Calories are the Radical Terrorist Plot of food. We don’t really know what they are, where they are, or how to successfully avoid them, but they affect all aspects of our lives: how much we eat, how often we exercise, whether or not we feel good about ourselves (our notions of “good” and “bad” behavior frequently revolve around how many calories we’ve avoided/consumed/burned/sat on). Like the Radical Terrorist Plot thing, sometimes it means our lives can get a little weird.
We do know one thing about calories though. According to Marion Nestle,
“. . . many people in the world are consuming more calories than they need and becoming overweight and obese.” Simply put, we’re fat because we eat TOO MANY CALORIES—whatever that means.
So—exactly why do calories count?
Luckily, Nutrition Expert Marion Nestle has now written a whole big book to help us understand the mysteries of calories. She very thoughtfully posted an interview of herself being interviewed about the book on her website so we could all see what she thought about her own book. But she’s such a smart person, being a Nutrition Expert and all, I was concerned that some folks would have trouble figuring out exactly what she was saying. I hope this helps clarify things.
- Calories count because they are easy to understand
- Calories count because calories are very confusing
- Calories count because we don’t count them
- Calories count because we do count them
- Calories count because we can’t count them
- Calories count because we can count them
- Calories count because we should count them
- Calories count because counting calories is the only way to keep track of how many calories are in your food
- Calories count because they are the only thing in your food worth counting
- What can we do about the “calorie” problem?
Calories count because they are easy to understand.
According to Marion Nestle, “Calories are a convenient way to say a great deal about food, nutrition, and health.” This is true. For instance, calories can tell you a great deal about how many calories are in your food, without having to take into account anything about nutrition or health.
Marion Nestle explains that the idea behind calories is abstract but simple: “They are a measure of the energy in food and in the body . . .” This is also true. In addition, calories are a way to measure the guilt quotient (lotsa calories) and marketability (teensyweensy amounts of calories) of food, making calories an exceptionally useful concept to both food manufacturers and those working on developing an unhealthy relationship to food.
Calories—as well as guilt and marketability—in food can be determined directly by using a bomb calorimeter, which measures the exact calorie content of food by igniting and burning a dried portion of it. In case you’re wondering, this is EXACTLY how your body measures calories too!
Marion Nestle explains that “Calories measure energy to keep bodies warm, power essential body functions, move muscles, or get stored as fat.” I would add that I don’t really know what calories do either, but if you use calories to keep your body warm, I guess my hot flashes make me “da bomb (calorimeter).” [I so crack myself up]. Hey, but then wouldn’t menopause turn us all into skinny bitches instead of fat ones?
Calories count because calories are very confusing.
Marion Nestle explains that the reasons we haven’t been able to grasp the whole calories in-calories out thing is that “Even talking about calories is difficult. For starters, calorie counts are given in no less than five different units — calories, Calories, kilocalories, Joules, and kilojoules (along with their abbreviations cal, Cal, kcal, J, and kJ).” These concepts are so confusing to regular folks that only Nutrition Experts like Marion Nestle and Michael Pollan actually KNOW how many calories people should really be eating; the rest of the country is just guessing.
And when Americans “self report” on how many calories they eat? Well, let’s just say they are “underreporting,” shall we?
Calories count because we don’t count them.
Government-Approved Nutrition Experts—not unlike Marion Nestle—MUST make a Big Statement about the Plight of Fat Americans, oh, about every year or so (it’s in their job description). When Slender Motivated Upper-class Gainfully-employed (code name: SMUG) Americans who read the New York Times need to know why we just can’t seem to get those fat stupid Americans to stop being so fat and stupid, they can call on Nutrition Experts–not unlike Marion Nestle–who KNOW the problem is that Americans eat too many calories—whatever that means. By keeping the focus on calories in-calories out, Nutrition Experts and food writers know that they can count on Americans to continue not counting calories, just as they have not counted them for hundreds of thousands of years, thus guaranteeing job security and future book contracts all around.
Calories count because we do count them.
According to Nutrition Expert Marion Nestle, “The U.S. diet industry is worth about $60 billion a year.” Clearly, Americans are willing to shell out for just about anything if they think it will help them figure out why they can’t lose weight when they are doing everything they’ve been told to do for the past 30 years, including eating less fat, eating more carbohydrates, and exercising.
