Why counting calories can do you more harm than good



The idea that counting calories is key for weight loss is a popular one.

However, tracking the energy you get from what you eat and drink may do you more harm than good.

A healthy weight loss process definitely goes beyond noting calories – it encompasses your exercise, sleep quality, stress levels, and health issues.

While it’s important to know relative calories, it’s a waste of time and a dangerous practice at worst, to track every single calorie that you consume.

Experts call it a misguided strategy

Even careful calorie calculations don’t always yield accurate results. “This idea of ‘a calorie in and a calorie out’ when it comes to weight loss is not only antiquated, it’s just wrong,” says Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, an obesity specialist and assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. Two people can eat the exact same number of calories, yet have very different outcomes when it comes to their weight.

Celebrity nutritionist advocates checking portion-control of food, not the number of calories. “Calorie counting is unscientific but reducing health to numbers is rewarding for pharma-food-weight loss industry, that’s how the business works. It’s not related to public health which is multidisciplinary,” she wrote in a tweet.

1. You feel guilty, obsessive and anxious

Counting calories often becomes a source of restriction, adding to one’s stress. Studies indicate that restricting food intake by tracking calories can increase psychological stress. It is unhealthy to worry about every morsel of food that you consume.

Those with a history of disordered eating should especially avoid counting calories for weight loss. For those already having or recovering from an eating disorder, it is advised to consult your doctor before tracking your calories.

2. Counting calories can ignore your hunger cues

Our body knows what it needs more than any tech-savvy tracker can tell. When we eat on the basis of calorie counts, we are using external cues to guide our eating rather than our natural cues which help us eat intuitively.

Focusing entirely on calories can disrupt the hunger cues that we are born with. People end up eating unnecessarily either because they “have calories left,” or ignore their hunger because they have reached their “calorie allotment limit” for the day.

It is unlikely that you will have a healthy relationship with food and your body if you ignore what your body’s natural signals and needs. Re-learning to follow internal cues can lead to a more balanced diet and a healthier weight loss journey.

3. You may overeat to work off consumed calories

A 2014 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine emphasized that “it is where the calories come from that is crucial” in determining whether your body stores them as fat, uses them for energy, or applies them to some other mechanism. Calorie-counting apps give the impression that you can exercise yourself “back into the green.” However, your body doesn’t burn off food calorie-for-calorie like that.

If you overeat and then try to work it off, you’ll be exercising for a very long time, depending on the size of the junk food consumed. This may cause you to become hungrier and eat even more.

4. Finding no joy in eating

Eating is an experience that can provide you with immense joy and satisfaction, if you see your food for what it is, rather than the number of calories it contains. If you have a plate of your favourite food and are following the calorie-counting approach, then you will not be enjoying your meal and savouring each bite. On the other hand, if you respect your food and feel grateful for those morsels, then you will end up with a richer experience with food – one that will only aid your weight loss journey.

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