Calorie Counting & Weight Loss – Is it Really Worth It?

The conversation about calories and weight loss has been in the news quite frequently as of late, as more and more evidence is highlighting the over-emphasis of calorie counting as a strategy for weight loss. 

Today, in the Globe and Mail an article reviewed the latest results from a national campaign in the United States by 16 of the world’s largest food and beverage companies, who collectively sold 6.4 trillion fewer calories in 2012 compared to 2007. This was thought to bring with it a noticeable improvement in the battle to fight weight gain.

Not surprisingly (for some, including myself), the reduction in caloric intake had no influence on obesity trends.  A major reason why calorie counting doesn’t work is that it doesn’t take into account the macronutrient breakdown – proteins, carbs, and fats – of the calories.

Is there any research to back this up? Well, the overwhelming consensus when low-fat diets and compared to low-carb diets for weight loss is that the low-carb approach is hands down the better option. Improvements in the blood sugar hormone insulin and blood sugar control are thought to be the driving force. But, that still doesn’t answer the question… has anyone actually done a thorough investigation of whether the practice of calorie counting is worthwhile as a strategy for weight loss?

There is no… but there is exciting new study currently underway to answer this exact question.

Gary Taubes, renowned author and vocal supporter of the ‘calorie counting is a waste of time’ side of the argument, has teamed up with former physician and medical researcher Peter Attia to answer this question. Remarkably, after a listener to a health podcast overheard Gary’s complaints of a lack of funding for effective studies looking into the weight loss epidemic, a grant was given and the Energy Balance Consortium study was born.

The truly impressive part of this undertaking is that Gary and Peter have enlisted the best researchers in the USA to perform this study (many of whom are ardent ‘calorie counters’) and have given the free reign to collect, assess, and interpret the results. Check out the details of their new project in September’s issue of Wired magazine.

The goal of this project is very audacious… to cut the prevalence of diabetes by 75% in the USA in less than 15 years! Kudos to Gary and Peter for initiating such an innovative and compelling study… I am looking forward to the results.

Until then, don’t waste your time counting calories. If weight loss is your goal, the only thing you need to count are your carbs… eat plenty of protein and veggies, a moderate amount of fruit, and keep complex and starchy carbs to a minimum and you’ll be well on your way to a trimmer waistline.

 Enjoy the weekend!

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CSCS