Calories – a trigger word for some, this pesky unit of energy tends to build up a love/hate relationship in many of us. Looking at the back of a food packet in the supermarket to see if that particular item is within your calorie allowance will be an all too familiar situation for some. There’s no wonder why – this world is obsessed, and they are everywhere – on menus at restaurants, on pretty much any packaged food, and you can even use a calorie counter on Google to find out how many calories are in an apple – should you even count calories in fruit? We’re not sure.
On April 2022, the UK government implemented a new strategy to tackle obesity – all menus in restaurants and cafés, online menus, food delivery platforms, and food labels must present calorie information, in the hope that this will allow the nation to make more informed decisions when it comes to their food choices. Strangely, the focus is usually on the number of calories instead of the quality of the food we consume. For example, there’s scientific evidence that supports the fact that protein is good for numerous reasons, including weight loss, and we too join this with our range of protein powders like The Health Protein. But the struggle lies with the science behind calorie counting. We stand victorious behind those who want to get fitter, leaner, and toned, but does counting calories cause a health detriment, and therefore should we really be tailoring our lifestyle towards this approach? We are here to help answer this question – is it just a fad - or should we really be counting calories?
What Are Calories?
Before we begin our calorie-counting quest, let’s start by outlining what a calorie is. For a basis, a calorie is a measure of energy, usually to measure the energy content of foods and drinks. Without this, our bodies will simply not function. However, when we consume more calories than we need, the body transforms this into fat which consequently over time will lead to weight gain (not good). Different people require different amounts of calories per day, and this is where it gets tricky. Let’s hope you are keeping up. Generally speaking, the recommended daily calorie intake is 2,000 for women and 2,500 for men. However, the amount of energy you need will also depend on certain factors like:
- Age – for example, children and teenagers will need more energy than adults due to their metabolism
- Lifestyle – for example, how active the individual is – do you frequently go to the gym or spend most of your working life sitting at an office desk?
Size – someone’s height and weight can affect how quickly they use energy too
These are only a few contributors, with others being hormones like thyroid hormones, some medicines which contain steroids, and certain illnesses. The whole process of calorie counting is daunting, not to mention confusing and complicated. Now you can see why so many people struggle with it.
The Pros And Cons Of Calorie Counting
1200 calories a day – what? This may sound crazy, but to lose weight and get in better shape, some people seriously restrict their intake for a quick fix. On one hand, monitoring the number of calories you consume will make it easier for you to keep control of your own journey, allowing you to hit personal goals. But on the other, this control can go too far and subsequently can lead to a bad food relationship. Knowing whether calorie counting is the right choice for you is difficult, so let’s outline the pros and cons starting with the positive impacts.
Positives Of Counting Calories
- Teaches portion control
As we have spoken about before, calorie counting allows you to keep control, and this also applies to the size of your meals. Once the individual learns how much they should be consuming each day, they can adjust the size of their portion accordingly – really helpful for those who overeat too! So to speak, people tend to not overeat the healthier choices like vegetables, and instead help themselves to that extra portion of porridge or rice, especially within the cold winter months. Portion control allows you to keep track of how many carbohydrates and fats you are consuming, which in return will reward your body.
- More open to healthier alternatives
Tracking calories and keeping within your daily amount could also push you to switch that calorie-dense pasta pot with a healthier alternative with fewer calories like zucchini, or sweet potato. Healthier options tend to have fewer calories which after all is a win win situation surely?
- Leads to more mindful eating
Calorie counting allows the individual to connect more with what they are consuming as they are taking notice of what they are eating. We know the feeling: just aimlessly shovelling food into our mouths like we are a robot, not truly thinking about where our food comes from and what is in it. Counting calories allows us to closely monitor the content of our food which includes where it was produced and even the air miles. This in return will encourage people to eat more sustainably and locally. There’s something refreshing about local produce don’t you think?
Negatives Of Counting Calories
- Can be imprecise and untrustworthy
Interestingly, it is said that food labels on packages are not always precise, and that most food administrations have a rule that allows companies to have a 20% allowance, so when a label states that it has 200 calories, you could be actually consuming 160 or even 240 calories! If that wasn’t enough, at-home cooking is very measurement based which means you must have access to a scale or measurement jug. If you calculate your portion incorrectly, the number of calories you intake could be wrong and therefore ruin your plan.
- It can be boring and time-consuming
I don’t know about you but spending every waking hour analysing and calculating how many calories your body is taking in can be tiresome. We are busy people, and barely have time to put on the washing in the morning, let alone measure out how many pieces of oats we are adding to our breakfast. It’s an additional task to add to one’s day, and another component that our brain must think about. Seeing results takes time, and that is simply something most of us just don’t have.
- It can ruin food
As human beings, we love food. Most of us get a sense of excitement out of our next meal, if that’s with trying a new dish, or going to a new restaurant – food brings us that joy in our mundane life. However, counting calories can strip us of this joy as we begin to categorise food into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and therefore stop ourselves from eating that mid-week pizza that used to be the highlight of our week. Doesn’t everyone have pizza Thursdays?
- Can lead to unhealthy eating habits
Our last negative is a serious subject, and so many have fallen victim to this. Firstly, counting calories can lead to the individual focusing all their energy on lower-calorie foods instead of nutrition. So, you may be opting for low-calorie foods like certain yogurts, cereal bars, etc, but not realising that these are full of sugar and therefore not fuelling your body with the correct nutritional benefits. In the long run, this could cause serious deficiencies. It could also spark an addiction, and people can get fixated on consuming as little calories as possible which therefore leads to an eating disorder.
Healthier Alternatives To Calorie Counting
For those of you who would like to lose weight and get in better shape but don’t want to calorie count, there are some healthier alternatives instead:
- Use smaller plates to trick your brain into thinking that you are eating more than you are
- Eat more protein which can reduce appetite and increase the amount of fat burnt
- Eat fewer carbs
- Make time for more sleep and reduce stress levels
- Skip the condiments – say bye to your beloved ketchup bottle (sorry)
- Drink plenty of water
- Count colours instead of calories – focus more on nutrient-rich produce
- Eat Intuitively - Listen to your body and eat when you are hungry
Deciding whether calorie counting is worth it is not easy, and it all depends on your own mindset, lifestyle, and requirements. However, we can’t ignore the negative benefits that this craze can cause - someone’s health needs to be the priority and maintaining a healthy balanced eating regime will ensure this. We are aware that this topic and article could be triggering for some, and if you or someone you love needs help there are plenty of helplines that can be of assistance. The body needs food to survive, and maintaining a well-balanced diet is key. A happy diet equals a happy you.