As long as Nutrition Experts can keep Americans counting calories, the food industry, the diet industry, the exercise industry, and the Nutrition Expert industry can keep counting the Benjamins. No calories in a Benjamin—it’s all fiber, baby.
A high fiber Benjamin
Calories count because we can’t count them.
According to Nutrition Expert Marion Nestle, you can’t see, taste, or smell calories. This means calories are like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. You would have no way of knowing they even exist if there weren’t a giant academic-scientific-industrial-media complex devoted to the worship of calories and keeping them alive in our hearts and minds!
Spoiler alert: This is not the real Easter Bunny. Like calories, the real Easter Bunny is invisible.
Calories count because we can count them.
Fortunately, there’s an easy way to keep track of your calories even though you can’t see, taste, or smell them.
Marion Nestle says that the best way to measure calories is to step on a scale. So, lessee. I stepped on the scale and I weigh 160 pounds. If I’m 55% water (hooray, no calories there!), and 4% minerals (wait, does calcium have calories?), and then 13% protein (4 calories), 24% fat (9 calories) and 4% carbohydrate (4 calories), well then, hmm multiply by and convert and carry the one and—got it!—I’m exactly 194766.884 I’m exactly 206112.371 calories.
That means if I decrease my calorie intake by 500 calories a day (this where all that helpful calorie information on the side of the box of low-fat, high-fiber, individually calorie-control portion food comes in handy) and increase my activity by 500 calories a day (which I understand I can do simply through insanity, which—according to my children—should not be much of a stretch), that means that on November 10, 2012, sometime around noon, I will disappear altogether because all my calories will be gone. See how easy that is.
Counting calories is easy with a few simple tools.
Calories count because we should count them.
Because counting calories is sooooo easy, anybody should be able to succeed at maintaining energy balance. There are lots of ways to demonstrate to the world that YOU have the intelligence, willpower, stamina, time, money, and Fine Upstanding Moral Character to keep your calorie balance in check.
- Eat Twinkies, but not too many.
- Exercise. But if you get hungry after you exercise—and I don’t know why you would—whatever you do, don’t eat any food with calories in it. Turns out many Americans are making this serious mistake. We seem to be exercising more than ever, but we’re also eating more than ever. If you get hungry after you exercise, you’re probably not really hungry, you just think you are. Drink some water, take a nap, or go for a walk. Or you could just suck it up and quit your whinging.
- Throw up after you eat (Hello? Calories out?)
- Don’t eat if you’re going to drink. After all, despite the fact that vodka tonics look like water, they STILL have calories and CALORIES COUNT.
- Eat eggs for breakfast. Protein for breakfast creates the intelligence, moral fiber, character, and willpower that will allow you—for some magical reason—to not eat about 400 calories a day. Of course you’re likely to be dead from a heart attack within a week, so you might want to rethink that.
Calories count because counting calories is the only way to keep track of how many calories are in your food.
As with most other important things in life, if you can’t count it, it doesn’t count.
According to Marion Nestle, calories are derived from food. This is true of course, but only if you actually eat it. If you do decide to eat food, it’s really important to know how many calories are in your food.
This is why accurate calorie counts on everything we eat are so important! Turns out that your 500-calorie Leen Quizeen entrée may really contain—brace yourself—540 calories! With such inaccuracies in the calorie labeling of food, it’s no wonder Americans are fat.
According to Marion Nestle, this gross inaccuracy of calorie counts means that, “it works better to eat smaller portions than to try to count calories in food.” Lucky for us, food manufacturers make handy little portion-controlled packages of healthy whole grain food for us. And thoughtful Exercise Experts have given us calorie counts for every activity you can think of!
Healthy BAKED (not FRIED) whole grain portion-controlled fish-shaped food-like substance.
For example: An hour of coal mining equals 5 bags of 100-calorie whole grain goldfish, but since those food companies probably snuck in some extra calories in just to mess with us, if you’re coal mining for an hour, you should probably only eat 4 bags.
Back to top
Calories count because they are the only thing in your food worth counting.
Marion Nestle says, “Although diets with varying proportions of fat, carbohydrate, and protein may be easier for you to stick to or be more satiating, the bottom line is that if you want to reduce your body weight, you still need to consume fewer calories.” In other words, whether or not you feel full or satisfied has nothing to do with whether or not you’ll consume fewer calories. The reason we consume too many calories is because portion sizes are bigger, soda is cheaper, TV shows are more interesting, and couches are more comfortable than ever before. Plus the intelligence, moral fiber, character, and willpower of the American people are in serious decline.
