Does Calorie Counting Actually Work?
Lots of people love calorie counting. Even though it’s a flawed process, it doesn’t stop people from using it as technique for weight loss. It’s usually done so it can give a rationale for exercising; if you can track the numbers, you feel like you’re fulfilling a purpose by exercising because you expect to lose weight with all the calories you burn. It’s similar to going to work and getting paid; if you stopped seeing your check directly deposited in your bank account, I’m pretty sure you would stop going into work (along with having a momentary freak out). For many, counting calories is a system of checks and balances. The problem is that those checks and balances may not be as perfect as we thought they were.
There are too many variables involved to accurately measure the caloric content of food, such as the ripeness of produce, the soil content that food was grown in, level of processing, and how the animal was treated. It’s estimated that a calorie value for food has a 25% margin of error (1). Furthermore, it’s possible that the devices that measure calorie burning (apps, heart rate monitors, etc) may also be off by around 25%! That means you can spend all that time logging information and be off by nearly 50% – yikes!
Calorie counting is also a habit that’s nice too popular in public. Those who tediously count calories can tend to get a little neurotic, and this practice can make you the unpopular kid at the party. Who wants to be that person at a kid’s birthday party measuring their slice of pizza? I’ve seen the nasty side with these number munchers – people who literally counted every almond they ate, and trust me – you don’t want to be that person.
Thanks to my coaching under Precision Nutrition, I’ve learned practical ways for people to control their calorie intake without succumbing to spending hours calorie counting. Actually, I’ve found that trying to count calories can become so overwhelming that people give up. My advice? Instead focus on one thing to change, and one thing only. This may mean simply having breakfast in the morning, or drinking more water. Whatever it may be, stick to that one change for 2 to 4 weeks. If it was a success, add something else to change. After several months, you’ve changed several life habits and are much closer to getting in shape than you ever would have been punching meals into a calculator.
1. Berardi, John. Andrews, Ryan. The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition 2nd ed. Precision Nutrition. 2013.pp 50