased hunger and cravings. Low-carb diets like Keto help stabilize blood sugar, reducing the need for frequent meals(5).

  • Ghrelin: This "hunger hormone" can be significantly influenced by your diet. High-protein foods have been shown to suppress ghrelin, reducing overall hunger levels(6).

  • Metabolic Hormones: Insulin and leptin are key hormones that regulate hunger and energy expenditure. Diets rich in whole, unprocessed foods can help balance these hormones, leading to more effective weight management(7).


While the traditional approach of counting calories provides a simplified framework for weight management, it's far from the only factor to consider, especially when following specialized diets like Keto, Paleo, and Carnivore. By understanding the quality of the calories you consume and how they interact with your body's metabolic hormones, you can adopt a more nuanced and effective approach to managing your weight and overall health.


  1. Nutritional Ketosis and Weight Loss

  2. Paleo Diet and Satiety

  3. Protein, Weight Management, and Satiety

  4. Satiety Index of Common Foods

  5. Low-Carb Diets and Blood Sugar

  6. Ghrelin, Hunger, and Protein

  7. Insulin, Leptin, and Weight Loss