Counting Calories - Not As Simple As You Think
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Counting Calories – Not As Simple As You Think

6 Comments | Diet

counting calories overestimate

So… why the hell am I writing an article on counting calories. Shouldn’t counting calories be as easy as 1+1?

Well I wish it were that easy, but unfortunately we live in world full of errors and miscalculations.

I talked about nutrition labels and how they are of great convenience to us here, but the problem with nutrition labels is that they are all standardized and set in stone.

Counting calories

Nutrition labels can be decieving

This is something that doesn’t get talked about a lot, but when scientists measure the calories in food, they simply measure the calories, and slap whatever amount they get onto EVERY SINGLE  nutrition label in the world.

That means that every single apple in the bag is “supposed” to have only 70 calories and that every single Big Mac from McDonalds is “supposed” to have exactly 540 calories.

Do you see the problem? There is absolutely no way that every apple or Big Mac has the EXACT same amount of calories.

It’s simply impossible.

For example, if you order 2 Big Macs, I guarantee both of them won’t be 540 calories. The amount of sauce used will vary, the size of the buns will never be exactly the same, and the number of sesame seeds on each bun will be different. You get the point.

There’s always a margin of error.

How to avoid this margin of error

Believing the calorie count of your foods for their exact amount may not be sabotaging your weight loss efforts, but it could definitely be doing damage that could be avoided otherwise.

If the foods you eat have a margin of error of 50-100 calories each, then that can quickly add up to pounds of unnecessary weight gain over the years.

So what do you do? You OVERESTIMATE the amount of calories in the food you eat. So if you eat a Big Mac for lunch, then you should count it as 600 calories instead of 540 calories, allowing for a 60 calorie margin of error.

Similarly, if you eat a bag of chips that supposedly has 210 calories, you would count that as 300 calories, allowing for a 90 calorie margin of error. You understand?

How high should I overestimate?

That depends…..

For 1-ingredient foods like apples and oranges, you probably don’t have to set it so high(30-50 calories), since they are generally lower in calories, but for more complex foods like chocolate milkshakes made with human breast milk, you should overestimate a bit more(100-150 calories, since more ingredients are involved).

Sometimes when overestimating, you just have to rely on instinct and good judgement. If you’re eating foods that are prone to manufacturing errors like pizzas and pastas, then set your overestimate a bit higher.

One last note

When it comes to counting calories, people do make the mistake trusting the calorie counts a bit too much. But just because I introduced this new concept of  overestimating doesn’t mean that you should be stressing over it.

I really don’t want you to lose sleep because you can’t decide whether to overestimate your calories by 50 or 60 calories.

Remember, keep it simple.

How do you count calories? Let me know in the comments below.

Sean Dugan-Strout - September 26, 2011

I like Brad Pilon’s energy adoption, the MJ! Good post for all the calorie counters.

http://bradpilon.com/weight-loss/could-the-megajoule-save-dieting/

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    admin - September 26, 2011

    Sean,
    I agree with you. Adopting the MJ would probably simplify things, but people have been using calories for so long that I don’t think they’re ready for such a big change lol.

    Reply
Dave - Not Your Average Fitness Tips - September 30, 2011

Completely agree about counting calories; it’s not as easy as everyone makes it out to be. Portion sizes are generally not standardized and it’s hard to know if you’re eating 4oz of meat or 5oz. Estimates can easily be off by 10-20% per day. I like your conservative methodology to calculating calories. The other variable could be to assume you don’t burn any calories from exercise.

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    admin - September 30, 2011

    Dave,
    I agree, burning calories from exercise is pretty overrated especially on workout machines like treadmills and elliptical where the count can be incredibly inaccurate.

    Reply
Alan - June 4, 2014

Just started the “Extreme Fast Loss” 1-week 800-calorie regime. It’s nice to have this in mind for the future. I won’t go nuts over it, but it’s definitely a nice heads-up.

Thanks.

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Josh - November 6, 2017

DO NOT DO THIS. This approach is both statistically unsound and chronically unhealthy. The thing about error (without skew or bias, which you’re not identifying here as a problem) is that the probability of an expected 540 kcal Big Mac being 600 (+60 error) is equal to it being 480 kcal (-60 error). So the probability of gaining weight over time is equal to that of losing weight, and over a long enough period of time there’s an increasing probability that these errors converge to zero.

In other words, by advising people to chronically overestimate their calorie count (say, by shaving off 10% per portion), it certainly is possible that they will achieve their goal. But it’s just as likely that they will come in 20% short of their expected goal over time. Most likely, the average dieter will just come in 10% short. Maybe this outcome is desirable for some (i.e., more weight loss than expected), but in full disclosure you really should make you make your readers aware of this possibility.

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