The Unknown Consequences of Calorie Counting

You’ve probably heard of the calories in/calories out concept if you’re conscious about your body’s health. his weight loss concept argues that you must burn more calories than you consume to lose weight. While this is accurate in theory, it’s a highly simplistic weight loss model in practice. For starters, the method ignores how the content of those calories impacts your body, including everything from blood sugar levels to insulin levels to digestion, hunger hormones, and cravings.

Even rigorous calorie calculations don’t always produce consistent results. The sort of food you eat, your body’s metabolism, and even the kind of bacteria residing in your gut all influence how many calories your body burns. You can eat the same number of calories as someone else and still have drastically different weight-loss results.

Firstly, what exactly are calories?

Calories are metric units of energy and are defined as “the amount of heat required to increase the temperature of one gram of water by one degree”. When the word “calorie” is used in relation to food, however, most people refer to the number of kilocalories in a given item provided on nutrition labels. The calorie equivalent of 1,000 tiny calories is one kilocalorie (kcal).

Our bodies obtain calories from the foods we eat, which gives us the energy we need to survive and stay healthy. Whether we’re relaxing on the couch for hours on end or running a marathon, everything we do requires energy in the form of calories.

It can affect those with poor mental health

It is simple to break strict rules imposed on your diet when using the calories in/out method. People frequently interpret going above their limits as “failures” and will have to make up for it in the following days. Continued “failures” can lead to poor self-esteem in those who should be happy that they have already made the difficult decision to begin their weight loss journey.

 People who get preoccupied with calorie monitoring may compute and recalculate statistics all day, feel nervous about foods when they don’t know the calorie amount, and even avoid circumstances where this may happen. Individuals who have recovered from an eating disorder may find that not stressing over calorie levels is a huge relief.

The habitual act of viewing calorie information can also be detrimental to one’s mental wellbeing, as the simple act of avoiding calorie information can be extremely difficult at times. Calorie counting may become so ingrained in people’s minds that they find it difficult to stop. People might develop obsessive thinking, which can lead to anxiety over food, especially for those who once suffered from eating disorders.

eating disorder

Simply counting calories isn’t practical for everyone

Everybody has a “set point” that regulates weight, which is called our metabolism or metabolic rate. According to Dr. Fatima Stanford, an obesity medicine scientist and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, the metabolic rate can have a major effect on the success of calorie counting. “This set point reflects multiple elements, including your genes, your environment, and your habits,” she says. Your hypothalamus, a brain area that regulates things like body temperature, keeps an eye on your weight to make sure it doesn’t fall below that set point—which isn’t exactly helpful if you’re trying to lose weight. Therefore, even if you’re eating and exercising rigorously, your weight may plateau. This is why, according to Dr Stanford, the majority of individuals who lose a significant amount of weight regain it far quicker than they lost it.


Pure calories counting can lead to an unbalanced diet

The major problem with calorie tracking is that it ignores macronutrients. Carbohydrates, protein, and fat are all necessary components of a balanced diet. Balancing them ensures you obtain the correct quantity in your diet, which aids with weight management. Calorie counters frequently concentrate solely on the calorie count itself. You may technically satisfy that calorie figure with chips, ice cream, snacks, or any other nutrient-deficient low-calorie junk, but this will result in low energy and probable malnutrition.

Concerning this, dietitian, Aaron Flores, has said, “When we restrict to X calories a day, we are likely not getting enough food. When we struggle with that body feeling, we assume our body is broken ― that it needs too much because the book or the doctor or the dietitian told me I should only need X per day. We fear truly listening to our body, so we want someone else to tell us what to do and how much to eat.”


Nutrition can be difficult, so we look for simple solutions and quick treatments. This is exploited by online fitness culture, which often oversimplifies the complexity of eating. It teaches us that this food group is terrible; that this food group is wonderful; that, if you consume this many calories, you’ll lose weight, be happy, and be more deserving of love — and we absorb those messages. As a result, when the diet fails, we often blame ourselves.

Calorie counting is a reassuring routine in the short term, but it leads to an unhealthy, rigid, and obsessive fixation on food in the long run. You’ll need to start adjusting your habits if you want the routine to go away on its own. Begin by avoiding reading food labels, calorie counting, and mental math. Regular eating, consuming a variety of foods, listening to your body, and learning about proper portion sizes are all things that may help you develop healthy eating habits.

With so many options for weight loss, why don’t we move away from rigid calorie counting and concentrate on the actual science of dieting?

Sean Barrett
Sean Barrett

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