What's the Point in Calorie Counting?
What always struck me about my wife is how healthy she is. I know very few people who put more thought in what foods to eat than she does. That's why I also found it shocking to hear that she didn't think that calorie counting works. Her point was that 100 calories of red meat were not the same as 100 calories of green vegetables.
Her point is missing the point. Calorie counting is not about the scientific details of metabolism, but about the educational process and behavioral changes that have a much higher impact when trying to lose weight. Let me explain:
- Educational process: how is an average person with no training in nutrition supposed to know the weight of 100 calories of meat? Is it 1 ounce? 2 ounces? 3? Without looking up nutrition labels and learning how to estimate calorie counts of your favorite foods, your margin of error will be significant and could easily add hundreds of calories to your intake - every day!
- Behavioral changes: who doesn't like chocolate? What about coffee? Beer or wine? Popcorn in movie theaters? The fact is, we are surrounded by calories every step along our way to work, during our work hours, on the way back home, while having fun out in the city, and even at home in front of the TV. My experience is that everyone underestimates the calories that come on top of our main meals.
So, in a highly unexpected turn of events, the love of my life announced yesterday that she wanted to try calorie counting for one day. She created an account on Calorie Count, checked the box to receive the newsletter, and logged every single food and ingredient we had for breakfast. At that point, I already won the educational process part - her estimate was off by more than 30%.
We spent most of the afternoon out in the city, so she made heavy use of our mobile site when we stopped in Starbucks, went to the movie theater, and later also met a friend of ours for a drink. With each new food or drink that we looked up on our phones, it became clearer and clearer that she was not going to meet her calorie goal that she had set for herself in the morning. In fact, she ended up exceeding it by 55%.
Obviously, it was a Sunday and we had a lot of fun spending the whole day together which definitely contributed to this higher than usual consumption of foods and drinks. That said, she did admit that she was surprised by the total number of calories we logged, and I think this illustrates the point of our service: knowledge is power (or, in other words: it's ok to cheat as long as you know the truth).
The bottom line is: it's easy to pay too much attention to all the new claims and discoveries featured in countless diet books that come out every year. Some of those books might have a point, others might not. But what's really going to make the most impact on your waistline is knowledge of foods, the ability and habit of planning your meals, and community support. That's our point.
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