Back to top
What can we do about the “calorie” problem?
According to Marion Nestle, “many groups have a stake in how calories are marketed, perceived, labeled, and promoted”—with the obvious exception of Nutrition Experts writing books about calories. They have NO dog in this fight.
Food manufacturers want Americans to eat a lot of calories, which totally explains why they sneak extra calories into our food for free without telling us.
This is why efforts to do something about obesity must focus on eating less of the foods that don’t come from food manufacturers—like eggs and meat—and focus on eating more foods that come in boxes and bags and cans that have a CALORIE count on them! Of course, Americans should also consume less soda, fast food, snacks, and other highly profitable items. That is, unless these are highly profitable items that Nutrition Experts really like! And really, it would go a long way towards solving our childhood obesity problem if we could only get calorie counts on beer for goodness sake! Darn that alcohol industry.
Thanks to lobbying efforts of the alcohol industry, there is no CALORIE label on this beer!
As Marion Nestle says, “On the societal level, we need measures to make it easier for people to eat less.” We need to work to change the food environment to one that makes it easier to eat healthfully, because—just between you and me—most Americans are just not willing to take charge of their own health.
Things YOU can do to “make the healthy choice the easy choice” for all those poor stupid fat people:
- Support labeling laws—those poor stupid fat folks need accurate calorie counts on their movie popcorn, darn it!
- Insist on more Government Approved Information about Nutrition (code name: GAIN)—because it’s been such a smashing success so far!
- Support controls on food advertising to children. The current childhood obesity crisis clearly demonstrates that parents can’t be trusted with complicated decisions like how to feed their children. This is where Nutrition Experts–not unlike Marion Nestle–can advise the FDA, the FCC, NASA, and NASCAR about the nutritional differences (i.e. calorie counts) between a whole grain bagel (OK!)* and a frosted donut (Oh no you don’t!)** so parents won’t have to worry their pretty little heads about it anymore.
- Support agricultural policies that encourage consumption of fruits and vegetables (but not eggs and pork chops) from local food systems. Everyone knows that 90 calories of kale and kohlrabi are less fattening–and even more importantly, many times more virtuous–than the 90 calories in an egg.
- Help create environments that encourage physical activity, like cities without public transportation. Those fat people standing in line for a bus would burn a lot more calories if they were WALKING to work!
SMUG Americans must remember: those stupid fat people are not just fat and stupid. In the face of our “obesogenic” environment, they are helpless. You need to be the change you want to see—especially in the seat next to you on an airplane.
That right, SMUG Americans, only YOU can prevent fat people.
46 thoughts on “Why Calories Count—Fo’Shizzle”
The article is interesting but your math here seems to be entirely wrong.
“Marion Nestle says that the best way to measure calories is to step on a scale. So, lessee. I stepped on the scale and I weigh 160 pounds. If I’m 55% water (hooray, no calories there!), and 4% minerals (wait, does calcium have calories?), and then 13% protein (4 calories), 24% fat (9 calories) and 4% carbohydrate (4 calories), well then, hmm multiply by and convert and carry the one and—got it!—I’m exactly 194766.884 I’m exactly 206112.371 calories.
That means if I decrease my calorie intake by 500 calories a day (this where all that helpful calorie information on the side of the box of low-fat, high-fiber, individually calorie-control portion food comes in handy) and increase my activity by 500 calories a day (which I understand I can do simply through insanity, which—according to my children—should not be much of a stretch), that means that on November 10, 2012, sometime around noon, I will disappear altogether because all my calories will be gone. See how easy that is.”
Based on CICO, if you reduced your intake by 500 calories per day and increased your activity by 500 calories per day then you’d lose 2 pounds that first week, but if you maintained the same calorie input and that same level of output through exercise, your weight loss would slow until you reached a new equilibrium.
A 300 pound, 6’2″ man (according to CICO) living a sedentary lifestyle could consume 2,200 calories a day and lose weight rapidly at first. But by the time he reaches 180 pounds, he’s not losing weight anymore. Isn’t that sort of the point? Your tongue-in-cheek model seems to assume that you remain 160 pounds, even as you lose weight.
