Calories In Calories Out Myth


Awareness of calories turns 126 years old this year. Or to put this in caloric terms: a very thin slice of cheesecake. Some might see this as a sign the system works, and much about it does. But a lot has changed, too.

Since chemist Wilbur Atwater’s 1887 article first brought calories to the public’s attention, it has been used as a barometer of the “healthiness” of food.

Wilbur Atwater

Atwater’s theory may be antiquated. To perform and lead an optimally fit life and enhance performance, other factors need to be considered. In other words, we should still pay attention to calories by thinking about them in the context of today’s active urban lifestyle.



In fact, recent studies substantiate that it’s not the quantity of calories that give a meal its merit, but rather the quality. In The Obesity Epidemic, Zoe Harcombe writes that while people in the UK have eaten 25 percent fewer calories than in the Seventies, the obesity rate has increased six-fold since then.

Obesity Rates

Beware of the Calories In Calories Out Myth

While calories remain a viable baseline measurement for energy, they don’t tell the whole story. Our bodies metabolize different nutrients and food properties quite differently, so the key is to find the right balance. For instance, many prepared foods and meals do not contain a lot of calories, but they’re crazy high in sugar. A lean meat burger may have more calories than a diet plan Caesar salad, but the burger probably has more protein.

Though Atwater had the right idea, our world has changed since the 1800’s. Food should be eaten as much for the nutrients they contain as for the taste, comfort, and sustenance. In other words, treat the numbers with respect, not reverence.

It’s not so hard to eat cleaner and healthier. It doesn’t have to be stressful. So the next time you sit in front of a plate of food, instead of asking how many calories you should eat, say, “I need to make these calories count!”


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