Should you stop counting calories? Should you start counting calories? I have often thought about it; this year I actually started counting. I downloaded the free My Fitness Pal app and went all in. It has been an education. I never knew or even really considered how many calories are in an apple, an arugula salad, or a handful of chocolate covered almonds. Now I do.
As of today, I’ve been counting calories for 101 days! I am very proud of myself for sticking to something for that long. But I am also at exactly the same weight I was in the beginning of January. My progress report is a flatline, which is a bit of a downer.
I typed in my weight and what I thought was a very moderate goal of losing 10 pounds in five months, My Fitness Pal gave me a calorie goal of 1,310 calories per day. Which initially seemed reasonable, but ultimately feels impossible. Maybe it’s time for me to rethink this particular path to a skinny summer? I decided to ask Doctor Google.
The good doctor overwhelmingly recommends against counting calories. Hallelujah, brothers and sisters! Here are four reasons why:
My Fitness Pal, or any other app for that matter, has no idea how many calories among those elusive 1,310 my body is actually absorbing. The body breaks down protein, fat, and carbs differently. And when it comes to plant-based foods, calorie absorption is very hard to track. Some fruits and veggies have tough cell walls that the body cannot digest; these pass through the system unabsorbed. My Fitness Pal is not sophisticated enough to know the difference.
Apps like MFP, use averages. For example, “one medium apple” contains 80 calories. Medium? How big is medium? And there are hundreds of apple varieties. Fuji, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Pink Lady, Elf Star, Empire, Ginger Gold, Honeycrisp…The flavor of an apple is determined in part by its sugar content. Different sugar content, different calorie count.
Calories counts on packages are not always accurate. Check this out from FDA.gov: “The label is considered to be out of compliance if the nutrient content of a composite of the product is greater than 20% above the value declared on the label.” That’s a pretty wide margin of error that can make your progress report flatline.
As it turns out, the foods we eat with pleasure yield greater nutrition than those we eat unhappily. In the article entitled The Metabolic Power of Pleasure on PsychologyOfEating.com, it’s called Vitamin P (p for pleasure) and states: “the nutritional value of a food is not merely given in the nutrients it contains, but is dependent upon the synergistic factors that helps us absorb those nutrients… Remove Vitamin P: Pleasure, and the nutritional value of our food plummets…Add Vitamin P and your meal is metabolically optimized.” Calorie counting is a pretty effective way to remove Vitamin P.
“Calorie counting adds to the misconception you can “work off” the food you eat,” writes Abby Langer, R.D. in “Here’s Why Counting Calories Really Isn’t Necessary for Weight Loss” on Self.com. This was a real downer for me. As a CrossFit fan, I’d been counting on this one. (Now my flatline progress report is making more sense!)
Certainly if you eat too many calories, you will gain weight, but calories alone do not paint the whole picture. How you eat what you eat, how you sleep, your stress levels, your exercise regimen, even your hormones all impact the effect calories have on your body.
Next week we’ll look into what to do instead of counting calories. We’re very much looking forward to it.