Why Calorie Counting Isn’t The Answer

Calorie counting - 15 calories in one carrot

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.

That’s it!

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

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Posted in Calorie counting, Health and weight loss, Nutrition science, The TwoGrand philosophy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How We Broke Thanksgiving… and How to Fix it

Thanksgiving is, in large part, about celebrating food. Right?

Well, that was the intention, anyway. Now, fearful conversations about food often overshadow the familial conversations over food. Thanksgiving is a time to be careful, not carefree. Turkey is the judge, jello is the jury, and Monday’s weigh-in is the executioner.

Our new holiday ritual – much like the collective food conversation at large – is warped. We’ve got it all wrong. And fixing it would make the US, and the world, a healthier place.

Thanksgiving meal collage

***

If you were to use major US publications as your basis for painting a picture of American health and food intake, these would be some of your takeaways:

  • On the scale of bad/unwanted things, gaining five pounds is on par with smallpox.
  • This new diet – the one that everyone’s doing – is the best because everyone’s doing it. (Last week’s diet… not so much, because… well, no one’s doing it anymore.)
  • The average time it takes to gain or lose 10-20 pounds is roughly one week.
  • Holidays are the absolute enemy and we should probably just avoid celebrating them altogether.

Crashes, cleanses, bloating, ballooning, expunging, inhaling, losing, winning – these are the words we frequently associate with weight management.

The weight loss industry – and associated media – thrives on the quick fix, on hyperbole, on fear. The alternative – “Form strong habits, be cognizant of your weaknesses, lean on others for support and inspiration, and know that we all indulge sometimes” – is a boring message. What will that sell?

Instead, we get fed a steady dose of heightened alarm. The Thanksgiving narrative goes something like this: “Gear up because it’s gonna be a bigger battle than usual. It’s a battle you’ll almost surely lose. Oh, and after you fail, here are five tips to losing that belly!”

Here’s a smattering of what’s being served up today:

  • Health magazine opening it’s “5 Simple Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain” piece with a dramatic reference to the “downward spiral of holiday overeating.”
  • The Huffington Post leading with the story “LOOK: Can You Guess How Many Calories are on Your Thanksgiving Plate?”
  • And the runaway winner, the Los Angeles Times, with “Savor Thanksgiving, but watch the carbs: 47 easy ways to scale back.”

Can we appreciate that headline for a moment? Forty seven? A headline that read “Savor Thanksgiving, but you’re f***ed” would sure save some newsprint.

***

Let’s revisit the opposite, boring narrative for a minute: Forming solid habits, making steady progress, building a solid foundation of support. Viewing your mission as “improving your routine” rather than going on a diet, and treating it as a lifelong journey.

What would those headlines look like?

  • “How to lose one pound each week, for 52 weeks.”
  • “Woman sees that her friend almost always eats a healthy breakfast – is inspired to do the same.”
  • “Gaining two pounds over Thanksgiving is normal. You can lose three by Christmas.”
  • “Man writes nightly note about his food intake to increase awareness. Says it works.”

It sounds funny, doesn’t it? But why are we laughing?

We’re laughing because it’s so far removed from what we’re used to hearing. We’re used to January meaning New Year’s resolution tips and February meaning Valentine’s Day chocolate management. We’re used to May meaning two-week bikini cleanses and July meaning Bud Light Lime damage control.

What we’re not used to hearing is the idea that every day of every month can be viewed pretty much the same, and that it’s almost certainly healthier to do so. Keeping with the same good habits, following the routine you’ve sculpted over time, allowing yourself some indulgence but not overdoing it – this stuff stands the test of time.

We hear groans about the litany of Thanksgiving temptations, but is it that different from your every day life? When are we not faced with the choice to eat poorly?

When we go to the grocery store, we make hundreds of small decisions that seriously impact our health for the rest of that week. When we eat at a restaurant, we typically stare at a menu featuring dishes spread across a 1,500-calorie spectrum.

And when we open the fridge at 9 p.m. on a Wednesday, we see apples on one shelf and apple pie on another.

Saying the holidays feature too much temptation strips us of our own agency. It diminishes our decision-making power. It cedes the narrative to people who tell us we need a 47th tip in our back pocket in case the first 46 don’t work out.

