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How do you feel about counting calories?
Some people count calories religiously and believe it’s the only way to rein in an overly enthusiastic appetite. Other people despise counting calories. They think it’s right up there with waiting in line at the DMV — mundane but still incredibly torturous.
I fall somewhere in the middle. I don’t keep a detailed log of the calories I eat. But I look at the calorie amount on packages, so I can do a rough tally in my head. That way I’m not seriously jumping the shark on my calorie intake every day (I save super-charged calorie binges for special occasions)
Wherever you fall in the whole calorie counting debate, I want to remind you — calorie counting isn’t just about losing weight. Eating too many calories can damage your health whether you put on weight or not. In fact, overdoing calories for a long time can cause your body’s insulin-making mechanism to break down. This can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes. So, calorie counting isn’t just for people trying to get (or stay) skinny.
The question is… does calorie counting actually help?
The honest answer? It might… if people actually knew what target they were aiming for. The fact is, most people don’t have a firm grasp of how many calories they should be eating anyway. So, a chocolate bar saying it contains 230 calories, doesn’t mean much.
Do you know what everyone understands? What it feels like to walk for 42 minutes or run for 22 minutes. That’s why calorie labels may look a lot different in the not-so-distant future….
Exercise-based calorie labels help you eat less
Overeating is an epidemic. And it’s taking a huge toll on our health. That’s why health officials are looking for creative ways to help people keep their calorie intake in check. Their latest idea? Labeling food packages with the amount of exercise it would take to burn off the calories inside.
So, a small bag of chips that contains 170 calories, for example, would carry a label saying it takes 16 minutes of running to work off. Does this approach work?
A new research review published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health shows it does cause people to cut back on calories.
In the review, researchers pooled data from 14 studies that compared exercise-based labeling with other types of calorie labeling. Here’s what they found….
Telling people how much exercise it takes to burn their food off causes them to eat 65 fewer calories per meal. That could cause people to cut 195 calories from their daily caloric intake.
While admittedly that’s not a ton… who knows? That small reduction in calories combined with a bit more exercise could have significant long-term health benefits. In fact, researchers believe it may be a way for public health agencies to tackle obesity and the diseases that come along with it.
Counting calories the healthy way
Now, this new food labeling approach is far from perfect. Some critics say it could promote a negative perception of exercise. It is sort of positioning exercise as a punishment, after all.
But whether you like this labeling idea or not, there are no immediate plans to add exercise amounts to food packaging. So, you’ll have to keep track of your own calorie-to-exercise ratio. Or not. It’s up to you.
If you do want to keep an eye on how many calories you’re taking in, consider a calorie-tracking app like MyFitnessPal. This makes calorie tracking a ton easier because it’s already preloaded with calorie amounts for lots of popular foods. And remember not to get too rigid. It’s easy to become calorie obsessed, which totally takes the fun out of food.
You may want to only track your food for a few days to get a better idea of what you’re taking in daily, adjust your calorie intake accordingly and then leave calorie tracking behind. And don’t forget — the occasional cheat day (one per week or month, depending on your goals) is a mental health necessity.
- What if you knew a cookie would take 20 minutes to run off? — MedicalXpress
- Labelling foods with physical activity needed to burn calories linked to healthier choices — MedicalXpress
- Effects of physical activity calorie equivalent food labelling to reduce food selection and consumption: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled studies — Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health
- Does Calorie Counting Work? A Critical Look — Healthline
- The right way to count calories, according to weight loss experts — Vox