I may not be an officially certified and licensed Diet Guru, but I’m reasonably conversant in the science relating to how weight loss actually occurs, what works, what doesn’t work, and what’s, excuse my French, total BS.
Like you, I saw those ecstatic headlines in the news earlier this week about how a new study supposedly “proved” that calorie counting is a big ol’ waste of time! Just check out these headlines:
- Seattle Times: “Counting calories not key to weight loss“
- Cosmopolitan: “Scientific study says reducing portion size and calories has nothing to do with losing weight“
- New York Times: “Key to Weight Loss is Diet Quality, not Quantity, a New Study Finds“
and a multitude of others, triumphantly crowing the sensational message that YOU – yes, YOU! – no longer have to worry about the tiresome task of keeping track of your daily calorie input! Rumors flew that MyFitnessPal, Lose It!, Sparkpeople, and other heretofore popular calorie-counting apps had conceded defeat, and were converting to Game of Thrones fan sites.
Well, not so fast, folks. I’ve been around for a while – almost 60 years (hence the name!), and I can pretty much guarantee you that right now, somewhere in the world, there’s ANOTHER scientist out there doing a mega-study that will prove exactly the OPPOSITE of what this gentleman’s study supposedly proved. I GUARANTEE you that within a few months there’ll be another round of sensational headlines to the effect that “Calories DO Count After All!” and you and I will be left befuddled, once again, as we usually are when we rely on the 24/7 news cycle for our diet information.
Maybe it would help if we separated “calorie counting” which is, after all, a mechanism we use to determine how many calories we’re consuming, from “calorie deficit,” which is the undeniable, bottom-line TRUTH about how we human beings lose weight:
A. You take in a certain amount of calories every day (by eating).
B. You expend a certain amount of calories (by moving, breathing, etc.).
Subtract B from A, and you get your calorie deficit. It’s that simple.
“Calorie counting” is just the way you keep track of what calories you take in (A) or expend (B). And there are LOTS of ways to do this.
- You can just count them yourself, either by using one of the aforesaid apps, or just jotting them down on a piece of paper.
- You can pay some big corporation to convert them, by some elaborate proprietary mathematical formulation, into “points” or “magic beans” or whatever.
- You can pay some big corporation to supervise your entire daily food allotment so you don’t have to worry about counting anything yourself, ever (other than your checking account balance).
- You can do some mega amounts of exercise (B) such as hiking the Appalachian Trail, which burns @ 500 calories per hour.
- You can quit your job so you won’t be tempted by all the vending machines and daily birthday cakes, move into your mom’s basement, and shun the outside world completely. (There are probably some other problems with that, though – what if your mom’s house doesn’t have a basement?)
Anyway, my point (and I do have one!) is that there are all sorts of ways to create a calorie deficit without necessarily “counting calories.” I personally choose to do that because it’s the easiest and most flexible method I’ve found so far. It lets me eat pretty much anything I want, so long as it doesn’t make me go over my daily calorie allotment. Some of those other methods work for other people.
But bottom line: no matter what this or similar studies say, if you read the fine print, you’ll see that the people who lost weight did so because they were eating foods that were lower in calories than what they’d previously been eating – thus creating a calorie deficit!!
So calories DO count – always have, always will! It’s just a question of how you choose to count them!
Mother Jones has an even better response to this study than mine: What’s the Real Takeaway From Yesterday’s Big Low-Carb vs. Low-Fat Showdown? in which they point out that if you read the fine print from that big study, it really just reiterates what calorie counters say as well: “If you cut back on something with lots of calories, you’re cutting back on calories.”
There you go. Read the fine print on these studies, go beyond the headlines, and you’ll always find the truth buried deep inside the hype.