Thursday, November 13, 2008

The truth about counting calories

Even in well controlled clinical research, counting calories is extremely difficult.

This is why good research uses tools like diet records and food frequency questionnaires as ways to identify changes in eating patterns, and not to measure calorie intake.

The truth is, it is very difficult to accurately measure how many calories you eat in any day. Anybody who tells you they eat EXACTLY 3,125 calories in a day is really telling you they eat somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 to 4,000 calories per day (average margin of error in research trials is 30%, and the more calories a person eats, the bigger the error becomes!).

I'm not against calorie counting tools and software, but I do think you should use them to identify trends, and not to measure the exact number of calories you eat.

To learn more, watch the video below:

Calories are definitely important, but obsessive over exact numbers is a recipe for diet failure.


Stumble Upon Toolbar


Anonymous said...

The way your eyes open at the beginning of this video makes you look animatronic, like you've just been switched on. Made me chuckle. #8-)

Anyway, this seemed as good a time as any to say thanks for providing these videos - if only everything on the internet was so compact, well-researched and informative!

Christine said...


Thanks for the information in your blog - I love the new videos! It's great to have someone out there presenting the research in a clear concise manner that makes it applicable to our lives. Keep up the great work.

Morkai said...

Cool video I have one point of contention though. Any serious calorie counter is not gonna go by 'large' and 'small'. They are gonna have scales to weigh everything.

I think the common use of these large and small and volume measurements are a big problem. I discovered after a while that trying to measure anything in cups was a disaster once I weighed it to double check. 1/4 cup of rolled oats for instance was invariable 10 grams over what it claimed on the box however careful I was not to make a heaped scoop.

I gave up calorie counting personally, it was driving me absolutely bonkers especially when I would hit all these inconsistances with '1 serving' in a package and finding the weight of aforementioned serving varied wildly. I would end up with all my own custom foods that I could enter a precise weight with instead of trusting a non weight based measure.

Whitney said...

Hi Brad, I was wondering if I could ask you a big favor. I'm doing a story on calorie counting and your insight would be most helpful for an interview. Please e-mail me at if you get a chance! Thanks soo much!

Anonymous said...

Hi Brad,

I have a bit of a problem and hope you can give me some advice. I do intermittent fasting and feel just great. Energy is all up and while fasting I feel fine. As soon as I start eating I kind of get a weird stomach. It doesn't matter how little I eat I always feel stuffed and very uncomfy in the stomach. Not bloated but very very full and my stomach also sticks out a bit. I could do with 500 to 800 cals a day. That uncomfy and stuffed feeling does not go away for hours. Drinking water on top of that does not help either, stuffs me even more.
I stick to paleo foods and eat clean and healthy. No junk foods or diet sodas. I am very strict with my eating.
Have you got any advice or suggestion what I should do? This does really bother me and since I have it every day, it's no fun. If I cannot get it under control, I fear that I will start not eating at all anymore.

I follow your posts a while now and really enjoy your posts. Always interesting to read. Two thumps up!!!