If you think calorie counting is such a waste of time, what do I do instead? How do I prevent myself from eating too much? How do I stay at the same weight, year after year? The answer is simple.
6 Reasons to Stop Counting Calories
1) Labels can lie.
Yes. Labeling laws allow a 20% margin of error on the nutrition facts panel. That means your 100-calorie snack pack could be 119 calories. Or that 500-calorie TV dinner could be nearly 600 calories.
“[T]he ratio between the amount obtained by laboratory analysis and the amount declared on the product label in the Nutrition Facts panel must be 120% or less, i.e., the label is considered to be out of compliance if the nutrient content of a composite of the product is greater than 20% above the value declared on the label.” (FDA Guidance for Industry: Nutrition Labeling Manual)
2) Nutrients vary by season, variety, ripeness, etc.
While it’s nice to have the nutrient analysis of foods, there is no way food companies could analyze every variety of tomato from every region from every season from different growing conditions (i.e. organic vs. conventional) and every other variable for nutrients, including calories.
For e.g. super sweet summer tomato likely has more calories (and valuable nutrients) than that tasteless, pink one from the dead of winter. Which one would you rather eat?
3) “More calories equals weight gain” is not an exact science.
If calorie counting worked long-term, the USA would be the thinnest country in the world. We are a nation of compulsive dieters and you wouldn’t know it looking at us. The composition of what you’re eating is crucial to how many calories you eat and how many calories you burn.
In a comparative study of 3 diets: low-fat, low-glycemic, and low-carb. It was observed that those on the low-carb diet burned 350 calories more than the low-fat diet. (JAMA, 2012) And yet, our nutrition guidelines recommend a low-calorie, low-fat diet. Trouble is, when you focus on calories, you’re likely to eat less fat (since fat is more calorie-dense than carbohydrate and protein). And when you eat less fat, you’re likely to eat more carbohydrates. See the problem?
If you’re happy eating tasteless, low-fat food, going hungry, and not losing weight, by all means, count calories and cut fat out of your diet.
4) We don’t absorb all calories.
It’s true! A study on almond consumption in humans found that up to 20% of the calories were not absorbed. (J Agric Food Chem, 2008) The exact reason is unknown, but possibly due to the “cellular structure” of nuts and the way our bodies digest food.
In summary, a calorie is not necessarily a calorie: given the functional differences between edible plants, interfamily and even interspecies differences must be considered when making comparisons between food processing techniques. (Proc Natl Acad Sci, 2012)
There’s good evidence that our gut health (and gut bacteria) plays a role in how many calories we absorb from our food. (Amer J Clin Nutr, 2011)
5) Focusing on calories often means we restrict healthy foods.
This especially happens when it comes to fat. We often omit higher fat foods simply because they are higher in calories without taking into consideration what benefits we might get from them, such as staying fuller for longer (hungry), absorbing antioxidants from vegetables, and getting necessary nutrients, like fat-soluble vitamins. (This is crucially important for pregnant women who may become deficient in key brain-building nutrients if they restrict fat.)
Choose to fully ignore calorie labels, especially on real foods that are naturally high in fat such as meat, fish, eggs, cheese, butter, avocados, olives, nuts, and seeds. There are innumerable benefits to eating them, and you cannot end up overeating every time.
6) Too much math.
Honestly, NO one has the time or energy to calculate everything that goes into one’s mouth. That probably sounds odd, but this can be done and is best done without counting. Counting calories is especially fruitless when you know #1-5.
11 things to do instead of counting calories:
- I listen to my body.
- I always eat when I’m hungry. (Here’s how to know if you’re truly hungry.)
- I eat foods that I’m actually in the mood to eat.
- I put my full attention on the meal in front of me.
- I notice the sensations in my body before, during, and after eating.
- I sit down when I eat.
- I chew every bite before taking another.
- I savor the flavors, texture, mouth feel, sounds, richness, crunchiness or softness, saltiness, or sweetness.
- I make an effort to eat healthy foods and make an equal effort to eat the healthy foods that taste good to me.
- I sometimes choose to eat foods purely for the pleasure of eating them, even when they are not “healthy”.
- I sometimes choose to eat more food than is comfortable, either because the food tastes really good or because I know I won’t have time to eat again for a while (such as during a busy work day).