WHY Count Calories?

- POSTED ON: Apr 06, 2013

Why Count Calories?

Weight loss is difficult.

No Diet / “Way-of-Eating” /” Lifestyle” / “Non-Diet” transforms our eating habits overnight. Nor will it change the fact that we live in a culture where overeating is the national pastime. To lose a significant amount of weight … especially when one has had great difficulty losing weight in the past, …. it’s a good idea to count calories.

Counting calories is tedious.
Yes, this DOES require keeping some kind of food log and then laboriously converting that food into calories (or buying a software program that will do it. My own personal choice is DietPower) Yes, it is especially difficult to count calories when eating a lot of meals away from home and on the run.

As irksome as this task may be, it is not the main reason people hate to count calories. The heart of this resistance is the reluctance to become Accountable for our own behavior.

If we record every morsel of food that we eat, we can no longer deny the way we regularly overeat.

Most overweight people eat far more than they realize. The statistics are sobering. A paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine stated that obese women were eating 47 percent more calories than they were aware. These women truly believed that they were eating modest amounts of foods and that their obesity was caused by a physical problem, such as a slow metabolism or other disorder. When their physical tests came back normal, they were forced to take a closer look at how much they were really eating.

Virtually everyone … even people without weight problems … underestimate how much they eat. In one study, a researcher was working with a group of lean, healthy young women. Part of the study involved having the women live in a metabolic ward where they would have no access to food other than their hospital meals. The researcher wanted the women to maintain their current weight, so she asked each one to estimate how much she normally consumed. Later, when she served the women the amount of food they thought they had been eating, they lost weight. The researcher had to add as many as 1,000 more calories a day to what they THOUGHT they had been eating, before they stopped shedding pounds.

  Why do we all eat more than we realize?
We know quite well that eating too much will make us fat. But we also have a very strong and understandable desire to comfort ourselves with food. Food tastes good. Food triggers soothing brain chemicals. But, above all else, eating is one of the most basic, primal ways to feel loved. When the road gets rocky … we've been turned down for a job, our lover doesn't call, we've been snubbed by a friend … that chocolate bar or plate of pasta will always be there for us, faithful, rewarding, and soothing.

So in order to be comforted by food and still maintain the illusion that we are eating moderately, we hide our food intake from our conscious minds.

There are a multitude of ways to keep from knowing how much we are eating. For example, many of us judge our food intake by how much we eat at sit-down meals when other people are present. So, we eat by ourselves. We eat standing up. We nibble while we are cooking dinner and cleaning up. We keep food in our desk drawers, glove compartments, and purses. We eat in the living room while the TV drains away our attention.

Portion size is another way we fool ourselves. We eat three huge slices of pizza and convince ourselves we've eaten just one serving. We gobble down mega-portions at restaurants and tell ourselves we've eaten normal-sized meals. We keep adding small spoonfuls of food to our plates at the dinner table and pretend we're not going back for seconds.

We cling to these strategies because they allow us to eat for comfort, yet hold on to the fantasy that we're trying to lose weight. It helps us have our cake and "diet" too.

The problem with this nearly universal strategy is that calories do count. Eat just 350 calories a day more than the body uses as energy, and ten days from now we’ll have gained a pound. A year from now we’ll have gained 36 pounds. Continue on and after three years or so, we’ll weigh 100 pounds more than today. Our private eating eventually shows up under our chins, around our bellies, and displayed on our behinds. Even if we remain in denial of our overeating, the resulting fat is there for everyone to see. 

 When we count calories by consistently logging our food into a computer food journal for a long time, we can become aware of ways in which we fool ourselves about the amount of calories that are ACTUALLY in our food-intake.

Our mistakes in accurately measuring the amounts of food we eat, together with the labeling mistakes of manufactured food can lead us to believe we have extremely low metabolisms.

However, the Truth is that no matter HOW consistently and how accurately we record our calories, we will make errors, and almost always those errors are overestimations. We judge the calories in our food to be lower than they really are. Eating one extra potato chip per day for a year can add up to a 1 lb gain. No matter what the number of our daily calorie average, if we carry excess weight and ... Over Time ... we are not losing weight, then we are eating more calories than our own individual body needs to sustain a normal weight.

All the expert’s charts and metabolic formulas are complied as AVERAGES. The way to find out how many calories any single individual needs to sustain any specified individual weight is by carefully and consistently recording one’s own calorie intake for a long period of time. 

 The solution? Be Honest with ourselves
Although this may be a rude awakening, it can bring great rewards. In a one study, Kaiser Permanente enrolled 2037 overweight people in a year-long weight loss program. All the volunteers were advised to eat 500 fewer calories a day and exercise for 30 minutes. But in addition, some of the volunteers were asked to count calories as well, either once a week, 2-3 days a week, 3-4 days a week, or 5 days a week.

As you can see by the graph below, counting calories made a difference in how people fared on the program. (The higher the line, the more people lost.)

After a full year of dieting and exercising, the people who did not count calories at all (represented by the orange line on the graph) weighed more than they had at the beginning of the study.. This is the fate of most people who "go on a diet" but continue on with mindless, unacknowledged eating.

The people who counted calories only one day a week (the green line) ended up about where they had started. Those who counted calories three to four days a week (the pink line) did better and lost an average of about ten pounds. Those who counted calories five or more days a week (the black line) shed an average of 23 pounds.

Why was counting calories the key to success? It left the dieters no place to hide. They had to acknowledge that the extra piece of bread at breakfast and the three o'clock candy bar had racked up 450 calories. That left them only 400 calories for dinner. They would have to forgo the buttered roll and take a smaller helping of the main dish. Because they had the information they needed to stay within their caloric limits, they began losing weight. Losing weight made them willing to stay on the program. Because they kept on the program, they kept losing weight.

The Bottom line is: Whether we count calories or not, the amount of calories we eat matters. This is a Universal Fact of Life which always holds true… irrespective of the types of individual macronutrients (protein, fat, carbs) that exist in the foods we choose to eat. See more about this by reading some of my previous articles on this subject.

DietHobby has many previous articles about counting calories. A few of these are:

More About Calories

Do Calories Matter?

Calorie Detective – Lying Food Labels

Leave me a comment.

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Existing Comments:

On Apr 09, 2013 jethro wrote:
Recently I met a doctor at a party - whose weight was proportional to height - that claimed he had success with patients that needed to lose weight with the following advice: Eat what you normally eat but only half of it.

On Apr 09, 2013 Dr. Collins wrote:
             Jethro, certainly *IF* a person is normally eating exactly twice as many calories as it would take to maintain their "normal" weight, and eliminates one-half of this amount, the technique would work.

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