This Thanksgiving, let’s not craft a plan to make it through the next five weeks alive, belt notches unchanged. Instead, let’s craft a plan to add 10 more Thanksgivings onto the end of our lives.

It’s time to reframe the food intake discussion.

***

We built TwoGrand (iPhoneAndroid) to change the health narrative. Our tagline is “No more diets.” We aim to help you reach and maintain your weight goal, and we don’t see that as a contradiction to our tagline.

For positive changes to stick, your existing routine – no matter how much (or how little) you weigh – should be the foundation of your improved routine going forward. That’s our philosophy.

That routine should probably include a little turkey on Thursday. And maybe some of your mom’s pumpkin pie.

After all, Thanksgiving is, in large part, about celebrating food. Right?

Download TwoGrand for free

Posted in Health and weight loss, Seasonal food themes, The TwoGrand philosophy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Email of Awesomeness: Nov. 20, 2013

Here’s the opening excerpt from our weekly homage to being awesome:

‘Sounds cool, but will it work?’ This was a common refrain @alex and I heard while building TwoGrand. Naturally, we had a bevy of arguments and a boatload of confidence to support the positive, but until the app went live, we had no tangible proof.

Now, just over one month in, we know several of you are making awesome progress toward your goal. We’re elated, and we can’t wait to build more features to help you get there.”

This week’s email includes:
– The veggie challenge!
– If You Were CEO: Debuting our new share feature
– Weekly tribute to being real
– Upcoming: Features in the next version
– Meals of the Week

Read the full email here: http://bit.ly/TGemailNov20

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Email of Awesomeness: Nov. 13, 2013

At TwoGrand, we’re not big fans of newsletters.

Calling something a “newsletter” implies a somewhat static nature. You think of routine. And thus, most people ignore newsletters.

That said, email is still a great way to engage and delight people, not to mention a solid channel for feedback. Weekly emails do make sense.

But newsletter? No. We decided to call TwoGrand’s version the “Email of Awesomeness.” And therein lies our commitment: Make it awesome enough to open each week.

emailOfAwesomenessHeader

Here’s this week’s installment.

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When You’re a Startup, You Turn the Floor Into a Beautiful Wood Table

When you’re in the earliest stages of a startup, you’ll always be short on three things: time, money, and people. It’s part of the challenge.

This is a story about creatively working around those limitations.

As Alex and I (Peter) neared a completed beta version of TwoGrand, I was pretty happy with the MVP product and design. There was just one asterisk – I hated the new user walkthrough.

It was one of the first things I ever designed in Photoshop, and it showed. I hadn’t revisited it in months, and alternated between convincing myself it was good enough for a first version and telling myself no one outside of my mom and girlfriend would ever signup for TwoGrand after seeing it.

Here it is, for posterity’s sake. Just promise me you’ll read on to see the final version, OK?

First onboarding flow

About two weeks before our self-imposed deadline to submit the app to Apple and Google, aided by another round of design laughingstock nightmares and some very well-timed inspiration from my girlfriend – and design extraordinaire – Cat, I resolved to give the walkthrough another go.

I knew I wanted the design to be photography centric, and I had an idea of how the website homepage could incorporate the same theme.

We needed several delicious-looking plates of food. We needed a beautiful table. We needed good lighting. We needed a camera. We needed a photographer.

Lucky for us, Cat and her roommate Jackie had the camera, photography, and food thing covered. They’re ridiculous chefs and Jackie’s a photography ace.

But about that table. None of us owned a table remotely good-looking enough to qualify. I suggested a park with wooden tables, but the whole food preparation thing made that difficult.

A few hours later, Cat sent me a text message. “Could we use our kitchen floor? The wood is nice… once we clean the dog’s hair off it.”

It was on.

We shopped, cooked, and photographed it all the next day. Here’s a sampling:

Food prep

Food prep… lots of food prep.

The photography begins

Hanging in the kitchen, I mean, the studio.

Setting the "table"

Getting the positioning juuuust right.

We had a blast and the food was amazing. The only question remaining – and the most important question – was whether the floor would make for a convincing table.

I spent the next day designing, and this is what resulted:

Walkthrough, take 2

The feedback we received was almost universally positive. My walkthrough nightmares ceased. And yes, the website also featured the “table” in all its glory.

