Do you count calories on a daily basis? Do you measure how much you should be eating every day? Do you ever wonder why you’re eating less than your recommended daily calories but still not losing weight?

Calorie counting is the most widely used method for measuring how much we eat every day. The aim is to eat more or less calories than the recommended daily amounts (2000kcal for women, 2500kcal for men) in order to gain or lose weight. Food packaging is often labelled with the amount of calories the product contains, which aids us in recording our calorie intake.

However, measuring the amount of calories we consume and the amount of calories we burn can be an inaccurate and inconsistent way of achieving weight loss. These numbers don’t tell the full story. Calorie counting is a very simplified version of the real story.

When it comes to counting calories we take in, there are five major reasons why we should be mindful:

  1. Calories on food labels are industry averages. For example, two similar medium red apples sold in the same bag could have 83 calories or 110 calories. The food label is just supplying you with an average calorie count.
  2. We don’t absorb all the calories we consume. Some calories pass through us without being digested. When we eat 1g of protein only 70% of it is digested and absorbed.
  3. Our gut absorbs food in different ways. How much we absorb varies from person to person. A person may absorb 150 extra calories per day compare to a person on the same diet.
  4. How we prepare and cook our food changes the calories within a food. A raw egg is 47 calories but when boiled is 74 calories. A raw steak is 110 calories but when grilled is 240 calories. It’s not only cooking – blending and chopping changes how we absorb and use the nutrients within food.
  5. People are not great at measuring portion sizes. We are misled by the large portion sizes we are served at restaurants/cafes/takeaways.

On the flip side, there are also five key reasons why we should be mindful when counting the amount of calories we burn:

  1. The calories we count are imprecise. The method used to measure the majority of calories burned estimates we see is called indirect calorimetry. These methods can be up 45% inaccurate.
  2. Industry fitness trackers can be up to 30% off.
  3. We all burn calories differently. The way we burn calories is affected by our genes, age, fitness levels, sleep and hormones.
  4. Food has a thermal effect. What we eat and how much we eat affects how we burn it. Protein takes more energy to break down and digest than carbohydrate and fat.
  5. Your weight history influences how much you burn. Your body will fight hard against weight loss and weight gain. If you have a history of being overweight, your body will find it harder to lose weight than someone who has never been overweight. This works the same for people who have always been slim/lean. They will find it harder to gain muscle/weight.

Calorie counting can be misleading especially if you are relying solely on it to achieve your fitness/weight goals. Counting your calories is theoretically a powerful way to understand and control the calories we have consumed and burnt. However,  these are only guidelines, and do not consider people on an individual level. People are often left with inconsistent or even counterproductive outcomes when trying to lose weight. In short, calorie counting may not be worth the time and effort.

Looking for a more reliable method to measure your food/calorie consumption? Keep an eye on my next blog where I will suggest some useful alternatives.

Blog by Aoife Gillen, Strength & Conditioning Specialist at Dublin Sports Clinic.