Counting Calories as Part of Your Weight Loss Program is Pointless

Counting Calories as Part of Your Weight Loss Program is Pointless

We all know by now that the optimal weight loss method can be simplified down to making your caloric usage greater than your caloric intake. More calories out than calories in. Here's my thesis: the problem with this idea is that if you are basing your calories on food labels, you're going on potentially incorrect information. What you read on a package label is often inaccurate, so it's sort of like throwing darts while wearing a blind fold.

This is just my opinion, but I think the logic is sound. Let me explain.

First, burning calories is hard work. It always amazes me when I bust a gut working out for an hour to use up just a few hundred calories, and then with one muffin, I put them all back. Now I'm rigorous about some things, and not so about others, and counting calories is one of the not so. But having an accounting of everything you eat so you can manage your weight is a logical necessity for many who struggle with weight.

It's a mathematical truth that if you take in more than you expend out, you will gain weight. With our lifestyles such as they are, we are often forced to opt for convenience with food. So naturally, the end result is a whole slew of people obsessing over food labels and caloric numbers in an effort to stay on track.

But here's the food label problem:

While food labels are mandatory, the accuracy behind them is unregulated and for a large part, inaccurate. While there have been several clinical tests to back this up, just for curiosity, we did our own less scientific trial. Using our own calorimeter, we tested 10 products ranging from fast food fried chicken to bakery muffins to beverages to frozen dinners. In almost every case, the actual caloric value was anywhere from 10-40% more than was actually stated on the packaging label or nutritional breakdown.

Now we weren't trying to be clinical and obviously the sample was tiny (we aren't going to list the products we chose.) We were just curious whether the tests we read about showing that labels are often incorrect (i.e. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3605747) were actually valid or not. From our small sampling, we can safely say that at the very least, you cannot always trust what a label is telling you. What it did say is that statistically speaking, the odds are that there is a problem. And if that is the case, then the discipline you are employing to keep score of your caloric intake is both misguided and sort of pointless.

So what does this mean?

It means that counting your calories from food labels is silly. It may be valuable as a general guide to your intake levels, but it is not something you can use as a strict baseline for your diet. Moreover, knowing exactly how much energy is being used by your body at any point is next to impossible without sophisticated equipment. There are just too many variables. Plus, it takes so much effort to burn off these calories, if your numbers of those coming in are off, then the whole plan is sketchy at best. It makes sense to me.

But you need a diet plan, so what's the alternative, you might ask?
 

If you are serious, there really is only one. And in truth, it's not a bad plan at all from a health perspective.

You should make as much of your own food as possible. Stay away from store bought foods already packaged, or foods made in a restaurant.

According to the NIH, consumption of food outside the home increased significantly over the last 4 decades, with one study suggesting that nearly all increases in calorie consumption during this time were due primarily to increased snack food consumption. We're eating more of the wrong foods, and they likely contain more calories. So if you are looking for another reason to give up these palate-pleasing but gut-busting foods, this is a good one.

That last bag of chips may have represented more calories than you bargained for!

And if you're on a tight budget, that may spell disaster.

Here's an alternate plan. You should learn the basic caloric value of all your ingredients. There are databases (try nutritiondata.com) you can look at to see the caloric value of foods in their natural state (by weight.) It doesn't need to be an exact science (unless you want to go the whole way, which is too extreme for me) but it can be pretty close to accurate with a few basic rules. I have gotten really good at assessing my daily intake just with practice. It's certainly much better at least than relying on food labels.

Only use whole food ingredients like vegetables, grains, proteins, fruits, seeds, nuts, etc. This way you can know what the actual value is for the portion size. When you prepare a recipe, whether it be eggs and fruit for breakfast, a fancy fish stew for dinner, or a trail mix for a snack, using these foods will allow you to get an accurate caloric idea of what you have put into it.

After a while, you will get to the point where you can look at a recipe and get a quick idea of the caloric value just from this practice. In my own efforts to maintain my weight as I age, I have found that this approach is both successful from the caloric equation perspective, but also because it forces me to make my own food. And that will always be the best option! So even if I am completely wrong, it's a no-lose decision.

Related Posts: 
Cooking Up Healthy Weight Loss with Fat Burning Foods
Calorie Restriction is a Gulp from the Fountain of Youth
Why Junk Food Should Be Exorcised From Your Diet 
Easier Weight Loss - Tips for Losing Weight Without Struggling

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The opinions expressed in this article are of the author. Content and other information presented on the site are not meant to be medical advice or any substitute for professional advice, counseling, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard professional medical or mental health advice from your physician or other qualified health provider.


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