Why Counting Calories Has Nothing To Do With Healthy Eating


If you’re currently on a mission to spruce up your eating habits and still asking the classic dieting question, “Should I count calories to lose weight?” we need to have a little talk. And hopefully, by the time we’re done here, you won’t feel the need to ponder this thought ever again.

Gone are the days of meticulously counting calorie after calorie to tone up in desired areas or shed a few pounds, because contrary to popular belief, not all calories are created equal at this point in our food system.

If you think we’re out of our minds to suggest that calories and even strict portion sizes aren’t the proper focal points of weight loss, science is here to back us up. A recent study from the Stanford Prevention Research Center found that eating whole foods without worry and avoiding added sugar, refined grains and other highly processed foods is a far more effective weight loss method than making sure your daily intake hits a strict calorie number mark. And beyond weight loss, this way of eating makes you healthier, too.

As a culture, we are often too willing to sacrifice long-term well-being for short-term aesthetic changes. We try to game the system and say, “This small piece of chocolate cake is only 200 calories and it’s my entire breakfast, so I’m technically making progress toward losing weight.” And while, yes, that may be true, it also means that our nutrition is totally in the hole. And the more we focus on the calorie value of foods rather than their nutrient values, the easier it is to lean into portion-controlled junk, creating disordered eating behaviors and, honestly, malnutrition.

Unsplash/Charles Deluvio

Now, before the advent of things like partially hydrogenated oils and high-fructose corn syrup, it was safe to say that the fresh plant- and animal-based foods you ate would provide valuable energy (which is really what the measure of calorie stands for). But now, you can grab countless packaged “health” foods from grocery store shelves that are just the definition of a sugar crash, leaving you craving even more food later on.

Today, you will be much better off if you switch up your mentality and focus on the quality of the food you’re eating rather than the quantity. Consider the ingredients going into your food, which should be especially easy if you’re sticking to things like fresh produce and organic meats and wild-caught seafood. And think about the actual nutritional value your food provides — protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals — before you even bother looking at calorie numbers.

No matter how you feel about the food you eat, a calorie is not a nutritional marker. It is an indicator of how much fuel your body is consuming from the food you’re eating. And if fuel sources aren’t all created equal — just check out your local gas station for further evidence — then we shouldn’t walk around behaving as if they are.