Is it Worthwhile Counting Calories?

Maybe it’s a “female thing”, but I can positively confirm that none of my male friends would ever count calories whilst on diet. Partly this female fixation with calorie counting is a consequence of their doing the Weight Watchers diet whereas males would rather adopt a less stringent “wing it” approach. Normally that is the well-known Starvation Method. Which approach is preferable or is it neither?

Imagine measuring and weighing every morsel of food that passes one’s lips. I could not imagine Nigella Lawson measuring anything as she takes cooking to the other extreme: a dab of this, a glob of that. No two meals can possibly be the same.

Main picture: Why are the verboten foods so tempting while the good foods are so bland

After measuring the quantities of everything, one then has to convert the quantity into the calories based upon the Weight Watcher’s Bible, The Calorie Counters Handbook. After going through this ritual for a few days, I would just visit Woolies for some precooked meals and rely upon the labels for the calories. It seems to be much easier.

The fundamental flaw in the Calorie Counting approach is that calories are fickle. A sweeter grape will contain more fructose and hence more calories than an older less sweet cultivar. Even the supposedly low calorie foodstuffs such as yoghurt or flavoured milk could have been sweetened, some more than others.



Labels are only indicative of an average, a norm, whereas the actual item can contain up to 40% more calories than specified.

Aside from the difficulty of knowing the exact calories consumed, comes a little known fact: all calories are not equal. In order to understand what the effect of a calorie on weight is, one needs to understand the effect on the production of insulin. Sugar and even the fructose in fruit are the culprits in this regard. One’s body immediately goes into “attack mode” and rapidly converts them into fat.stop dieting start thinking-330x331

By focusing on calories one ignores all this complexity: Different foods are metabolized differently, absorbed differently, converted into fat or energy differently and raise or lower your risk for disease differently.

Even the old Weight Watchers adage of “calories in, calories out” has been called into question. Dr. David Ludwig, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health asserts that people think overeating makes you fat, when really it’s the process of getting fat that makes you overeat


According to Ludwig:

Regardless of their calorie counts, “foods that raise insulin are the ultimate fat cell fertilizer,” Ludwig says.

At the same time, whole and unprocessed foods—including many that are fatty and calorie dense—mellow the insulin response and counteract weight gain. “It’s no coincidence that obesity exploded as we’ve cut back on fat and replaced it with sugar and starch,” Ludwig says. “The good news is it’s okay to eat lush, delicious foods that were once banished—things like olive oil, nuts, avocado, chocolate and even dark meat like chicken thighs.”


He adds: “Whole foods are inherently slow-digesting and don’t cause insulin to rise very much. Eating them is going to get you most of the way toward a healthy diet.”

The rest of us could do well by cutting the word “calorie”—but not calories themselves—from our mouths.

Aside from these erudite explanations why calorie counting does not work, another surprising statistic will stun you into never attempting another diet.

Imagine this scenario. dieting-woman

One studiously follows the latest fad diet. This usually means having one celery stick and a boiled egg for breakfast. By lunch of day three one could cheerfully rip off an arm or a leg and start eating from the raw end. Instead one’s diet prescribes two lettuce leaves. One prune is recommended to prevent the onset of constipation. I have another theory, an epiphany. In a panic at the lack of food being emptied into one’s stomach, it goes into overdrive. Instead of giving it the once over and then casually passing it into the small intestine, it firmly shuts off the value to the intestines and reprocesses the food until even the fibre has been digested. After a week of this, the valve is firmly stuck closed and will not budge.

That is my non-scientific theory.


Then one goes into the next phase of the diet which I term the virtual food stage. During this phase, one has flash-backs of real food like a 500g T-bone steak, real thick chips dipped in sauce and ice-cream dripping with hot chocolate sauce.

During this phase, whilst in a meeting with its mandatory plate of biscuits on the table, one has to consciously hold one’s hands together in case one goes walkabout and insouciantly stretches across and takes not one but a whole plateful.

Even more depressing is nonchalantly watching one’s colleagues as they chomp through the ones that are ones favourites, the ones with the thick layer of artificial cream and strawberries


Finally by week 2 one is hallucinating about food all day. Even the merest glimpse at a roadside advert for Wimpy burgers which one previously classified as being made of cardboard and tasteless, turns on the saliva glands. Watching TV now becomes purgatory as every advert including those for dog food has the same involuntary effect.

Finally one has lost the 5kgs.

This is only half the original goal of 10kgs but as the adage states: If all else fails, lower one’s standards.

Five kilograms it is, as one pats one’s own back with a gleam of satisfaction in one’s eyes.

Now comes the most dispiriting part of the diet: keeping the kilograms off.

I am not dieting

The million dollar question is whether one be the 1 out of 124 who keeps the weight off, or will one be the 123 out of 124 who actually pick up not 5kgs but 6kgs!

In this case I WILL be a betting man.

You will pick up 6kgs


So what was the point of the diet?

And being hungry

And dreaming about lashings of food

And all of the Calorie Counting whether formally like one’s wife or informally like all real men do.

Bon appetite


Ludwig – Always Hungry

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