Calorie counts on menus a failure – here’s why


Calorie counts on menus aren’t working.

Seven years after calorie counts were mandated in fast-food restaurants in New York City, people do not eat fewer calories at all. If anything the trend has been for people to eat more calories on average. And every year people notice the calorie counts less – they seem to be fading into the background noise.

A new study shows it’s simply a failure:

Health Affairs: Five Years Later: Awareness Of New York City’s Calorie Labels Declined, With No Changes In Calories Purchased

Next year calorie labelling in fast-food restaurants will be mandatory in the entire US. Time will tell if they will be less useless outside of New York City, but all indications are that they will be a giant waste of time and space.

A hundred years ago almost nobody knew about calories and almost everyone was slim. Now everybody knows about calories and most of the US population is overweight. It’s not a problem of calorie counting. It’s a problem of food quality.

The problem is that the quality of our food determines how many calories we want to eat – and how many calories we spend. Worrying about calories first is putting the cart before the horse.

That’s why calorie counts aren’t working.


Weight Control – A Question of Calories or Insulin? – Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt
How to Lose Weight

Why “Everything in Moderation” is Terrible Diet Advice

The Death of the Low-Fat Diet (Again)

Weight Loss Struggles of Women Over 50

“Coca-Cola Caught Funding Scientists Who Deflect Blame for Obesity Away From Sugary Drinks”

Let’s Stop Lying About Physical Activity and Obesity


  1. Peggy Holloway
    I am writing a book about my family experience with dieting, eating disorders, and Type II diabetes and I'd like to find a summary somewhere of the history of the "discovery" of the "calorie" and how it was determined that humans "burn" calories doing certain activities or as basal metabolism, etc. Can you steer me to that information?
    Replies: #2, #8
  2. Christoph
    Sounds interesting. Don't know if there are specific books out there but this seems like a good starting point:

    (the pdf has also a long reference list! ;) )

  3. Bob Niland
    We in the US are also facing new and "improved" Nutrition Facts labels, which feature bigger type, "Added Sugars" (which has all kinds of unintended consequences), and no actually useful new information like, say, net carbs.

    I trust that everyone recognizes that this is exactly what The Anointed do when the Grand Plan is failing - do the same thing, but harder - or just yell louder. Tom Naughton captured it entertainingly in this speech:

    People who didn't pay attention to nutrition data before are not going to pay attention now. If they once did (or start to), they discover that the official advice does nothing for them, aggravates one or more ailments, or is simply impossible to comply with long term. They'll at some point start ignoring it again. Unfortunately, they'll also tune out information that matters.

  4. Apicius
    The small crack in the big wall of the damn is propagating. The damn is holding back the growing reservoir of BS. Levels have reached peak levels, and the wall is starting to yield to pressure. Let's see how many "experts" who stood by that damn wall for years will still be there when the it finally comes apart.
  5. Christopher
    I could not agree more. Food quality trumps calories in / calories out. Think about how terrible a diet must be that you are required to count calories and maintain a caloric deficit for it to work.
  6. chris c
    I was never overweight UNTIL I met a dietician
  7. Bjarte Bakke Team Diet Doctor
    I'm not sure if I understand your question Peggy.
  8. Jim Buch
    Here are some pages from the USDA.

    The USDA had a basic responsibility for food and how animals put on weight for market. This later turned into food and people weight.

    Technically food is chemically transformed from one form(intake) to another (0utputs like stools, urine, CO2 and H20, .... new or repaired tissues and / or retained fat). Many of the changes involve oxidation, and the lay expression "burned" applies.

    A calorie is a measure of energy much like a foot-pound is also a measure of energy. A calorie isn't like a chunk of charcoal or cup of gasoline that can be burnt. It is just a measure of energy.

    Nutritional science can be pretty sloppy in the hands of non-science trained journalists and authors.

  9. Stefan
    I can not agree. Of course, it is not a question of only counting the calories! If you want to see success, you have to pay attention to the quality of your food – that`s right.
    I have counted calories for two years and have lost 34 kilos. If I did cook something I for example researched on this website , how many calories for example my vegetables contain.
    It really works this way! You just have to stay tuned continuously.

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