Calorie Counting: The Endless Debate

Are you one of those people who can’t part from their calorie counter apps, feeling completely lost and out of control without it?

Do you often find yourself googling the amount of calories in a Doritos bite before it hits your mouth?

Are you the person who needs to know exactly how many grams of chicken and ounces of orange juice you are about to consume?

Do you sometimes find yourself negotiating numbers, turning into an accountant by the end of the day? (Damn it! I had 225 extra calories today, I will burn off 135 now on the treadmill and I will skip the 90 calories banana at breakfast tomorrow.)


Here is the thing: as much as calorie counting can be beneficial, such as making us aware of the amount of food we are consuming, it could also lead to a stressful, unhappy life. It will not give us the long term results we are seeking.

“A cheeseburger at McDonalds is at least 100 calories less than half of a salmon fillet”

Sometimes we get too absorbed in numbers, that we forget that we are actually eating healthy food, not calories. Even though a cheeseburger in this case sounds like a better option, our body’s physiology is not designed to handle this amount of processed sugar, fat and sodium, all ingested in a few bites.

On the other hand, a salmon fillet, which is slightly higher in calories, has double the amount of lean proteins than in the burger. It is also has five times lower salt, contains half a gram of heart protecting omega-3 fatty acids, and offers 83% of the daily value requirements of vitamins such as Vitamin B-12. 

The calories are less, but the content is totally different, and that is the deal breaker! 

“There is almost a 50% error margin in the amount of calories you are consuming.”

According to some research, the energy and nutrients listed on food labels or in calorie databases, can have an error margin of +/- 25%. This is due to the method by which scientists calculate the amount of calories in food, which is inaccurate due to the many variables not taken into consideration:

  • The soil and growing conditions.
  • The animal’s diets.
  • Length of storage.
  • The ripeness at time of harvest
  • Preparation method and cooking time.

Some additional research shows that certain frozen foods can contain 8% more calories than the package indicates. Also, some restaurant meals can have up to 18% more calories than they indicate.

Even if you know the exact amount of calories you are eating, there is no way you can know how much of that energy will become usable energy. Our bodies are uniquely different at absorbing, processing and excreting nutrients, so even if you try your best to measure calorie intake precisely, you could be off by 20% or more. Given all of that, it can be up to around 50% error. That’s a lot! 

Conclusion: Counting calories as a way to control your diet is time consuming, difficult and inaccurate.

I can already hear calorie counters freaking out at the idea of giving up their calculators.

“What do you expect us to do? How would we know when to stop? How will we know what to eat?”

Well, here are two things you can start doing now that would instantly change your life:

  1. Learn to eat only whole natural and unprocessed foods: If you manage to differentiate between processed foods and whole natural foods and learn to eat only nature’s food, I assure you, you will not need to think about counting your calories anymore.

  2. Tune in to your hunger and fullness cues: Our bodies are equipped with a highly sophisticated hormonal and nervous system that tells us exactly when to eat, when not to eat and when to stop eating. In fact, Cavemen did not have calorie counting apps nor did they have kitcken scales. They just followed their natural body signals.

Unfortunately, we either ignore these signals “its dinner time and I am still not hungry. I Must eat something anyways." Or we just don’t listen to it in the first place.

Of course it is easier said than done, it needs practice. But trust me, when you get a hold of it, you will be an expert at managing your body and you will actually enjoy the process of healthy living. 

Stay tuned, in my next article, I will be discussing some ways that will help you master those natural body signals.

Until next time,

Dr. Shady Labib

Shady Labib Nutrition