We need to move on from Calorie counting. It doesn’t work and could actually be doing you harm!
I honestly thought calorie counting had been left behind in the nineties, but apparently not! After coaching a couple of clients around calorie counting recently, I dug into some research to find some studies to give me some street-cred when I say: Counting calories is a WASTE OF YOUR TIME!
Before I dive into all the reasons why calories don’t count, I’ll give you the only reason why they do. Its a fundamental law of physics that energy does not just disappear, so I’ll just clarify that…
- To lose weight; you need to create an energy (calorie) deficit by eating less than you need each day
- To gain weight; you need an energy surplus by eating more than you need each day
This is the only way to alter fat stores in the body, if you eat too many calories of anything (protein, fats, carbohydrates, alcohol) you will GAIN weight. Eat too little and you will lose weight.
No matter what diet plan you go on, the cause of any weight change is the balance of energy in vs energy out. So naturally you can see why we might want to count & measure our calories so we can tip the scales towards our goals! However…
1. Your caloric need estimate is probably wrong…
The first step to counting calories is to work out how many you need to consume each day. However, there are so many factors involved in how your body processes and uses energy, that the number you come up with is probably dead wrong.
Any of the calorie tracker apps, books and equations that ask for your age, height, weight and sex are missing a huge number of variables that are just as important.Your age, current weight, sex, physical activity, metabolic type and immune function are all examples of things that account for your energy requirements.
2. Your calorie counts are probably wrong.
There are so many variables that it is highly complicated to get right. Even if you carefully weigh your food and accurately record every morsel that you eat!
Firstly, you probably make compromises in your journalling (eg, recording your large Royal Gala apple as a small Granny Smith because you can’t find it in your tracker). These differences certainly add up and can drastically throw out your count by the end of each day.
Nutrition labels can be out by 8-18%
Calorie (or kilojoule) values listed on product packaging can be highly inaccurate. This study is one of many illustrating the variations in energy of products labelled ‘reduced-calorie’ or for weight management. Some of the restaurant items were 200% higher than what they claimed! 
The calorie value of a food outside of the human body is not the same as inside.
Calories are measured in a laboratory controlled environment. Just because a food has 100 calories in the lab, does not mean our body gets 100 calories. How much energy we get depends on how well we digest and absorb our food and also how much energy we expend to break it down.
For example, we burn through more calories to digest 100kCal of raw apple, than we would to digest and absorb 100kCal of apple juice. The juice would be absorbed immediately and in our blood stream within minutes, whereas the whole apple has fibre and other nutrients that need to be broken down first. A calorie is a calorie? I don’t think so!
Counting the calories you burn at the gym? Yep, thats probably off too
As fun as it is to watch that little calorie counter on the treadmill, elliptical trailer or rowing machine tick over, entering that number into your tracker is all but guaranteed to be wrong. Even your personalised fitness tracker (Like a FitBit) is at best, a guesstimate of your calorie expenditure.
Another study illustrates just how inaccurate energy expenditure estimations can be. The participants were split into two groups; a 200kCal and 300kCal group. Both groups overestimated how many calories they actually burned by 3-4 times. Yikes! 
3. Food is so much more than just fuel!
By counting calories and obsessing over the number of calories in food; you are essentially reducing food to petrol, your body to a dumb machine and you to a calorie accountant. But you are so much more than that!
Food = information.
When you eat you are giving your body messages; do this, don’t do that; release this hormone, express this protein; switch on this gene, trigger this immune cell. Food is smart, and so is your body.
WHAT you eat is more important than how much
If you start counting calories, you might be tempted to think it doesn’t matter what you eat, so long as you stay under your caloric goal each day. But we now know that is not the whole truth. Generally, whole, minimally processed foods are lower in calories and therefore you can eat more of them, without worrying about going over your daily calorie allowance. Below you can see broccoli vs peanut butter. You could very easily consume all of the peanut butter (and more!) but you’d probably eat half of the broccoli and be satisfied.
4. Calorie Counting is STRESSFUL!
Stressing out over calories to try and lose weight is counter-productive, because stress is directly linked to weight gain, obesity and eating disorders. 
5. Counting calories can complicate your relationship with food!
Stop counting calories if you want a healthier relationship with food, without stress and frustration. Eating should be a natural, intuitive experience that nourishes your WHOLE self, mind and body. It shouldn’t be about deprivation!
As I mentioned at the beginning, to lose weight some sacrifices do need to be made. However, that does not mean that you should be starving or eating bland, flavourless food. Instead simply focus on eating natural foods like lean meats, nuts, fruit and vegetables in their original (minimally processed) form. Slow down and enjoy the act of eating a meal. Eat mindfully. Tune into your body and eat when you’re hungry and don’t when you’re not.
Adopting a Mindful eating approach might not be sexy, takes a little bit more time and challenges some of our cultural norms but it is the only way to set yourself up for a lifetime of diet-free living.
- CC Simpson + Mazzeo SE “Calorie counting and fitness tracking technology: Associations with eating disorder symptomatology.” Retrieved on 8/7/2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28214452
- Urban LE, Dallal GE, Robinson LM, Ausman LM, Saltzman E, Roberts SB “The accuracy of stated energy contents of reduced-energy, commercially prepared foods. Retrieved on 8/7/2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20102837
- Willbond SM, Laviolette MA, Duval K, Doucet E “Normal weight men and women overestimate exercise energy expenditure. Retrieved on 8/7/2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21178922
- Razzoli M, Pearson C, Crow S, Bartolomucci A “Stress, overeating and obesity: insights from human studies and preclinical models.” Retrieved on 8/7/2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28292531