Digestive Health Food Industry Nutrition

Why Counting Calories Breeds Poor Digestion

If you’re one of many who think that January is the month for fresh starts, clean diets and meticulous calorie counting then this might be the blog post for you.

If you’re one of many who think that January is the month for fresh starts, clean diets and meticulous calorie counting then this might be the blog post for you.

That’s because I’m here to say that you don’t need to calorie count anymore. Put down the calculator, be not afraid of the red ‘traffic light’ symbol on your favourite food. Calories are OKAY.


Being unafraid of calories – heck, even embracing them – is something that many of us shun because we believe it will enforce weight gain. In fact, the opposite is painstakingly true. Now, this isn’t just an opinion of mine (which I’ve happily maintained for as long as I can remember) but one that is cemented in fact.

Most believe that by not counting calories they are unaware of their eating habits and thus are likely to eat raucously without regard for their bulging waistlines.

Not true.

In fact, calorie counting is completely counter-intuitive.

Why Calorie Counting Is Bad For You

Calories Counted Are Not Accurate

It all started with the pioneer of calorie counting, Wilbur Atwater, a 19th Century US scientist who proposed that calories can be accurately given for a certain food product for foods which are digested quickly, such as carbs.

However, what this theory (and yes, it is pretty theoretical) ignores is that foods which are harder to digest, such as nuts for instance, are often cited as having more calories (on average around 20% more) than they should.

So, in your quest for healthfulness, you may toss aside that handful of high-calorie nuts (~200 calories) for a small chocolate bar (~180 calories) and think you’ve saved yourself 20 calories. Not true – the nuts take longer to digest and thus a 200 calorie handful of nuts would probably be around 160 calories.

But this isn’t the main issue with calorie-counting. The main issue is counting them at all.

Restrict To The Point of Starvation, Then Binge

When you count calories you are more than likely going to restrict your diet, giving your body less than what it needs to maintain its weight.

After all, it has been proven that the recommended calorie intake for men and women is completely made-up.

The number of 2,000 calories for women and 2,500 for men is arbitrary based on a handful of committee members deciding to deliberately under-value the final number of calories so that people didn’t over-eat.

Related posts: Study: How To Know When You’re Full

This is fine – I’m all for curbing obesity – but if you restrict beyond the already low calorie amount provided as ‘recommended’ – then your body will end up being severely undernourished. The Diet Doctor even recently published in an article that calorie-counting has all the tell-tale signs of an eating disorder.

So don’t falsely believe that a rumbling tum is a sign you’re doing calorie-counting right, it’s purely testament to showing you why calorie-counting can never work.

Organs Need A Balanced Diet To Function

For anyone who is restricting their diet by needlessly calorie-counting, chances are you’ll probably feel like this is your punishment for eating so badly for so long.

However, your body, working as it normally does, will immediately transcend into starvation mode once calories are severely reduced, meaning many of the calories you do consume during your ‘diet’ will be stored away as fat. And if the food you’re eating is junk (but under your total desired calorie-count), then the weight will quite simply pile on, pal.

Although some healthy fats are definitely good for you (the mono-saturated types you find in things like avocados and nuts, for example), consumption of too many trans-fats over long periods of time (such as in cheese and oil, as well as in the other components which generally make up most of the world’s junk food products) will inevitably lead to weight gain.

The fat from these products will end up being stored in all the wrong places (such as in your liver, ref: Fatty Liver Disease) and not being used to maintain healthy organ health whatsoever.

This is why diets such as the low-carb diet do work, but only when coupled with a high-protein diet. This is because the fat previously stored as useless fat from the carbs is now being removed and the fat from the protein sources is being sent direct to their under-nourished organs instead.

How reasonable does that sound?

Now I know that those on a calorie-counting diet are probably sat scoffing at this notion – after all, by doing this you’re replacing high-calorie items with (in most cases) other high-calorie items. Surely, if the low-calorie diet is the one to make you lose weight, the carb>protein replacement method cannot work?

Well it does.

And it makes you fitter, provides a more balanced diet, supports your organs and delivers essential nutrients from the new protein sources.

This is one of the truest ways to lost weight and get healthier. It even has a real name and everything – it’s called ‘Nutrition partitioning’ and is backed up by nutritionists across the globe.

Calorie-Counting Ignores Ingredients

So now we know that all calories aren’t bad. But which calories are better for us than others?

Since being diagnosed with IBS I’ve been trying to find my healthiest sources of good calories which not only provide zero digestive discomfort but also make me feel full (yep – like proper full & not just bloated). In doing this, I naturally started paying particular attention not to how much I eat, but what it was I was actually eating.

What are the ingredients? Do the ingredients sound wholesome and non-scientific? Do I know what they are? Are they natural foods? If there is anything unhealthy in it (such as sugar or oil), what percentage is in the product as a whole? Do the main ingredients promote satiety?

I run these questions by myself every time I go food shopping and, although it is irksome for people with me, it gives me complete peace of mind knowing the foods in my pantry are ones which have been carefully selected and are good for me to eat.

The problem when people start calorie-counting is that people start eating the numbers and not the food.

The notion of ‘wholesome’ or ‘natural ingredients’ are irrelevant to a calorie-counter. That’s because most chemicals are calorie-free and many wholefoods are packed full of calories.

However, don’t be put off by this – calories from wholefoods are usually good for you as they’re naturally packed full of essential nutrients and will make you feel fuller for longer because you’re actually eating REAL food.

Now how does a nice hearty bowl of chemicals sound?

Locate IBS First, Change Your Diet Reasonably

As well as being undernourished, you’re also ALWAYS going to be hungry as you’re SO pre-occupied with food and punishing yourself for enjoying it.

Stress has been proven to increase weight gain, not just because we might pop more junk in our mouths a as a result, but also because our body stores more as fat to facilitate the adrenalin rush we encounter upon higher stress levels.

As many IBS sufferers know, IBS is stressful enough as it is. Add calorie-counting on top of that and you’ve lost all consideration of what you’re really eating.

Instead, think about what calories you’re really eating, and whether they promote well-being and good digestive health overall. A sugary ice-cream might only be 200 calories but wreck absolute havoc on your gut, whilst a full-fat natural yogurt pot and banana might be 250 calories and keep your gut completely in check. Which would you prefer?

My final words about calorie-counting are simple – DON’T BE AN IDIOT.

Don’t count on calories to get you the perfect beach body – instead rely on what the world naturally gives us – fresh fruit & veg, tasty whole grains, raw legumes, and more!

Don’t be afraid of the calories, they’re just numbers at the end of the day. When you do this you’ll be able to say goodbye to those dreaded feelings of guilt for eating too many calories, as well as the constant hunger pangs experienced between meals and the increased stress levels all day.

What you need to do with food is allow it to make you feel good. Eat right for your body, and the rest will slowly but surely fall into place.

[Since this post was published I came across this article from the Independent which highlights how people reading food labels end up eating more. This is largely because they deem their “healthy” choices enough to warrant more food going in throughout the day].

You can get more info on why counting calories isn’t the best way to lead a healthy lifestyle by checking out this article here.

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