Why calorie counters are confused


We’ve all been misled about calories.

A few years ago I believed it myself. Losing weight was exclusively about “consuming less calories than you expend”. The mantra was: “eat less, run more”.

Fat people’s problems – I believed – came from them eating more calories than they expended. They were gluttonous and slothful; they lacked strength of character, which meant that thin people like me had such strength of character. This was uplifting news to me, if a bit prejudiced.

This way of looking at things seemed so obvious and simple. Today however, more and more people realizing how inane it is. Soon we’ll look back and laugh at the silliness. 

The mistake

The following explanation may be difficult to understand if you’ve been confused with the “calorie in, calorie out” logic. It takes time to digest the concept (it did for me, too).

Here’s what’s wrong with calorie obsession: It’s absolutely meaningless as helpful advice. It may seem logical and smart, but in fact, it doesn’t help people lose weight.

A typical example:
This sounds plausible, sure. But what does it really tell us? The fact that an excess of calories will cause weight gain is obvious. Really, it’s obvious to the point of the two things actually being one and the same. An excess of calories is simply the same thing as weight gain. When you realise this, you realise how the statement loses all substance:

This is plainly meaningless. It may be true, sure, but it’s devoid of any valuable information. It doesn’t say anything about the real causes of obesity.

Other generic statements from calorie fundamentalists include:
As a calorie deficit is equivalent to weight loss, we can expose this flawed proposition as well:
Again: a statement so obvious it becomes useless.

Comedy or tragedy?

This brainwashing would have been comical, had it not been for the tragic consequences. When a person with weight issues seeks the professional help of calorie experts today, they often end up hearing the following:


“Now now. There are many ideas about diets, fad diets and other things, but it’s really very simple. There is only one way. Forget everything else – there are no shortcuts. It doesn’t matter what you eat. Let me tell you: the only thing you need to focus on if you want to be thinner… Is to lose weight.”


Here’s what it would look like if people solved their maths problems by applying the same thought patterns as calorie believers do:


A little too simple, you’ll surely agree! This is as gross a simplification as believing that obesity simply results from excess calories.

Although many people are now realizing that the calorie paradigm being fed to us is meaningless, there’s still a long way to go. The believers are so convinced that they can’t see how redundant the reasoning is. The problem is they’re still misunderstanding the practical impact.

A better way

Here’s better (free) advice on losing weight. No calorie counting or hunger needed!

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  1. FrankG
    Most definitely Sabine ;-)

    Another experience was when living with the Inuit in Northern Canada: although they now "enjoy" many of our Western Industrialised Foods, many of those where I stayed still also "live off the land"... seals, arctic char, caribou, ptarmigan, even polar bears on occasion!

    Before any extended trip out in the cold of winter, they would be sure to eat their own "country food" as they called it, rather than the store-bought stuff... as they had found it was only this country food which kept them warm and full of energy when out in frigid temperatures.

  2. FrankG
    I might also add from my (highly unscientific but nonetheless) careful viewing of documentaries where teams are ascending Mount Everest: that while the "Europeans" (who of course take all the glory for the ascent) are "carb loading" on mar$ bars and pasta, the Sherpas -- who do all the heavy lifting between the various camps -- prefer to eat yak-meat fried in butter :-)
  3. grinch

    Well my experience has been quite different than yours. I have always been physically active, but needed to lose some weight in order to perform better in my athletic endeavours. The problem for me has always been binge eating whenever I exercise. So I went very low carb for a while. I suddenly had better control over my eating and lost a good amount of weight. But let me tell you this had ZERO effect on my energy levels and ZERO effect on my overall daily calorie demands. In other words it appeared the only difference VLC made is that I sponteanously reduced my calorie intake. However after a while I started eating more again and gain a few pounds back. That's when I abanded the carb-insulin hypothesis. Instead I think my body's long-term homeostatic system kicked in and adapted to this change in diet, and ultimately wanted to drive me back up to my set point.

    Anyways my belief is that the people who have more success on LC diets are those who have more drastically changed their lifestyle. If you went from obese, sedentary, and eating pure junk to exercising moderately with a LC diet, you are going to feel much better/different than someone like me who was already physically active and only modestly overweight.

  4. 1 comment removed
  5. Counting calories if fraud:

    Calorie off by as much as 80 % They are enormously innaccurate

    Nobody could consciously match the 12 MILLION or so calories ingested to expended over a decade, YET the BODY does it FOR US and far more accurately.

    Research from all over the world shows that people ( not actively trying to alter their weight) remain remarkably weight stable over a decade.

    Even when you are " counting calories " YOU'RE NOT.

  6. Rob
    Doc, how does a high fat low carb diet impact on someone suffering from a genetically inherited high cholesterol reading?
  7. Zepp
    Its dependant of wich geneticaly defiency one have!

    And its a garbage diagnose altso.. if they dont know way you have high cholesterol they say.. it must be geneticaly!

    Its quit simpel to find out if its thruth, by your self.. becuse then one or both of your parents have the same condition.

