The topic of calorie counting can be extremely polarizing.
Some people enjoy the process of tracking their food intake, monitoring and seeking understanding of their food choices and the effect on the scales, while for others calorie counting represents dietary restraint, disordered eating and may even fuel an unhealthy obsession with diets and deprivation.
The link between counting calories and weight control has been written about in mainstream media for more than 100 years.
And while it is not for everyone, for the right person there can be a number of benefits, especially when the information gained via it is interpreted correctly.
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One of the biggest issues with our food intake is that a significant number of our daily calories are consumed mindlessly – the snacks we grab from the kid’s lunchbox; the leftovers picked from other family members plates or the extra biscuit or chocolate offered to us at work.
When we are unsure as to why we are not achieving weight loss, a short period of time committed to tracking and logging our food intake to determine our calorie intake, it can help to create mindfulness around eating so we become aware of the times little extras may be slipping in.
Identifies calorie imbalances
For those who are committed to specific training regimes and calorie intakes, taking time to take a closer look at calorie intake from a quantitative perspective can help to identify when calorie intake may be too high, or even inadequate for the body’s needs.
For those who are relatively strict with their intake, chronic calorie deprivation can impact metabolic rate, while for those trying to lose weight but who are failing to get there, again becoming aware of calorie intake can help to see dietary changes that will help to achieve the deficit required for weight loss.
Supports understanding of nutrients and energy density
It is not just the calorie content of food that is exposed when calories are tracked via an online program such as ‘MyFitnessPal’ but also in-depth information about the macro nutrients or the carbs, proteins and fat found in foods, as well as the micronutrients such as iron and calcium.
Broadening our understanding of what it is in food, and the areas in which our diet may be lacking is great personal data to have and understand, especially if you have not been feeling 100 per cent.
READ MORE: Why you shouldn’t stress about ‘danger’ snacking times
It is implied it weight control
Of all the data we have on people who have successfully lost weight and managed to keep it off for a significant period of time, eating a calorie-controlled diet most of the time is one of the key factors associated with long-term weight control.
May fuel head-based rather than hunger-based eating
Once we become more aware of the calorie density of different foods, it can also become easier to lose touch with our natural hunger and fullness signals and make food decisions based on the calorie-based rules we create for ourselves.
For example, ‘I have eaten an 800-calorie meal, so I will skip the next meal irrespective of my hunger’. Eating according to a number of calories rather than our physiological signals can fuel both under- and over-eating at times and while being aware of calories is important, it is not more important than what our body is telling us that it needs.
READ MORE: Dietitian explains why you’re always hungry
Fuels obsessive tendencies
For those of us who are predisposed to having food anxiety and obsessive thoughts, and or those who have a history of dieting and eating disorder, calorie counting can further exacerbate obsessive tendencies and anxiety around food and eating.
For those especially sensitive to this, calorie counting is contraindicated.
Is time consuming
Monitoring and tracking calories is both a labor and time intensive process, which is why sometimes it is better to do it occasionally to get some insight rather than commit to doing it for longer periods of time.
Is not overly accurate
While the data generated via calorie monitoring programs can give the impression of specificity and accuracy, the truth is that even the best calorie monitoring programs will have an error margin of as much as 20 per cent.
This is for many reasons – inaccurate raw data; variability in the food supply and misreporting. But this is another reason not to take calorie monitoring too seriously.
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Author Susie Burrell is a leading Australian dietitian and nutritionist, founder of shape meco-host of The Nutrition Couch podcast and prominent media spokesperson, with regular appearances in both print and television media commenting on all areas of diet, weight loss and nutrition.
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