Why Counting Calories Sucks!

If you were looking for yet another calorie counter, I’m sorry.

Nothing blows my skirt up…I mean shirt up like the good ol’ calorie debate. To count, or not to count, that is the question.

I mean, what is a calorie really anyway?

Well, it’s a unit of measure, originally measuring heat but now commonly understood as a measure of energy for our food consumption and our exercise prescription. It’s technically really a kilocalorie (kcal) and it’s the amount of energy needed to raise a kilogram of water 1 degree celsius.

This is kind of besides the point here.

The point is that apparently you should be counting them because that’s really what is going to solve all of your weight problems.

I hope people detect my sarcasm there, because I’m really trying to lay it on thick in this post.

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that tracking something — anything even, they’ve shown simply taking a photo of what you eat at every meal can be used too — can help you lose weight.

We know that this works, but is it a short-term solution or a long-term one?

Do you know anyone that has lost weight and kept it off for an entire lifetime by counting their calories at every meal, every day?

I don’t…

In my quest to optimize weight loss and consequent weight maintenance, I’ve come to the conclusion that calorie counting works best for short-term objectives at a high level of nutritional skill and overall great nutritional habits or behaviors.

It is not a long-term solution.

I would like to meet someone who has been able to ‘count calories’ their entire life as a good ‘long-term’ weight maintenance strategy.

If you know someone, please have them contact me.

I want to understand how boring and mundane their life must be, so I can coach others to do the opposite.

Also, I worry about their relationship with food; Human beings shouldn’t view food merely as energy in, energy out, it’s so much more than that!

Counting calories is not the solution to our obesity epidemic.

I would actually go so far as to say that it’s part of the problem, not part of the solution.

It’s the corporate short-term thinking that plagues most big businesses.

People who generally count calories do so for a short amount of time, typically until they reach their goal weight (or close to), and then they stop eating right, stop counting their calories then put on all that weight +10 lbs more.

Wash, Rinse and Repeat.

This is now known as the infamous yo-yo cycle, which is probably worse for our health than being 10-20 lbs overweight for years on end anyway.

So you, like many people, may lose a bunch of weight and you get to where you would like to be, then what?

That’s really what I think we should be attacking at this point. The ‘then what’ moment.

I have no idea where this notion came from but the idea that everything you put into your mouth is going to be digested at portions equal to a lab experiment.

However, if you didn’t already know, that’s how we measure the calories in food, we burn the food then measure the heat displacement, using something called a Bomb Calorimeter.

Think your stomach works like that?

We know it doesn’t, but counting calories like that is still the norm.

We have an idea of what’s going on in the body, but we don’t know it all (yet).

There is a whole slew of things going on.

You consume food, which contains macro-nutrients like protein, carbohydrates and fats.

Protein and Carbohydrates are considered 4 calories per gram while fat is considered 9 calories per gram and believe it or not, alcohol is 7 calories per gram/ml.

Now, as you digest those macro-nutrients we actually waste a huge amount of energy just digesting them, this is often referred to as the ‘Thermic Effect of Food.’

Certain macro-nutrients seem to show a greater thermic effect than others.

Protein requires more energy to digest than carbohydrates, and carbohydrates require more energy to digest than fat and fiber isn’t absorbed. So right there a calorie, is really not just a calorie.

This doesn’t even take into a account what really happens when you consume multiple macro-nutrients at one time, or in succession.

Who still believes that 25 grams of lean protein is the same as 25 grams of sugar?

Even if the calorically speaking (relative to incineration) they are about the same number of calories…

We do know that consuming protein, fat or fiber slows how quickly, simple carbohydrates can make it to the blood stream, otherwise causing a spike in the hormone insulin.

Thereby reducing the glycemic load of many sugary, processed carbohydrates. — I’m not suggesting that you eat sugary processed carbohydrates as long as you eat protein, fat or fiber. They should still be avoided the majority of the time.

There is also some new research looking at how gut health can play a role in the absorption of nutrients including calories and potentially how gastric emptying can play a part in calories not being absorbed too. It would be foolish, I think, to assume that your body will absorb all of the calories you feed it, all of the time.

Those suffering from Coeliac Disease and have consumed gluten, may have very little nutritional uptake ability in the small intestine.

This is all just a taste of all the reasons why counting calories may not be as important as you’ve been made to believe. I’m potentially leaving out a lot of the data here because there is really a ton of it now suggesting what may or may not really happen in the body. Even genetics will certainly play a role to some extent.

I think it is safe to say that this explains why a binge day or a super hard diet day do not really affect body weight all that much. There appears to be an accumulation effect that takes place over days, weeks or months that really causes the noticeable changes. This is also another great validation as to why we don’t have to worry about being perfect just consistent.

It turns out that calories are actually a really bad representation of our food consumption and our exercise regimes — yes I detest the watch calorie counters or the ones on the cardiovascular machines at your commercial gym.

The calories listed on your nutritional labels may be off by up to 10%…

Not to mention counting calories is a really annoying way to live your life!

Small Note: Aerobic training technically burns more calories than weight training, yet I’ve personally watched weight training yield far better body re-composition goals and weight changes with much less time spent. This just offers further anecdotal evidence to my rationale for not counting calories.

Now, there is an endless trail of research showing the efficacy of ‘calories counting’ as the superior method for weight loss. There is also one giant experiment, ‘Weight-Watchers’ proving that quantifying anything is really what makes the difference. If you take pictures of all the food you eat, you can lose weight too because the measure is what is truly important, not the calories in or calories out.

As a result, you do need to find ‘something’ to measure as a goal. My recommendation; choose a strategy that you don’t have to do every single meal of every single day.

Instead choose something like body composition or girth that only needs to be done weekly or less. It’s certainly not several times daily.

Second, hire a good coach to work with you on some healthy eating habits. They are different for everyone, but you do not need a detailed meal plan to get results, you need to fix bad habits like eating processed foods too often and at bad times of day.

Get off the yo-yo cycle and welcome to healthy living!

*Note: I’m not saying NEVER COUNT calories. It has a time and a place, say you’re training for a photo shoot, or a competition. Maybe you’re a high level aesthetics worker like an actor or model. It just shouldn’t be used as much as it is with most people, it’s an intermediate to advanced nutrition strategy, not an everyday one.