    If they dont have this.. its probably the more common, metabolic syndrome.

    I got this diagnosis to.. but its not that, becuse my cholesterole levels have droped from deadly high to nearly normal on a high fat diet!

    But in the begining it rised.. and first after 4 years it droped.

    Soo.. first.. do your parents have this.. did some of them die in there middel age from it.. and ask the doctor wich sort of it they think you have!

    And if one have the deadly sort.. one have high cholesteroles the whole life.. even as a kid!

    Soo.. you have to sort it out.

  8. Samantha
    Thank you in comment 47 for finally clarifying what you mean, because you had me really confused. I get the argument for argument's sake and see your point about being sold ideas that are meaningless, and changing the world one thought process at a time; however, at the end of the day the bottom line (and we Yanks Love the bottom line) is eat fewer calories than you burn if you want to lose weight.

    I have excellent reading comprehension and critical thinking skills, yet I had to scour this whole site looking for that simple statement.

    Good. Glad that's settled. I think it would be helpful to put that statement at the top of the article. Call it a caveat if you want, but the argument tends to obfuscate that which you later state is obvious and I don't think that's your goal. And perhaps highlight that it's not being aware of how many calories one consumes that is the problem, but that to rely on numbers rather than natural signals is. Otherwise I'm right there with you on all other points.

    I thank you kindly for generously bringing all of your research to us. It has already helped me tremendously. Keep up the good work!

    Reply: #59
  9. Zepp
    The big problem.. I asume, is to tell people that LCHF is no new magic diet.. and that there is no other eighter!

    Its this new low fat, low calorie, dogma that is totaly wrong.. it confuse people.. when healt and normal weight is more about eating whole real home cocked food.. frome the best groceries one can bye!

    And that every calorie affects your body in a different way!

  10. Kal
    Hey Buzz..eat more man..this is hell of low calories you eat for 300lbs weight!
    Also try to employ one night refeed (carbs) a week...why the heck no one is considering leptin as a problem in his situation?! Dietdoctor anything to say about leptin resistance?!
  11. Applenerd81
    I've been stuck on a plateau / slow loss for 2.5 months (after a 12kg loss), I was eating around 2-2500kcal per day and have since reduced my fat intake to try and kickstart the process. My calorie intake has dropped substantially (1200-1500) but I still appear to be stuck? My bmr is supposedly 2100kcal, where am I going wrong?
    Reply: #62
  12. Zepp
    You have probably dont doing any wrong!

    If there is any wrong doing there is in the past?

    The first weight loss is often easy.

    It looks more to me that you need a rebuilding of your body.. more muscles and less fat?

    I dont know that.. but thats a comon problem of a sedentary life style!

    Its easy to drop some extra kilos in the begining.. it take years to build a fit body!

    And on top of that.. you have now learned that calories is not the only thing thats count!

  13. Par
    Applenerd81, according to Jason Fung, you should not calorie restrict as primary, but instead do intermittent fasting, check here: https://intensivedietarymanagement.com/caloric-reduction-vs-fasting-p...
  14. Applenerd81
    I think I'm getting to the stage where things are slowing down to a comfortable natural weight, I'd like to get beyond this and get lean :-). I don't deliberately count calories but when tracking carbs, fat and protein the calorie info is a given (I use myfitnesspal). I have recently started IF and suddenly another Kg melted away; BMI 26(med-large build from lifting weights in my youth) @ 78kg, I'd like to get to 70kg but it feels like it may take much, much longer than I'd hoped. Have had days at 1100kcal and still not felt hunger, but when logged on an app I get warnings telling me to eat more! Hopefully IF will get me there.
    Reply: #65
  15. Zepp
    You know.. calories counts.. but different calories have different impact!

    There are no wrong to check the calories, it says something, but seldome the whole truth!

    Its as good as checking ketones, it says another thing!

    And both are markers, not the whole truth, and not a goal per se!

  16. James The Seal
    Ok, so the only way to become obese is to gain weight. Still, since the only way to gain weight is to ingest more calories than you burn, the statement "excess calories are the cause of obesity" implies "excess calories, which cause you to gain weight, are the cause of obesity." Semantically, it's accurate.
    Reply: #67
  17. bill
    Excess money is the cause of wealth. Semantically it's
    correct, yet it tell us nothing.
  18. Vicente
    Excess calories are the cause of hair growth.

    Excess calories are the cause of muscle growth.

    If you have big muscles, you've eaten more than you've spent. Period.

    Talking about calories is moronic.

  19. Chloe
    Hey, if this is true can I ask advise, I've been following a just under 2000 calorie diet for just under a year as well as exorcise. It's been working but I don't think I could lose weight otherwise, I was overweight, bordering obese a few years back and I emotionally eat, so when I get stressed or depressed, still do on occasion and I don't think I could control myself otherwise. If this isnt healthy, what's a good alternative, barring bullshit complicated diets, I don't have the kind of job where I can plan meals weeks in advance. Thanks.
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