Could Counting Calories Be an Exercise in Futility?

Fat Tissue

According to a new theory by prominent nutrition experts, we may be approaching weight loss the wrong way. What if instead of overeating leading to obesity, it’s obesity that leads to overeating?

Let us explain. Weight gain involves the creation of fat cells and the storage of calories therein. More fat cells means more calories removed from the bloodstream en-route to other vital bodily functions. This triggers a demand for more calories – hunger. So we eat more, and the vicious cycle continues.

If this bodily mechanism holds true, why have rates of obesity skyrocketed in recent decades? Humans haven’t evolved dramatically in the last 50 years to develop a new biological mechanism such as this.

According to Professor David Ludwig, M.D., the lead scientist of the paper, there is a simple explanation – refined carbohydrates. Our bodies react to carbs by releasing the hormone insulin. When there is an excess of highly digestible carbs in our body, insulin production goes into overdrive. Excess insulin has been shown to lead to weight gain. That’s why so many fat cells are created as a result of our love affair with sugary soda, french fries, and snack bars.

The conclusion is simple – people should focus less on calorie restriction, and more on quality of food. That is, if the hypothesis is correct.

What do you think?

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  • Lost42LbsThusYear

    I counted calories for years. I held a steady weight, even gaining weight while adhering to 1200 calories per day. I was flabbergasted!

    I lost 42 pounds in just a few months when I cut out sugar (my beloved Pepsi!!) and ate a moderate-carb diet. Atkins was unrealistic for me, but I’ve gotten great results. Carbs aren’t Evil, you just have to eat the right ones!

    • Corey Rowland

      That last sentence is something so many people seem to not understand. Carbs are what give us energy. They aren’t what make people gain weight, as long as they are coming from unprocessed, whole foods! And from what I’ve seen, as long as you eat the right types of carbs, you don’t really have to worry that much about calorie counting.

      • Michael Heffez

        False…at the end of the day carbs are still carbs. Whole wheat pasta, brown rice, sweet potatoes; any source of carbs regardless of how healthy they are, will still promote weight gain. The only benefit aside from providing energy is that they because of their complex molecular structures they will keep you full longer.

        • Corey Rowland

          Have you heard of durian rider or freelee the banana girl? If not, look them up on YouTube. They eat more carbs (fruit, rice, potatoes) than anyone and they are extremely slim and healthy. I also have been eating a high carb diet for about 8 months now and I’ve had steady weight the whole time.

    • 4theluv

      I can say the same. It’s about energy availability and over abundance at any given moment. High simple carbs mean a lot of energy has to be stored if not used fairly quickly. I think this goes with the timing of meals as well as their content. Too much at one time means an insulin spike and storage as fat. Having reactive hypoglycemia has helped me realize that. Thanks for the article!

  • JYNC

    Dr. Ludwig is correct, and it is not a new hypothesis, but almost a century old, as he points out in his NYT opinion article on the same topic. After reading Gary Taubes’s Good Calories, Bad Calories I stopped counting calories, ate low carb and high fat, removed all grains, and lost weight down to a healthy BMI. I don’t count calories in or even more nonsensical, try to estimate calories out, but instead just eat real foods to effortlessly maintain good health.

    • LMWANGI

      You rule! I just finished “It Starts With Food” and have been eating following the whole30 guidelines (no dairy, grains, sugar, alcohol, legumes) and have been eating amazing delicious food without calorie counting and lost 7 pounds so far in 2 weeks. I know that speed likely won’t keep up, but this lifestyle will and a healthy weight will follow. Good job on your new healthily lifestyle!

    • Fernanda

      So is low carb better then?

      • Lost42LbsThisYear

        Not necessarily. Too much of anything is never a good thing, but you ‘some’ of everything to be healthy. Eat carbs in moderation, there is no need to totally eliminate them from your diet.

  • JYNC
  • MartinCoady

    I think one should concentrate on the quality of the food they eat first and foremost; regardless of weight or whether you are restricting calories or not. The first step would be to cut out processed foods, especially those with added sugar.

  • flouncy

    I think losing weight is simple math; eat fewer calories than you burn. Counting calories is all that works for me because it controls portions. I never touch fast food or junk. I put on weight eating (too much) quality food. So for me, choosing good food and counting calories is working.

  • Ellie

    High sugar, high fat junk foods often contain few or no nutrients needed by the body for cell repair, enzyme production, and a zillion other functions. . Could the body be craving vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients — and that is why hunger continues after eating empty junk foods? When I eat fewer nutrient-dense foods over holidays and eat more sweets, I am always shocked about how hungry I feel all the time.

  • Theodora Onyinyechi Joannis

    I think both carbs and calories should be monitored.

  • Stefan

    My philosophy: Eat 3x as many whole veggies and fruits as I eat meats, while limiting carb heavy foods like bread and pasta, and no sodas or sweets. I’ve been 6’3″ and 186 lbs +/- 3 lbs for over a decade. My activities range from swimming to rock climbing to cycling, but I have long stints where my work and schedule don’t allow for consistent activities. Between my metabolism [I'm healthy, non-drinker, non-smoker, 28yo] and my consistent diet, I always maintain the same weight. That said, if my activity schedule wanes for too long of a period, I naturally lose muscle mass and definition and gain water weight, but I try to not eat out of boredom or to satisfy any non-essential cravings. Self control and smart decisions are ultimately what lead to anyone’s fate.

  • Bob

    A calory is not a calory. My aha moment is the reality that our producers strip all the nutrition out of our whole foods, which become refined, simple carbs. Brown rice becomes white rice, wheat to white flour. These carbs when digested turn straight into glucose which the body now has an excess of. The body can’t use it all so it stores the glucose in new fat cells, lipogenesis. Shift to eating whole foods, high fiber nutrition dense vegetables, this should be the major part of your food consumption. Fill up, to satiated levels, gain more energy and start tasting and enjoying real non processed, non refined, complex carbs. The body will regulate itself burning calories to convert these carbs into usable energy, (glucose). Cravings for the empty carbs that never fill you up go away. Get rid of high fructose, sucrose processed foods, like tropicana oj, gatoraid,,etc. find mega 3 fats in avocados & sardines? Learn about nutrition, The calory myth”, “The Cholesterol Myth”, “Sugar, the bitter Truth” are good references. Stop counting, a calory is not a calory. Stop eating foods that are killing you slowly and start eating foods that can cure you quickly.

  • Aria Gonzalez

    I think that counting calories can be a tool for portion control. But I also think it’s completely useless if it doesn’t go along with the right kind of diet. I mean, in general dieters have been doing this for decades and it doesn’t seem to work!