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The truth about calorie counting

Updated: Apr 16, 2022

Unless you’ve lived under a rock all your life, you’ve most likely given calorie counting a go. The calories we eat from food are tallied up, then compared against the calories we burn in the day. Simple maths, right? ⁣

Well if weight management was that simple, we certainly wouldn’t have so many issues with malnutrition. Let’s discuss why calorie counting is flawed. ⁣

Its all an estimate. The calories on our food labels? Its an average, the actual calories contained from packet to packet will likely be different. The calories our smart watch told us that we burned? Also based on averages. The metabolism that MyFitnessPal calculates? An estimate. Unless we’re in a controlled environment (i.e. indirect calorimeter) - an equation of averages will never be an exact science. ⁣

My body will extract calories (and nutrients) from food, differently to somebody elses. Evidence tells us that our digestion has an important role here. For example, how many times we chew food, and how the bacteria in our gut metabolises energy. ⁣

How we process food can make calories from food easier to absorb. Here I am referring to cooking method, chopping, blending etc. Then even the composition of the food we eat impacts the absorption of calories from food. For example, the fibre in sweetcorn or nuts means less is absorbed. ⁣

Our metabolism will decrease as we lose weight, so overtime our calories out (i.e. energy expenditure) will change. This will be met by neurological and hormonal changes that will urge us to seek food. These are the survival mechanisms that kept our ancestors alive. But irritatingly inconvenient in the modern world, where energy-dense foods are everywhere. ⁣

Should we ditch calorie counting?⁣

Yes and no. Calorie counting can be a short term, reflection tool to help someone get an insight into the types of foods they are eating as well as a general understanding of calories eaten. ⁣

But it doesn’t give us the full picture (exercise, stress, sleep etc). Plus when used religiously it can become restrictive, stressful and unsustainable. Instead, find health in a way that you enjoy#nutrition #diettips #studentdietitian #myfitnesspal

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