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Calorie Counting Doesn’t Work – You’re Fooling Yourself

By Jiri Kaloc

Are you counting calories? How accurate do you think you are? It’s hard enough estimating caloric values of foods in a lab, let alone in the real world. The average person goes to restaurants, cinema, barbecues, and doesn’t always have detailed info about what they eat. Counting calories might be harder than it seems if you live an active lifestyle.

From the previous article we know that counting calories is not a precise science and there are a lot of potential errors to be made. But that’s not the only obstacle. People who want to count calories with any sort of accuracy need to contend with the imperfections of real life.

You are bad at eyeballing food

Do you cook at home to have a better idea of how many calories you’re taking in? Unless you’re measuring every single ingredient on a scale, you might be setting yourself up to fail. Studies show that people mis-measure food two thirds of the time and even trained nutritionists underestimate calories in meals by an average of 30 %. Did you add a tablespoon of olive oil more than you thought? That’s 130 kcal unaccounted for. Especially while cooking larger meals, mistakes similar to these do happen and the extra calories pile up quickly.

Hidden calories while eating out

Eyeballing the weight of meat, potatoes, and other clearly visible ingredients in restaurant meals is a hard task in itself and then there are the sauces, marinades, and fillings that you just can’t estimate precisely. Sometimes you can see caloric values on the menu but studies have shown that most restaurants undervalue the caloric contents of their meals. And don’t forget about that splash of cream in your coffee. One tablespoon of cream is 70 kcal. How much did they put in?

Your memory is not perfect

Do you remember what you had for breakfast? If you ever forget to note down a given meal right away, it can be very tricky to remember. We subconsciously underestimate the quantity or mistake meals from previous days. And that’s if you do remember at all. Do you keep healthy snacks at your office desk? Has it ever happened to you that a whole bag of nuts just disappears without you even knowing when you ate them? A 100g bag of Brazil Nuts is 656 kcal. This type of mindless eating is unfortunately very common these days and doesn’t go well with calorie counting.

If you consider how hard it is to be precise and keep track of all the foods you eat, and add the inherent errors of calorie math described in the previous article, you can clearly see how far away from the reality can one get even with the best intentions. And this is just one side of the equation, next time we will look at how hard it is to estimate calories out.

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