Is calorie counting helpful or hurtful? | The Tylt
For years, calorie counting has been the go-to method for weight loss. Experts tout the simple formula: Burn more calories than you consume, and you will lose weight. But nutritionists now advise against calorie counting, saying that it fails to paint the full picture when it comes to the nutrients fueling your body. Regardless, some calorie counting loyalists argue it remains an easy method for being mindful of what you eat. What do you think?
Is calorie counting helpful or hurtful?
A calorie is a measure of energy. You need calories in order to perform essential tasks like breathing and thinking. According to Healthline:
Calories are normally used to describe the amount of energy your body gets from what you eat and drink.
Once your body uses the calories you've consumed for its own functions, it stores excess calories for later use. Most often, these calories are stored as fat; therefore, in order to lose weight, you must create a calorie deficit by burning more calories than you take in.
In order for calorie counting to work, you must also remember that not all calories are the same. If you're in a calorie deficit, but only consume ice cream for the whole day, you're not going to lose weight. Healthline concludes:
Biologically speaking, a calorie deficit is always needed to lose weight. There's no way around it...In fact, many studies show that recording your food intake and physical activity are very effective ways to lose weight.
But given that not every calorie is created equal, it's better to keep track of the nutrients you put into your body rather than calories alone. Instead of grabbing low-calorie foods, you should aim to eat nutrient-dense foods in order to maintain a healthy weight. According to HuffPost's Juliette Steen:
If you're only keeping the number of energy in mind, it's easy to forget about the nutrient quality. Yes, a handful of nuts may be energy dense, but the nutritional benefits you get from them outweigh the number of calories.
You want to choose foods that nourish you, providing your body with the right amount of carbs, fats and protein to thrive. Calorie counting, on the other hand, leaves room for empty calories to remain in your diet.
The New York Times' Tim Herrera spoke with registered dietician Abby Langer on the calorie counting process. According to Langer, counting calories can be extremely motivating. She uses the example of walking into Starbucks for a slice of gingerbread cake. Once she sees the gingerbread is 400 calories, the equivalent to an entire meal, she is much less inclined to order such a calorie-dense item:
Counting calories does give you an overall picture of what you’re eating in a day, so that’s a good thing. It’s also helpful for people to understand relative calorie values. (Like that a burger is higher in calories than an apple.)
Calorie counting can help your understanding of how much food you put into your body, as well as why you put it into your body.
Although counting calories can act as an introduction to nutrition, it may also become a slippery slope for some looking to lose weight. Experts warn that calorie counting can easily become an obsession and change your relationship with food for the worse. Langer expands on the thoughts she shared in the New York Times in a piece she writes for Self, where she calls calorie counting a "colossal waste of time." Langer also says that counting calories can inhibit healthy eating habits:
Focusing entirely on calories, instead of the quality of the food you’re eating and how you actually feel before chowing down (hungry, bored, stressed, etc.), can wreak havoc on those precious hunger cues you’re born with.
If you're counting your calories and go over your daily limit, guilt is likely to follow. Calorie counting can be extremely dangerous if you become more fixated on the numbers than what your body needs.