Why You Can’t Count Calories

One of the most controversial subjects in health is the Calorie. A Calorie is understood to be a measure of energy; we take in Calories through food and liquids and we use Calories for basic internal functions and exercise. “Calories In vs. Calories Out” is the globally recognized energy ratio that is used to determine a person’s size, shape, and weight. The problem is that counting Calories is never completely accurate.

What is a Calorie?

The food we eat contains potential energy, which is stored in the body and can be converted into work, or kinetic energy. The standard unit of heat measurement of this energy is called a Calorie. A Calorie is a representation of the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree.

Your count is off.

“Calorie counting” for a dieter is very inexact. Unbeknownst to many, the macronutrient and Caloric values displayed on food labels are mere approximations; they are not measured in a lab. Those approximations are used because measuring each and every food that is available to the general public is impossible. There are factors that can change the accuracy of those approximations used to determine the Caloric value of a food:
1. Dates are outdated
Some data on foods can be out-of-date, causing energy and nutrient calculations on the label to be inaccurate.

2. Product variety
Different batches of both natural and processed foods vary in their exact contents. Therefore, using a single test at a single instance to describe all batches from then on is erroneous.

3. Soil and growing conditions
Produce grown in nutrient-rich soil is different from produce grown in nutrient-depleted soil. This will alter nutrient and energy estimates.

4. Ripeness at time of harvest
Produce picked at the peak of the season are different from those picked off-season, again changing the energy and nutrient counts.

5. Animals’ diet
The nutrients/energy found in milk, meat and eggs vary based on what the animal ate and how it lived. Think grain-fed versus grass-fed.

6. Length of storage
There’s a big difference in nutrient count between produce harvested this morning and produce harvested three weeks ago in a different time zone.

7. Preparation method and cooking time
Eating raw produce is different than eating cooked produce. The amount of cooking and processing affects the amount of energy and the number of nutrients we are able to get from the food. In fact, cooking usually makes more energy available to us.

Too inaccurate.

With all these factors taken into consideration, the energy and nutrients listed on food labels or in nutrient databases can have an error margin of +/- 25%! Finally, measuring a person’s Caloric output is just as inaccurate. Because movement is always different and varies daily, there can never be an exact measurement of Calories spent.

Even if you try your best to measure your Calorie intake precisely, you could be off by 20% or more. Calorie counting as a way to manage your diet and exercise is time-consuming, difficult and grossly inaccurate.


• Eat foods that are nutrient-dense, such as fruit or veggies
• Eat your Calories; drink your water
• Check the composition of your foods (Carbohydrates/Fats/Protein)
• Pay attention to the size of your meals

Mike Clancy (B.S., RTS, Pn1) is a well-respected educator in health and fitness communities. As a native Rhode Islander, Mike became one of the most demanded trainers in New York City. His audience grew from his initial entry into the fitness industry in Tampa, FL to his hometown crowd of Providence, RI and eventually into the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. Mike runs his own private training service in NYC. From CEO’s to community leaders to celebrities, his clientele ranges from the affluent Upper East Side members to the edgy downtown crowd of “the city.”

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