Wait? What? Why not? If 300 lb man continually creates a 1000 kcal deficit a day, why doesn’t he keep losing weight? Aren’t calories what make us weigh what we weigh? Fewer calories make us weigh less, right? So, he’s got fewer calories …
And why would I lose exactly 2 pounds that first week? Oh yeah, because a pound of fat equals EXACTLY 3500 kcals. But if that’s the case, then does a pound of fat = fewer calories when you have fewer pounds of it? Like the gold standard, it’s worth more when there’s less? Or is it worth less, and you have to eat more calories to lose more weight (yeah, because that theory’s out there too)?
Sigh. Calories. So right and yet so wrong. But thanks for resurrecting a zombie post 🙂
Heavier people use more calories.
A sedentary 6’0″ 30-year-old man that weighs 300 pounds uses 3174.48 calories per day. To maintain his weight he would have to consume 3174.48 calories per day.
A sedentary 6’0″ 30-year-old man that weighs 150 pounds uses 2053.08 calories a day and consumes that amount to maintain his weight.
If the 300 pound starts to consume only 2052.08 calories per day (which is an initial calorie-deficit of 1121.4) he would start to lose weight and eventually would weigh 150 pounds. He will no longer be losing weight.
But if I accidentally got more active than “sedentary” I would get to 150 pounds quicker, right? Because then I would be more active. But then I would either have to eat more than 2053.08 calories per day, or I would have to quit exercising or I would just keep losing weight until I disappeared, right? Because this is a real problem.
Truly the reason that Americans have a “problem” with overweight and obesity is that they don’t calculate their calories out the second decimal place.
Yes, if you become active you eat more or lose too much weight. Many athletes get fat when they retire because they still consume similar amounts while being less active.
It seems portion sizes have increased a lot since the 1970s:
“The Contribution of Expanding Portion Sizes to the US Obesity Epidemic”
Soooooo, just exactly how did we lose the ability to regulate our own appetites? Just because portion sizes got bigger, didn’t mean we had to eat the entire thing (nor does the size of a portion indicate how much of it was eaten, for that matter). It could be that portion sizes got bigger because Americans got hungrier? Maybe from all that jogging? As Americans became more sedentary throughout the 1960s and 1970s, they ate less food; calorie intake actually went down according to some reports. Seems like we were doing a decent job of regulating our own appetites, at least until we were told to eat more of some foods and less of other kinds of foods–oh, and exercise exercise exercise. Hmmmmm.
Priceless. Made my day 🙂
Thanks! An oldie but a goodie 🙂
Thanks so much for writing this. I just found your blog today and you have said what I have been wanting to say for a few years. Only you did it right, LOL. I used to believe Marion’s line…until I developed metabolic syndrome, had to retire, and lost my ability to play the guitar (joint problems in left hand – not great for a pro musician), developed really nasty dandruff, and “apparently” (according to the allopaths) also chronic fatigue syndrome, “only we don’t really know what that is, and anyway, there’s no treatment for it.”
Turned out these problems were all symptoms of an allergic response to wheat, something that no doctor in the last thirty years even considered when I asked about some of these issues. I dropped wheat from my diet and 30 days later my triglycerides were 170 lower. I lost 35 pounds in six months, and for the first time in my life I was able to work out with weights and actually see a difference. I thought “in for a penny…” and tried dropping all of the grains, then I tried lowering the carbs (there went potatoes, etc.) and things just got better.
And the point of all this is, Marion, that the quality of your calories DOES matter. But you will never hear that from her.
Thanks again for writing this.
Thanks so much for sharing your story. You sound like a lot of the patients I met in clinic. The joint pain thing was something that puzzled us at the time. People would tell us that their joint pain had gone away, but they had only just started to lose weight. Then we figured out it wasn’t just knees and hips. So glad you get to play the guitar again!
Here I am, extremely late in the game. Yay for down time at work, so I can make my way through the archives here!
I love that you had the courage to take on Marion Nestle. She’s amassed some pretty serious academic chops and her CV certainly isn’t lacking impressive credentials. That being said, I’m trying to work my way through her book Food Politics, and while I love her smacking the politics and lobbying upside the head, I sometimes have to wonder if she willfully *chose* to just plum FORGET biochem 101 when she rails endlessly about calories and fat grams. I just do. Not. Get. It. She’s brilliant on some levels, but seems to completely miss the boat regarding anything else causing obesity besides people sitting on their couches eating Costco-sized bags of chips and washing ’em down with Big Gulps.
I also really love how you talk about the moral issues implied here with regard to overweight and obese people.
