By Emma Balek
How Calorie Counters Deceive Us
Calorie counting may seem like the solution to all your problems. You want to lose those five pounds or be able to fit into that dress, so you download a calorie counting app on your phone, and expect the pounds to come off just like that. But here’s what no one tells us about calorie counters:
They don’t know how many calories you need. In order to estimate your calorie needs, your body’s metabolic rate must be known; there is currently no calorie counter that can measure this, so the calorie allowance that they give you is most likely incorrect.
The calorie information that they give you about foods may also be incorrect: A lot of this information comes from other users of the app, who may have just estimated how many calories are in a specific food. Additionally, even calorie information on nutrition labels can have errors.
There is no way to guarantee that the calorie information in these apps is correct, and therefore no way for these apps to truly tell you how many calories you have eaten.
Unfortunately, many of us are not aware of the ways that calorie counters can deceive us, and for many people, calorie counting can become a way of life.
Calorie Counting Gone Too Far
Many years ago, I too jumped onto the calorie counting bandwagon, and what I thought was just going to be a temporary phase turned out to be completely life-changing. At first, I loved it; I felt totally in control, never again would I have to worry about gaining weight. But before I knew it, the calorie counter had taken over my life. I would find myself in a panic if I had gone over my limit, and every time I ate, I would immediately whip out my phone to make sure I was still within my calorie budget. I became so preoccupied with the thought of calories that sometimes I had trouble holding conversations; I felt disconnected from everyone. I knew this wasn’t healthy, and I didn’t enjoy it at all; in fact, I hated it. I wanted nothing more than to return to living my happy and care-free life, but I always told myself that I couldn’t; calorie counting had become an addiction. But wait: what was I thinking? I absolutely could.
One day I was tired of the frustration, guilt, and anxiety that the calorie counter was causing me, and I made the decision that I wanted to stop. I asked myself if this was the life that I wanted for myself and if this was the life that I wanted to continue living, and the answer was no.
I didn’t put away my calorie counter just like that; it was a gradual process. I began with not entering my calories until the end of the day. During the day, I focused on fueling my body with nutritious foods and balanced meals. I figured that there was no need for guilt if I was eating foods that were good for my body. Soon afterwards, I realized that there was no need to feel guilty about eating at all, regardless of whether or not you consider your foods to be healthy.
Having a healthy diet doesn’t mean eating all healthy foods all the time, it means having a good balance of foods rich in nutrients and foods that maybe aren’t so rich in nutrients but you indulge in because you love them. It didn’t take long for me to accept that there was no need for me to count calories. I chose foods that made me feel good, which included comfort foods in moderation. My life was so much better without the thought of calories lingering in the back of my mind; it was a huge weight lifted off of my shoulder.
If you see calorie counting becoming a compulsion for you, know that you absolutely do have the power and control to stop. Ask yourself what kind of life you want to live, and if calorie counting is helping you live that life. When you start thinking about calories, remind yourself of a few important things:
- Calories are nothing but units of energy; and our bodies need energy for everything: for our heart to beat and for our brain to think.
- It’s not calories that matter, it’s the overall quality of your diet
- Most importantly: the number of calories that you supposedly eat in a day does not determine your worth. You are always worth more than a number.
Emma Balek is a dietetics student at Boston University and a certified fitness instructor. Her personal struggles with anorexia nervosa, and the media’s false information about health is what inspired her to study nutrition. She intends to pursue a career in eating disorder recovery. If there is one thing she wants people to know, it is that you should never lose hope that a full recovery is possible.