Calorie counting is attractive because the logic is so simple: If you consume more calories than you use, you’ll gain weight. If the opposite is true, you’ll lose weight.
The science makes sense.
The practice of calorie counting, however, is flawed. The large majority of calorie counting is inaccurate, and to boot, it takes much of the joy out of eating.
Thus, for most, calorie counting is not the answer. Here’s a deeper look at why:
1. Your counting will be imprecise
Unless you’re eating only pre-packaged foods (generally not a good idea), or spending a very large amount of time measuring your food, it’s hard to get a precise calorie count.
How big was that piece of chicken? The chips in that handful were all broken, so how many chips did I eat? Did I include the salad dressing in my calculation, and if so, what was the serving size? How much mayo did the restaurant put on my sandwich? That was a half glass of milk, but is my glass 16oz, 14oz, or 12oz?
You’ll be able to get within range of the real number, but it’s near-impossible to consistently get the right number.
If your calorie goal is 3,000/day, then being 250 calories off might not make or break you. But if your calorie goal is 1,400/day? That’s a whopping 18% difference from a level of imprecision that’s easy to imagine.
2. Your daily calorie goal will be imprecise
Most services that focus on calorie counting ask you four questions in order to derive your daily calorie target: Your height, your current weight, your activity level, and your goal weight.
They combine the first two to get your BMI (Body Mass Index), then plug these answers into a formula that outputs your daily calorie target.
We are massively complex beings, biologically and behaviorally, and the calorie target you’re expected to adhere to day-in, day-out comes from just four basic questions.
That doesn’t compute.
You know, anecdotally, that your body responds differently to certain foods and routines than your friends’ bodies do (for better or worse). So why should we expect anything different from a group of strangers who answer those four questions identically?
Calorie counting has us treat that daily target as the most important number in our routine. But it’s likely that number isn’t even right.
Putting 1 & 2 together, calorie counting, in practice, is a way to imprecisely lead yourself toward an imprecise goal.
And it isn’t just the math that’s bad…
Calorie counting extracts a mental toll (the time and effort required), and often a psychological toll (the burden of constantly needing to check against your daily number).
“Good” and “bad” can begin to be defined by calorie numbers instead of taste and overall health quality.
Food is meant to be enjoyed, which in turn fosters a healthy relationship with food. At best, calorie counting can co-exist with this relationship. At worst, it can destroy it.
Take the best part about calorie counting and ditch the rest.
The act of logging your meals, alone, is proven to help you make better choices. That’s the best part of calorie counting, and it doesn’t have anything to do with calories.
We all know the difference between a candy bar and a handful of carrots. Or, perhaps more relevantly, between a half tub of ice cream and three spoonfuls. We don’t need a number to tell us that.
On TwoGrand, you log meals and snacks simply by taking photos. You can add captions to each photo if you wish, and you can write a daily journal entry if you want to encapsulate how you did or remember a certain meal that was awesome.
The idea is to make logging meals as easy and fast as possible, and to add a visual element on top of it.
If you’ve counted calories before, here’s to betting you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how powerful having a visual history of your meals can be. It’s easy to identify areas for improvement, and you can see your behavior change over time.
And if you swear by calorie counting and take the time to do it really well, then take a photo and throw the calories in the caption. Now you’ve painted a better picture.
Photo credit to Flickr user JosephSardin