“However, even in PMFs, we could count on health markers improving rapidly even before weight decreased (which it did very slowly–some of that being due to increased lean mass)–running counter to the theory that the reason fat people are sick is because they’re fat.” —-> THANK YOU! So true. The medical and fitness industries just don’t seem to get it yet that looks can be deceiving. What about all the people they call “TOFI” – thin outside, fat inside? I think Dr. Mary Vernon calls them “normal weight, metabolically obese.” The people who “look good” but have the metabolic profiles of inflamed, obese T2 diabetics. It ain’t all about being thin, folks.
“We counted calories and thought we were doing great with granola bars and fat-free yogurt. No wonder we were so cranky.” ——> YES! Too funny. My sister is a lifetime member of Weight Watchers and once posted to her Facebook page this exact line: “I hate dieting. I’m always so hungry and tired.” This kind of thing goes back to the morality of eating, and there’s an entirely separate layer that applies just to women: it’s not “ladylike” to eat steaks, ribs, chicken with skin, something covered in cheese, etc. We should stick with petite finger sandwiches consisting of an imperceptibly thin layer of smoked salmon, and paper thin slices of cucumber and radish. Hosting a ladies’ brunch? Be sure to have plenty of fat-free yogurt and fat-free muffins on hand, plus granola (with a few slivered almonds because of “the good fats” — but not too many) and a big bowl of fruit salad. And if you dare to serve eggs, whites only, of course. You’ll scare your friends away if you had a plate of bacon & sausage (even though that’s what everyone secretly wants!).
I don’t know the history of the 100-calorie packs, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the main image in the marketing companies’ minds was a woman.
All I know is, I am not a dainty, fragile girl and never have been. I can appreciate a nice couscous salad as much as the next gal, but as far as I’m concerned, for a great date, take me to a BBQ joint and let me chow down! Can I get a bone to gnaw on? You know you’ve had some good eatin’ when you need a wet nap at the end. =)
“I can appreciate a nice couscous salad as much as the next gal, but as far as I’m concerned, for a great date, take me to a BBQ joint and let me chow down!” This sounds exactly like something I would say!
You know, Marion Nestle annoys me most because she seems to really have an excellent understanding of the politics surrounding food, but, yeah, it’s like she can’t remember biochemistry or her own party line–and that, sadly, makes her contradict herself. If “a calorie is a calorie” what difference does it make if it comes from soda or “whole wheat bread.” Oh, the “whole wheat bread” has more “nutrition”? Fine. Add some vitamins and minerals to soda. Whatever. But–understandably–she doesn’t like that idea either. THEN, she applauds when some food company re-formulates (what else?) processed foods to meet her arbitrary and scientifically-unfounded dietary standards, WHILE she goes on about the awfulness of processed foods. Is it just me or does she start to sound like a raving lunatic after a bit?
Clinging to the Titanic as it goes down while screaming at the top of your lungs about how unsinkable it is.
Loving your blog. Thanks so much for speaking up. It’s great to see an RD speak their mind.
While I’m in total agreement on the calorie counting, I still find myself at times looking at the calories in a product and whether consciously or subconsciously will partly judge said product on this notion.
It’s a hard habit to break for sure.
Thanks for the kind words. It is hard to break the habit of checking nutrition “facts”–when I find myself doing that, I’m teaching myself to put the product–whatever it is–down and decide why I’m buying it in the first place. Sour cream? Just read the ingredients, because that’s what matters to me in this case anyway. “Power bar”? Just put it down, period, and go buy some nuts.
I think nutrition labels have distracted us to a large extent from what we should really be caring about with regard to food: taste, quality and source of ingredients, impact on environment, heck, even amount of packaging is probably more important than calorie content.
I have been reading your blog and I really like it. I just wanted to stop by and nominate you for my NEW Food Stories Award for Excellence in Storytelling. You can check out the details at my site … http://foodstoriesblog.com/food-stories-award/ … Have a great foodie day!
thanks! now that I’m done with my comprehensive exams–there will be more posting!
Wow, we REALLY DO need a book about peri/post menopausal women, and people who have always been fat. Almost everywhere I’ve looked for guidance and advice has focused on, and been written by, athletic, lean males in their 20s who have never been fat a day in their lives. For them, a diet or exercise change really does result in fast, definitive results. And that’s great for them, but the problem is, that experience is extrapolated to everyone else, and the conclusion is that if you’re not losing weight, you’re not really trying. I see that belief everywhere, although it seems to be challenged more often on paleo and Crossfit forums. The women are finally speaking up and insisting on the truth and reality of their lives, insisting that they be believed. Long overdue.
