The question popped in my head while I was Spinning last week. The little screen on my bike was on and I was tracking distance and time, but I didn’t bother with my heart rate strap and the calorie box was steady at zero.
Which made me think: do calories matter? Do I even care anymore?
Many of the popular diets these days don’t even track calories. Weight Watchers uses points, but if you don’t want to follow the point system, you can just eat foods from a list heavily stacked with veggies and lean proteins and not count anything.
This is the crux of it, isn’t it? … If we eat high-quality foods such as fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, then we really don’t have to worry about the calories at all.
In other words, our body’s health is probably 80% the fuel we give it and 20% how we move it.
One Time Magazine article back in 2009 actually quoted an expert as saying that “exercise is useless” in lowering the scale. And even world-class institutions like the Mayo Clinic say that exercise is more effective for maintaining weight than it is for getting down to your ideal number.
Calorie counting definitely comes out of the research in this field. Scientists need to quantify things and they stabilize calorie counts when looking at diets because it gives them some goal posts to work with.
- General aerobics burns 384 calories per hour for a 130-pound person.
- 3,500 calories will burn off a pound of fat (sorta, see below).
- There are 490 calories in a Big Mac, hold the fries.
It’s an easy measuring stick from which outcomes can be drawn. The problem is calories are not “lay there and play nice” numbers. They’re rascally suckers who will not behave when told too.
Do calories matter?
When we starve ourselves on a diet, our metabolism slows down and the calories we do get have a bigger impact on our body. When we overfeed ourselves after starvation, our body hordes those calories, packing them into fat cells to prepare for the next unwanted self-inflicted famine.
But if we continuously overeat, the body eventually figures this out and starts to up the metabolism so we burn off more calories than we would at other times. Although the body is happy to do that when we’re obese, it doesn’t turn up the fuel burn when we’re still in single-digit dress sizes.
That’s why calories have so much flexibility to them. You can’t just look at a number and assume it will have a specific impact. Plus, a calorie for you isn’t processed quite the same way as a calorie for me. It depends on so many factors including DNA and what starve/feed mode your body has been in lately.
Should we give up on calorie counting?
I think so, yes. Here’s why …
1. You have to keep track of every morsel of food, which is maddening. And what does that do? Increases anxiety, which means you’re more likely to get stressed out and eat. And the circle continues.
2. It focuses on quantity, not quality of food. This may be fine for human lab rats and the scientists who love them, but this is not okay for you. You are simply a human trying to live a better life. Eat spinach and don’t worry about the calories in that Big Mac.
Do you count calories anymore? Do you remember having discussions with your girlfriends about how many calories “such and such” contains and if you should order it for lunch? Do you stare at your heart rate monitor solely focused on the “burn” and not on whether or not you’re having fun?
Yep, I’ve done all of those, and no, I don’t count calories anymore.