Calories In Calories Out Is Bullshit?

Shame about cutting off the top of my head,
but at least my arms look nice.
Another one of these articles with the above title came up in my newsfeed just now, and I typed a response but then I thought "oh, what's the use I don't have the energy for this anymore" because GOD people are just so frustrating, aren't they?

Anyway as it turned out, this particular article did a good job of explaining why the way people usually treat calorie counting doesn't work out, although I disagreed with the conclusion.

I've seen other articles with the same title from trainers with no success in staying in shape themselves, writing about how calories aren't the issue and the answer is to eat paleo style and avoid these here other, bad foods like cereal for example that "causes you to get fat" because of some fanciful reason that absolutely does not include how it effects your total energy intake for the day. And of course this particular trainer is out of shape because those bad foods are really hard to avoid and it is all the supermarket's fault for putting them on special because it's some great big conspiracy or something.

And meanwhile you know plenty of people who still start the day with a bowl of cereal but are successful in staying in shape and seeing nice results from their training program. I assure you, you do know at least one person doing that.


Whether you are eating paleo style, whether you are doing intuitive eating, clean eating, whatever else. If you were previously overweight or obese, changed your eating habits and are now no longer (or just less) over weight or obese, you are consuming less energy (aka calories) over all.

Whether you know how many calories you ate before and how many you eat now, or not. You were consuming enough to support your previous weight, and now you're consuming a less excessive amount more suitable to support your current weight.

So, it is not essential to count calories. You can achieve a less excessive intake with a different selection of foods, smaller portion sizes, any number of ways really. The danger in my observation in trying to insist upon certain foods being "to blame" and certain foods being "good" is that some people might find it very difficult to strictly adhere to that list of "good" foods. Hell, as I mentioned, even many of the people who insist that this is how it is still struggle to adhere to it.

The danger then is that if people do not see progress, they blame it on isolated instances of "eating the wrong foods" rather than on not having established eating habits that are conducive to appropriate energy intake generally speaking, on average, most of the time.

To go from obese to not obese that is really about all it takes other than a suitable level of activity. Eating habits that are conducive to appropriate energy intake, generally speaking, on average, most of the time.

Now the issue this article quite correctly raised is that when people focus on calories, they just think "less, and less, and less". They start off with that stupid "3500 calories per week deficit" thing, and when that stops working they try to cut back further and create a bigger deficit, or they try to add an extra hour of exercise to burn more off. Or both things. And then more of both things.

It is a destructive approach that doesn't work and can't end well.

The "one line" answers that people like to use just don't apply to everyone. "Be more active" for example. For all we know someone might be quite active indeed even though to our eyes they do not have the appearance we associate with an active lifestyle, in which case we might want to work on not that whole thing about making assumptions based only on appearance. "Be more active" is not only a little insulting to those people, but it's not the right advice anyway.

What it actually comes down to is a suitable amount of activity and the appropriate amount of energy intake. Not "move more, eat less"... but "consume an appropriate amount to fuel your active lifestyle".

Making "effective training" a part of that active lifestyle will obviously make for more consistent results and more efficient progress. However, while we certainly won't see a change in weight, body condition or health while still in excessive total intake, there are minimum requirements that we must meet in order to facilitate a beneficial adaptation to training.

If generally speaking your total energy and macronutrient intake falls within a range that is adequate but not excessive, you will see progress towards your goal weight and condition. If you can get this right by intuition or by adhering to a selection of foods that are conducive to such an energy balance, good. If not though, you can always crunch the numbers and then plan to meet them with whatever choice of foods best suits you.

This is the reality of the situation, whether it fits into people's personal philosophy or not.

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