When all you have is lemons, make lemonade. Or when you’re a startup and all you have is a floor covered in husky fur, make a beautiful wood table and a compelling app walkthrough.

As of writing this, we’re live on Android and in the iPhone review queue. Download the app and check out the walkthrough for yourself!

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Meal Journaling: Why Photos Are Better Than Words

You’ve likely kept a journal at some point in your life. Maybe it was a diary of your middle school secrets. Maybe it was a travel journal to accompany you through Europe.

I wrote about the girls who were looking at me in my elementary school cafeteria. They were definitely looking at me. All of them.

Joking aside, journals not only provide an outlet for self-reflection, but also a means of more effectively remembering events as they actually happened.

For all the things humans do well, our memories aren’t the strongest. We tend to unknowingly modify past events as time progresses. And if it’s a small event or routine detail we’re talking about, it’s likely we won’t remember it at all.

Apply this fact to our food consumption, and it’s easy to see that we might not be the best at recalling what we put into our bodies every day. Eating is a thrice (or more) daily event. It’s fairly routine. Plus, we prefer to eat the food, not stare at it and debate its merits.

Thus, we arrive at our meal journaling dilemma. Logging your meals is undoubtedly one of the best ways to make progress toward a health goal. Recording what you eat and drink each day gives you a concrete basis on which you can improve, and it becomes surprisingly easy to identify where you can get better.

But writing down everything you eat takes time. A lot of time. Typing it on your phone isn’t much of an improvement, either. And when things take too much time, we stop doing them.

When starting TwoGrand, we knew meal journaling needed to be a key element to our service, and we knew we had to make it enjoyable – not cumbersome.

So we asked ourselves a simple question: If the act of journaling alone is what delivers most of the benefit, then what’s the absolute fastest way to journal?

The answer? Taking photos.

With that, we built an app that’ll allow you to log a meal in under 20 seconds. All told, you can log all of your meals in less than three minutes per day.

Not only do photos make meal journaling fast, they provide the most powerful visual of what you’re putting in your body each day. And it’s a visual that fits completely on the screen of your phone.

If you’re skeptical that taking photos can, alone, help you eat better, then we urge you to try it for a few days. After all, it’ll only take you a few minutes.

My day in photos

My day in photos: Sept. 3, 2013

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Why Our Philosophy is to Not Have a Nutrition Philosophy

TwoGrand is an app designed to help you achieve your weight goals, yet we don’t have a nutrition philosophy. And that’s the point.

We acknowledge this is contrarian, so bear with us.

Between 80 and 95 percent of diets fail, depending on which study you read. We see a lack of personalization as a huge contributor to this failure rate.

If the routine forces you to cook a ton, and you don’t like cooking that much, then it won’t work.

If the routine calls for buying a lot of expensive foods, and you don’t have a large food budget, then it won’t work.

If the routine isn’t fit to your body shape, then it won’t work. And if the routine means you’re eating and drinking a lot of things that don’t taste all that great to you, then it won’t work.

The list goes on.

Your body type, your lifestyle, and your food preferences matter. A lot. And to date, unless you have the time and money to pour into a personal trainer or nutritionist (most of us don’t), the diets you’ve tried aren’t molded to fit you.

So when we set out to build TwoGrand, we wanted to make the fact that different routines work for different people core to our product. You and I should probably not be following the same routine.

Having an overarching nutrition philosophy means you’re advocating that everyone follow a system or defined set of rules. While this has been how the industry has operated for centuries, we don’t agree with it.

You can’t take someone’s BMI and goal weight and run a calculation to say “this is how many calories you should eat every day.” There are too many individual differences. You can’t take the Atkins diet and say it’s going to work for a stranger you just met when you know nothing about the body, lifestyle, or food preferences of that stranger.

So we don’t have a nutrition philosophy. If we did, it’d be hypocritical.

What we do have is conviction that a solution exists for everyone, and that the emphasis must be on fitting a routine to every individual person, rather than asking every person to adopt a universal routine.

We believe the best way to find that routine is to A) Make your existing routine the foundation, and B) Improve by learning what works for people just like you.

That’s our philosophy. It’s not a nutrition philosophy. And we like it that way.

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