Did you fall for the trap that says counting calories is important for weight loss?
I know I did. I painstakingly weighed and measured everything down to the gram. If I was slightly over or under I’d adjust until I hit that perfect number I was after.
Given my technical background I even spent hours crafting my own counting calories worksheet so I could track everything I put into my body with ultimate precision.
Think I’m kidding? Take a look below.
Beautiful isn’t it?
But how important is counting calories for fat loss really?
As a former engineer I would love nothing more than to believe I could contain everything fitness related into a compact equation.
But here’s the problem our bodies are so complex that believing we can assign a formula to them simply just gives us the illusion of control.
Let me outline some reasons why we can never say with certainty how many calories we are eating on any given day.
First let’s look at a quick definition of what is a calorie anyway.
A calorie is a unit of heat measurement. It represents the heat required to raise the temperature of one gram of water by 1 degree Celsius.
In order to determine the calorie content of food scientist burn food in a bomb calorimeter. As the food is ignited and burned it heats up the surrounding water therefore providing the amount of calories in that particular food.
Sounds great. So what’s the problem?
Well for one our bodies are not a bomb calorimeter. We don’t burn the food once it enters our bodies. We digest it.
And we don’t digest all of it.
In fact, you could be eating an identical meal as your friend thinking you are consuming the same amount of calories. But in reality you are not. Our bodies are complex. We are all unique and don’t necessarily digest food the same as the next person.
And do you really think every food item in the world has been tested with a bomb calorimeter?
To test every food item/product ever put on a grocery store shelf would be quite the undertaking. No one is going to invest the time and money to do so.
So the majority of calorie information we see on food labels or online databases is just an approximation.
Here is the other problem…
Nutrient and energy content for food isn’t uniform across the board. But for nutritional information it is treated as such. Once a piece of broccoli was tested it became the standard value for all nutrition and calorie information for all broccoli, for example.
Below are just some of the reasons that can cause nutrition and calorie content inaccuracies:
Fiber content – our bodies do not receive energy from fiber compared to the way it is tested in a bomb calorimeter
Old Data – original test data that is still being used to establish nutritional information can be outdated and inaccurate
Soil and growing conditions – how nutrient rich or depleted the soil used for growing produce effects the nutrient and energy content
Length of Storage – Are you eating it a day after it was harvested or 3 weeks?
Ripeness at the time of harvest – Was the produce picked at peak season or out of season?
Animal’s diets – how the animal lived and what they ate is going to affect the nutrient and energy content of the eggs, meat, and dairy you are eating.
Cooking time – Eating food raw is different than eating food cooked. The length of time and method used to cook the food is also going to have an effect on the amount of energy and nutrients our bodies receive from it.
Taking everything into account your best calorie estimate can have a potential error of up to +/- 25 percent!
What about if you eat out at healthy restaurants? Those nutrition labels are accurate right?
Not quite. Research has show restaurant meals can have their calorie counts off by as much as 18%.
Does this mean counting calories is a complete waste of time?
While I’m not here to say counting calories is a bad thing in and of itself. It can be a tool for establishing baseline values. However, what I discovered is it’s not a practical way of living for the majority of the population.
They don’t have the time or patience to track everything they are eating. Nor do they want to live life like that.
It may be too hard for the average person just looking to get in shape and be healthy.
In some cases it can lead to counting calories obsessively and make people crazy taking the joy of eating out of their life.
We need to learn to listen to what our bodies are telling us and stop relying of some math equation to tell us how much we should be eating.
If you are sick and tired of counting calories and would like a better solution download my free guide that describes the 4 habits you can implement starting today.
Let me know what you think!