What I hated most about being fat was not the fact that I was fat, but that–for the rest of the world–my fatness seemed to say something about my character. My brother–whom I haven’t strangled yet–used to refer to my sister and me as being part of the “Fat Mothers Club” that almost every woman seemed to “join” once she had kids. Like we just figured, oh well, now that I’ve fulfilled my biological duties, I’ll just let myself go to hell. Now that I know about the complex interplay of hormones, stress, lifestyle factors (exercise? I’m covered in vomit & it’s not mine), lack of sleep, AND the low-fat diets many of us use to try to ward off mommy-fatness (or any other predisposition to weight gain), I understand that some of us are a “perfect storm” of overweight/obesity.
If I wrote a weight loss book for older women or persistently overweight women though, I wouldn’t want it to be about weight loss 🙂 I would want it to be about finding health, happiness, and a really satisfying way of eating that was for us–and not for anyone else. I would want it to be about how food is here to love, to savor–not to be afraid of. But that our food also has to love us back, and give us the energy and health we need
to take over the world, I mean, to live a happy, productive life.
Sorry, I’m totally for that “taking over the world” thing you crossed out 🙂
Hah, I didn’t want to give the plans away 😉 My classmates (most of whom are literally half my age) are so cute when they say things like “I don’t know how you do this [at your advanced age].” Truth is, I couldn’t do it if I ate lousy food. I remember what it felt like when I did–I couldn’t get out of the driveway and I spent most of my time thinking about calories in/out, what I could/couldn’t/should/shouldn’t eat. Now I eat, I enjoy it, and I don’t sweat the details–that way I can devote my time and (considerable) energy to more important things, y’know, like taking over the world.
I write. I’m good at it. Let’s do this thing. Adele, hit me up!
OK! I’m in–but remember my general approach is nutrition is a DIY proposition. Of course I think this is totally appropriate for older women, bc as we all learn, mindlessly following someone else’s path always leads in the wrong direction. But–yeah–I got all kinds of material . . . be careful what you wish for. firstname.lastname@example.org
Hi. I picked up your website from Jimmy Moore’s New Paleo, Low-Carb & Health Blogs list for May 2012. I run a low carb/paleo blog and want to welcome you to the neighborhood! Jimmy has been a great help to me and if I can help you, just let me know. I run a news channel on my site (see below), so if you have some low carb or paleo news you’d like me to consider, please let me know at my email address: Joe at CravingSugar.net
Put “news” someplace in your email title so I won’t miss it, please! My main site is http://CravingSugar.net and the news channel is http://CravingSugar.net/news/
Thanks and hope to hear from you…
Thanks for the welcome! Jimmy and Christine are terrific. We count on him to be the archiver of the movement. I’ll keep you in mind when we have Healthy Nation Coalition news to announce.
Great great great article. I think I fight with people on a daily basis over calories. Yet, I see the same people who are overweight yet don’t even eat many calories (but muffins in the morning and bagels for lunch…).
Thanks for the kind words! I used to use the “house” analogy with patients: Dietary protein is like “bricks” and dietary fat is like “lumber.” Dietary carbs are “natural gas” (for those bacterially-fermented carbs, this is literally true). If you’re trying to build or maintain your house, you don’t do it with gas; the gas is just for burning (or storing) as “fuel.” Now, say you have lots of stored “fuel”, but your house is falling apart (which is why they are in the clinic to start with), how are you going to fix this? By adding more fuel? I don’t have anything against calories per se, (some of my best friends are calories), it is just that focusing on them is impractical, ineffective, and–as I guess I’ve tried to demonstrate–to a large extent absurd.
I remember when my personal trainer had me start counting calories and I would preferentially eat fast food, packaged snacks, frozen dinners, etc, because those calories were easier to count than the ones in whole foods I made myself. It’s entirely possible that I’m just an idiot, but I’d prefer to think that my response was a rational reaction to an irrational request made by someone who ought to know better. Thanks for the great post!
Yup – that’s what I did too. I haven’t seen any research on this phenomenon in weight loss calorie counting, but we do know that parents of kids with Type 1 diabetes preferentially feed their kids packaged foods over whole foods because the carb count (and thus the insulin dose) is on the side of the box. Makes sense to me. This issue of scaring people away from whole foods by insisting on quantification was raised by one of my heroes, Joanne Slavin, during the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee hearings. She was pretty much ignored.
