Calories: To count, or not to count?
I spent many delightful hours this week poring over "What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets" by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio, a beautiful (and hefty) book that documents in photographs and text what 80 different people from all over the globe eat in a given day. I wrote about the book and the view it affords of other people's eating habits for this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column.
The 80 entries in "What I Eat" are organized according to how many calories each person's daily menu contains. The range is astounding -- from 800 to 12,300 a day -- but most people's tallies hover around 2,000 calories.
The book got me wondering how many calories I consume in a day. I don't count them. In fact, I deliberately shunned calorie-counting during my recent weight loss effort.
Focusing on calories, much like keeping a detailed food diary or counting "points," skews my judgment, somehow. I find I spend too much time obsessing over those details, whereas if I simply put in place some simple rules for eating that automatically keep my food intake where it should be, I can relax and think about other things. Those rules include serving myself smaller portion sizes, never taking second helpings and never picking at food while I'm preparing a meal or cleaning up afterward. I don't eat anything after dinner (except a cocktail), and I don't eat sweets. I've lost the weight I aimed to lose and then some (I'll be reporting in full on the Me Minus 10 campaign in an upcoming column).
Some people do really well by counting calories, though. More power to them! As this article points out, though, there are right ways and less-helpful ways to go about tracking your calories.
And this article makes the case that relying on calorie counting alone, in the absence of judgments about various foods' nutritional quality, can actually steer you toward a less-healthful way of eating.
Another problem with counting calories is that we just don't know how many calories are in so much of the food we have access to. Many experts and activists are trying to change that, of course. But we're a long way away from the day when every menu item in every restaurant we enter comes with a calorie count.
(If you do choose to count calories, here's a good source of data from the federal government.)
So, dish with me, Checkup readers. Do you find counting calories helps you manage your weight? Or does it make it harder for you to do so? Please register your experience in the Comments section, and take a sec to vote in today's poll.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
| September 21, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Me Minus 10, Nutrition and Fitness, Obesity
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