The “C” word. It’s got a bad wrap in the past; it’s become a little bit dirty. Why? Because it gets thrown around a lot, with little understanding for what it actually means.
“This chocolate bar has only 97 calories.” (Nom, nom, nom.)
“My fibre-full breakfast has how many calories?” (Shock horror, throws muesli in the bin.)
In a way, it’s become synonymous with the “F” word (fat, obviously) and this is a problem. We’re not naïve, calories are important if you’re trying to lose weight.
“If we look at every successful fat loss diet, there is usually one common factor where one way or another a significant calorie shift has been made. Various diets and supplements may make this process easier, but at the end of the day you must reduce caloric intake,” writes Greg Stark in Sweat Equity.
“I went through a period where I completely disregarded calories. I used to say, ‘Don’t count calories because calories don’t count.’ Now while this is true to an extent, when you look at the research, calories are still one of the best measures we have to date.”
But it’s not as simple as just counting numbers. If you’re trying to slim down, you need to know where your calories are coming from and understand how they work. According to Stark, there are several complications when it comes to counting your calories.
1. Calorie count databases are imprecise; two identical pieces of 200g beef steak can have a differential of up to 200 calories.
2. We don’t absorb all the calories we consume; with some foods like almonds, we only absorb 68% of calories. But for other foods, we absorb more calories, such as kale where we tend to absorb 28% more calories.
3. How you prepare the food also changes its calories; if you bake a potato you will make more calories available from 101 calories raw to 193 calories baked.
5. It’s difficult to eyeball portion sizes: studies show people misjudge portion size two thirds of the time. This can result in an up to 25% error when counting calorie intake. Get your portion size under control with these tips.
“Calories are currently the best unit of measure we have for our consumption of food and is a good strategy that works for many people. However, we find it more effective to first get the quality of our food right and the behaviours that surround it.”