Weight Loss: The 7 Biggest Calorie Myths That Prevent Weight Loss

Are all calories equal? Experts say these and other myths explain why counting won’t always help you lose weight. You may think you know everything about calories. Many people have counted, cut and added them for most of their lives. But when it comes to losing weight, there’s actually still a lot of confusion about calorie counting. It turns out that many of the most common beliefs on the subject are actually just myths.

Here are seven of the most persistent myths about counting calories

1. All calories are equal

Many people believe that as long as they stick to a certain number of calories per day, they are eating healthy. This myth can get in the way of a balanced and nutritious diet. You can’t compare 100 calories of salmon to 100 calories of soda. She points out that salmon is loaded with beneficial nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids and protein (one reason it’s recommended to eat it twice a week) that work really hard to fuel your body. With sodas, it’s the opposite: those calories are working against you. Not only are they lacking in nutrients, but they’re also full of sugar, and their consumption has been linked to an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, according to previous research. It is a total mistake to think that all calories are the same.

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2. Celery has negative calories

With only about 9 calories per stalk, we can see how this myth could have been born. It’s easy to imagine that chewing celery “wipes out” enough calories for the food to become calorie negative. This is an idea that dates from another era. Cucumbers, radishes, lettuce and other water-rich vegetables are also sometimes said to be negative calorie foods, but just like celery, this is nothing more than a myth. There are no negative calorie foods.

3. Calorie labels are 100% accurate

What you see isn’t necessarily what you get when it comes to calorie information on nutrition labels. Manufacturers have some leeway. In fact, food manufacturers can be off by 20% on this figure. This means that a product you eat that you think has 200 calories may actually have 240. A study published in the journal Obesity looked at the accuracy of nutrition labels and found that meals pre-packaged meals contained an average of 8% more calories than stated on the label. It can add up.

4. If you cut 3,500 calories, you’ll lose 1 pound

This is an oversimplification of the science of calories, and it’s not how weight loss works in real life. Overall body size, genetics, sleep, and stress can all complicate this general rule. When a body loses weight, the amount of calories it needs to maintain that weight decreases. The formula “3,500 calories per kilo” does not take this into account. It also does not take into account other factors, including gender, changes in eating and exercise habits, and poor adherence.

Every 10-calorie-per-day decrease in calorie intake leads to an eventual loss of one pound, but it can take three years to achieve this. This rule of thumb isn’t as appealing to dieters as the 3,500 calorie rule, but it’s more accurate.

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5. Your body absorbs every calorie from food

There is a difference between the number of calories in a given food and the number of calories your body absorbs from that food. The number of calories you can assimilate may vary depending on the composition of your gut microbiome, according to research and others. In an earlier study, Harvard researchers even found that the number of calories can vary between raw and cooked foods.

And then there is the fiber effect. Since your body does not absorb fiber (the indigestible part of plants), the amount of a food can also affect the number of calories you actually take in. A small study in 18 people, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that almonds contain more calories than they contribute to a person’s diet. Almonds, in particular, are a source of prebiotic fiber, which we don’t absorb, according to previous research.

6. The ‘calories burned’ display on your treadmill or fitness meter is accurate.

Many calorie counting enthusiasts live and die by the display of “calories burned” on their sports equipment and fitness trackers. It is very common for people to decide to eat an extra snack or have a dessert based on a number provided by their device. But a Stanford University study published in May 2017 in the Journal of Personalized Medicine found that wearable fitness trackers are typically off by 27%. This is a substantial amount. If you overestimate your calories burned by this much, it can not only make it impossible to lose weight, but also lead to weight gain.

People don’t realize that when they exercise, they subconsciously decrease other energies being expended during the day. Previous research supports the idea that after physical exercise, people are less fidgety, get up less or take the stairs less often. The body is always compensating, making small adjustments to keep the energy balance below the level of your consciousness. It’s not necessarily something you can control. People do a very poor job of estimating how many calories they eat and then get an inflated idea of ​​how many calories they’ve burned from these devices.

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7. Counting calories is essential for weight loss

Can calorie counting be a useful guide to weight loss? Sure. But there’s no need to feel like you’ll never shed those extra pounds if you can’t commit to tracking every calorie, especially when the research suggests otherwise. A study published in September 2017 in Perspectives on Psychological Science concluded that reducing caloric intake may not be the golden ticket to weight loss that people assume.

And a study published in February 2018 in JAMA found that other dietary changes, such as eliminating processed foods, can be just as effective for weight loss. Notably, the study was designed to determine whether a low-carb or low-fat diet was better for weight loss. Neither group counted calories, but did receive nutrition counseling. Both groups lost roughly the same amount of weight, and what they had in common was a diet of natural, whole foods, not processed foods.
So count, or don’t count, but know that the best approach is the one that works for you.

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