Should You Be Tracking Calories?
If you fret about your daily caloric intake to the point of obsession-don’t. Most people assume that if they are meticulous and eat within certain caloric parameters, they’ll get the results they are after. And if they’re a hair over or under those parameters they somehow have failed or unraveled their progress.
Make no mistake, energy balance applies. You have to eat less than you expend to lose weight. The problem arises when people wear themselves out trying to be 100% with calorie logging when calorie logging, is, ultimately really inaccurate.
I’ve posted before about it’s not a necessity to measure, weigh, calculate or track your food- and some people will disagree with me, but I’ve seen this approach work WONDERS (particularly for really busy individuals) on countless occasions. There are other ways to implement portion control that is much less psychologically stressing than trying to count every damn calorie you consume.
It boils down to personal preference.
And I am NOT saying that it’s wrong to log or track your food ( I log and track my calories and macros) it’s that you need to understand it’s an imperfect and flawed system at best.
1. For starters, you can’t trust that the calorie (and macro nutrient) numbers you see on food packages are accurate. Food companies can legally use any of five varying methods for calculating nutritional data and they are allowed, by the FDA to be off by 20%. So this means that a serving listed as 100 calories could be 80 calories or it could be 120 calories. And that’s a huge difference.
Food databases are also incredibly skewed. And many, like MyFitnessPal, allow users to input their own data and that data can be searched by other users as well. There’s just one way to ensure accuracy.
2. We don’t “absorb” all of the calories we consume. Some foods pass through our body undigested. This is particularly true in the bodies of individuals with digestive illness or autoimmune disorders (like myself). Things like nuts, seeds, and many vegetables and fruits tend to have much higher caloric values than we actually absorb. As an example, we only absorb about 68% of the calories consumed from almonds.
3. How you prepare your food also alters the amount of calories absorbed. Typically cooking foods versus eating them raw allows a higher rate of absorption. This is why lightly steaming or cooking food is recommended for people with digestive issues. Chopping or blending food also increases the calories your body can absorb.
4. Then there’s what happens once that food enters your body- and this is highly individual because it depends upon the bacterial balance in your gut. Depending on your digestive environment you could absorb more or less of what you consume. People with poor gut health, like myself absorb about 150-200 calories LESS per day than those with optimal gut balance.
It’s estimated- given all the info above- that, at best, there’s at least a 25% margin of error when it comes to tracking calories. So this means, if you’re striving to consume 1500 calories a day, you could wind up being (at the bare minimum) + or – 375 calories.
That’s a range of 1125-1875. That’s massive.
So while it’s okay to log calories and track your food it’s certainly not something you HAVE to do to see results.
If you do choose to log food and track calories at least keep it in perspective and remember to take it for what it is. It’s an estimation or ballpark. Nothing more. And you’re not going to shrivel up and die if you’re + or – 10 calories here or there.