Conspiracy corner: Studies show counting calories is useless, even harmful

Counting calories is a waste of time

More stories from Alyssa Anderson

Getting Weird
December 13, 2018


Tired of counting calories? Good news! Health and nutrition experts argue calorie counting may do more harm than good.

Last time I checked, human beings needed nutrients to survive. Food is necessary for life. There is no way around that. Basically, anything edible has calories in it — calories necessary for bodily function.

Nevertheless, millions of humans waste precious minutes of their lives counting calories with the hope that a smaller caloric intake will lead to a healthier, leaner body. These misled individuals are not helping themselves. Instead, it is likely they are doing more harm than good.

Before I get into the calorie counting hoax, I would like to add that I am in no way a health expert. I routinely smoke a pack of cigarettes a day and drown myself in black coffee. Pretty much the only time I exercise is when I’m about to miss the bus.

Clearly, I have no place telling anyone how to live their life. I do, however, know a thing or two about conspiracy theories.

According to the FDA, adequately counting the amount of calories you ingest and expend in a day is an improbable goal. The calories listed on nutrition labels are rarely accurate and, even if they were, keeping up with your daily calorie count is not only useless, but mathematically impossible.

According to an article for Time Health, many nutrition experts argue calories are not worthy of our attention. In fact, experts often shun the word “calorie” altogether due to its incorrect and often damaging connotations with diet.

Dr. Robert Lustig, director of the Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health (WATCH) Program at the University of California, San Francisco, said the problem with “obsessing” over calories is that we often fall victim to the misconception that all calories are equal.

“Different foods are metabolized differently, absorbed differently, converted into fat or energy differently and raise or lower your risk for disease differently,” Lustig said.

When focusing on calories, we ignore these complexities of the human body. Experts like Lustig agree that cutting back on calories will not help you lose weight and may make matters worse.

“People think overeating makes you fat, when really it’s the process of getting fat that makes you overeat,” said Dr. David Ludwig, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. “When you’re gaining weight, something has triggered your fat cells to store too much energy, which doesn’t leave enough for the rest of the body.”

Ludwig explained that “something” is usually the hormone insulin. When our body’s insulin response is out of control, cutting back on calories is not the answer.

Instead, Ludwig recommended switching focus from quantity to quality. Eating the right types of food will help to regulate our insulin responses, speed up metabolism, and decrease hunger. These changes happen when we focus on eating healthy because we are working with our bodies, not against them, Ludwig said.

Long story short, cutting back on calories is a waste of energy. Literally. Instead of calculating the calories of everything we eat, we should focus on eating healthy and treating our bodies right. Counting calories is way too much math, anyways. I don’t have time for that.