I love your blog. It’s a ship of sanity (and laughs) in a sea of BS. The rock star status of Marion Nestle seems to feed a SMUG attitude: “really, people, it’s not that hard”. Thanks for sharing your opinions; you are inspiring.
Thanks for the kind words. I’d feel better about some of these nutrition “rock stars” if they had ANY experience treating actual human beings who have been struggling with overweight/obesity/type 2 diabetes. Or maybe knew some, or even could accurately imagine some, maybe? I just keep wondering who these people are who need all this help making the healthy choice the easy choice are. When I was a PTA mom and a Cub Scout den mother and an honesttogoodness minivan-driving soccer mom, the people I knew and talked to and hung out with were trying–HARD–to make “healthy” choices. We just had no idea what those choices really looked like. We counted calories and thought we were doing great with granola bars and fat-free yogurt. No wonder we were so cranky.
That was the best laugh I’ve had all week. Thanks Adele! When I switched to high-fat-low-carb the weight just fell off with absolutely no effort and my energy levels went through the roof. Counting calories is for suckers.
Glad you liked it! In clinic, we called guys like you “Popsicles” because they weight really would melt right off. Unfortunately, if you are a post-menopausal female, it doesn’t work quite like that. However, even in PMFs, we could count on health markers improving rapidly even before weight decreased (which it did very slowly–some of that being due to increased lean mass)–running counter to the theory that the reason fat people are sick is because their fat.
Adele, I’ve started asking the more-reality-based fitness people I know this question, but perhaps you have some ideas as well: “what actually WORKS for women (both peri and post menopausal)?”. There are eating plans and fitness routines that seem to have great success for overall HEALTH (which I define as lack of disease, functional physical aptitude, and ability to eat without micro-management), but many of them focus on their results with men.
Wow, that’s a book that needs to be written. From clinical experience, most women going through hormonal flux need to
1) eat at least 30g protein for breakfast–this seems to be a crucial factor without which the rest don’t work all that well,
2) reduce carbohydrates throughout the day/eat adequate protein throughout the day,
3) strength train–Zumba can be for fun, but bench presses should be a “must”,
4) possibly watch calories; appetite flux can be an issue and generate a lot of nibbling,
5) eat some fat (I had the fun experience of seeing a woman whom we had to really convince–practically at gunpoint–to add butter to each meal suddenly be able to lose weight after being “stuck”)and last but not least
6) take this opportunity to divorce lousy husbands, quit lousy jobs, throw out crap the kids left behind, find a nice nursing home in an adjacent state for the Aged Ps and take care of themselves for a change of pace. Now or never ladies.
Personally, I never much look at calories or bother counting them — which is much easier when you don’t eat a lot of packaged foods and cook for yourself as much as you can. For me, the more important things to monitor are grams of fat and the kinds of fat a food has.
If you are cooking your own food, it gets nearly impossible to keep track of calories! That was one of the things that drove me crazy when I was trying to reduce my calories. Personally, I monitor my carb intake (diabetes runs in my family), but–as long as you get adequate protein and your essential fatty acids and you have no adverse responses to grains/cereals–monitoring fat works too. I know that the low-fat approach doesn’t work for everyone, but then, a lot people avoid fat by eating processed foods & that’s not what your doing.
Thanks Adele! I think monitoring is such an important concept when you are not actively trying to lose weight. Life can be so busy that you just lose track of what you are eating and suddenly you look back at the week and realize that you ate pizza four times when, just once a week, you would have been fine.
Good one Adele! Very funny.
Thanks! When I start reading about calories, the absurdity of the issue is always so striking–it’s an easy target really. OH NO, I ate 347 calories, now I have to do moderate level aerobic dance for exactly 23 minutes and 12 seconds–am I in the “fat burning zone” yet? So goofy.
I’m pretty sure I detected some sarcasm in there.
Anyway, Marion’s awfully optimistic considering we have about 50 years worth of follow-up studies showing that “eating smaller portions”, for all practical purposes, doesn’t work.
I’m so ready for “calories in, calories out” to go away. It seems to be behind every major myth surrounding obesity: fat people lie, make the healthy choice the easy choice, larger portions, sedentary behavior, sugar-sweetened beverages–and yes, portion control.