Hey Angels and Alphas,
Consuming food that supplies your body with calories is absolutely essential to giving your body the energy it needs to perform everything from the basic functions of life, such as keeping your heart rate going to intense weight loss exercise. Calories are, after all, a unit of energy. Tracking your daily intake of calories is a tool many people use to become more aware of their dietary habits, stay accountable, record changes, and make progress.
That being said, the calories in versus calories out is a complex equation and should generally be used as a major guideline along with other important metrics to assess the overall quality of eating habits, as well as a tool for weight change.
Here are the three most important things you need to know about calorie counting before you get into it:
#1 THERE’S NO WAY TO TRACK EVERY SINGLE CALORIE
It doesn’t matter how accurately you think you can weight your food, use averages, and measure calorie burn during your exercise sessions; you’re never going to get a perfect picture. Consider the bites you always leave behind, or how different temperatures, clothing choices, and altitude can affect your entire exercise output. The overall process of turning food into energy is a very intricate one, as well.
And you can’t forget about the thermic effect of food, one major factor of bioavailability. This refers to the number of calories that are accessible to be absorbed by your body and the amount of energy it actually requires for you to digest and further process those calories. The more processed the food is, the easier it is for you to absorb those calories.
Homemade and whole meals will, at the flip side of that coin, take more time to consume. Therefore, the less processed food you see on your plate, the more energy you will need to digest it, and this means that fewer calories will actually be absorbed from the food you’re eating.
#2 THERE’S MORE TO FOOD AND EXERCISE THAN CALORIC VALUE
Just like your health is not indicated by the number you see on the scale, caloric value should also be thought of as a very small part of the overall health equation. 100 calories from kale and 100 calories from donuts are different things, as much as some people would like you to think otherwise.
They affect mood, digestion, satiety, habits, hormones, and metabolism very differently. Consistently choosing calories from energy-dense and less-nutritive sources ends up promoting weight gain more than the consistent consumption of the same calories from foods that of perceivably “higher” nutritive quality.
And the same goes for exercise – different workouts can indeed result in the same calorie burn, but the effects they achieve in the long term can be vastly different.
This matters for both long-term weight loss (as workouts that stimulate a higher number of internal adaptations, regardless of their overall calorie burn, usually generate a stronger and more metabolically active body throughout time. When you’re choosing foods to eat and training variations to do, you should aim to think about the long-term implications that these choices will have on your health and your body… not necessarily their immediate caloric value.
#3 LABELS WILL MISLEAD YOU
The U.S. The Food and Drug Administration allows some wiggle room for nutrition fact labels. This means that a serving of mac & cheese, that would be labeled as having 300 calories, would actually have anywhere from 240-360 calories.
And it’s true, research shows the majority of labels on snack food packages is 90 percent accurate, but still, some items fall surprisingly outside that initial range.
For example, one 2012 report called the Rossen Report discovered that a popular dietary form of ice cream included up to 45 percent more calories than the label reported.
You can imagine how this would lead to the frustration of stalled weight loss progress by contributing more and more calories that you just can’t count even if you wanted to.