Why Counting Calories is a WASTE of time

What follows is an extract from ‘How To EAT LOADS And LOSE WEIGHT’ – available now. 

Counting calories has, for a long time, been a popular way of regulating a diet. Count the number of calories you consume, subtract the number of calories you burn, and if the number you’re left with is a minus—congratulations!—your body must have been forced to ‘burn fat’: Calories in versus calories out.

It’s an elegant theory, one that most people can easily get their heads around, and one that is supported by law; food manufacturers are legally obliged to print the total number of calories, as well as a host of other nutritional information, on all food packaging, to make your calorie counting efforts easier.

Such a shame then, that it’s absolute tosh.

Firstly, the ‘calories in calories out’ concept assumes that the amount of calories your body ‘burns’ is consistent. But that’s not actually true.

Recently—and by recent I mean one hundred years ago—two gentlemen published a study entitled A Biometric Study of Human Basal Metabolism (October 8, 1918). What J Arthur Harris & Francis G Benedict showed was that if you reduce the amount of calories you consume, the body performs a little self-regulation and adjusts the number of calories ‘burnt’—and by a similar amount. This is called your metabolism.

It’s little like putting your phone into ‘lower power mode’. When you consistently eat less, your body notices, and automatically starts to conserve energy. The downside is that, just like your phone, in low-power mode you don’t operate quite as smoothly. You might feel tired. A little sluggish. Colder than usual. But at least you’re not going to have to rely on your stored fats. Phew!

Despite the fact that the metabolism study has been replicated many, many times, the weight loss industry (and the world at large) has, by-and-large, chosen to ignore this rather crucial piece of information—not least because it renders the whole ‘calories in calories out’ notion completely useless. Have you been steadily reducing your meal sizes in the hopes that your body will be forced to fall back on its reserves? Oh dear. I have some bad news for you.

But people have been counting calories for decades…

That’s true.

Back in the 1980s, when the food guidelines in America and the UK were changed in line with the calorie counting, low-fat ethic, obesity in this country and the entire western world increased dramatically, but interestingly the average calorific intake actually fell.

We ate fewer calories, but we still got fatter.

The same decade also saw an explosion of fitness gurus, each with a video to sell. Fluorescent leggings and leg warmers became a thing. People started jogging. Gym membership escalated. The amount of exercise we were doing increased—and has done ever since.

We exercised more, burnt more calories… and yet we still got fatter.

Regardless of what you’ve read, or heard, or what your doctor or weight-loss guru may have told you, the evidence of the past thirty five years is pretty damning: the ‘calories in versus calories out’ equation just doesn’t add up.

What are calories anyway?

Aside from the whole metabolism issue, my biggest problem with our obsession with calories is this:

Calories are not things!

A calorie is a measurement. Like a centimetre. Or an inch. Or degrees Celsius. Or Fahrenheit. Or minutes!

What does the humble calorie measure? Energy.

Its exact definition is this:

the energy required to raise the temperature
of 1 gram of water through 1 °C.

When I was at school, I remember being given a ‘science experiment’ to determine the amount of ‘energy’ in a peanut. It went something like this:

Each student was given a peanut, a test tube, and a thermometer. We put one gram of water in the test tube, gripped the peanut with metal tongs, and then set fire to it. We held the burning peanut under the test tube, and when the nut eventually burnt itself out, made a note of the final temperature. From this we were supposed to be able to work out how many calories that humble peanut had.

Even at the time this experiment seemed flawed. For starters, surely the glass test tube, even the tongs, were absorbing some of the heat (and therefore the ‘energy’)? And surely it made a difference how close you held your peanut to the test tube?

But what bothered me most was I couldn’t see how this experiment could be replicated for other food.

Why weren’t we given a stick of celery? Or a steak? Or a potato? Or a mars bar? My adolescent brain quickly concluded it was because my teacher knew these things wouldn’t burn, which would render his hinky experiment completely useless. Being a teenager, I immediately took the opportunity to feel betrayed, hoodwinked, and angry. I probably had a good sulk about it.

Looking back now I realise that I may have inadvertently stumbled on something extremely important: When it comes to calories, you cannot treat all foods as equal.

We like to think that 100 calories of peanuts is exactly the same as a 100 calories of kale. But it isn’t.

Aside from the fact that it’s difficult to set fire to kale (!!), your body will treat those two foods in very different ways.

100 calories of peanuts has about sixteen grams of carbs. Whereas the kale has half that. Meaning that 100 calories of peanuts will yield more glucose, will cause your blood sugar to rise (more than the kale), stimulate the production of insulin (more than the kale), and ultimately cause you to store more of that glucose as fat—all whilst increasing your appetite. Exactly the same number of calories… but ultimately MORE body fat.

100 calories of peanuts will make you fatter
than 100 calories of kale!

Same number of calories, ultimately MORE body fat.

Let’s take this one step further. Let’s swap those 100 calories of kale for 100 calories of something ‘healthy’ like… rice.

100 calories of rice contain about 28 grams of carbs. Almost twice as much as the peanuts. Meaning that…

100 calories of rice will make you fatter
than 100 calories of peanuts!

Again; same number of calories, ultimately MORE body fat.

Let’s go further still. Let’s swap those 100 calories of peanuts for 100 calories of… petrol.

Petrol yields a staggering amount of energy. That’s why we use it to fuel our cars. And as calories are a measurement of energy, we know that a gallon of petrol is about 30,000 calories. Roughly. Meaning that 100 calories of petrol isn’t going to be very much. How many carbs in 100 calories of petrol? I have no idea. But my instincts tell me that drinking petrol, even in small amounts, is a really, really bad idea, and would probably make you very ill. Or dead.

That said, it would, once and for all, prove the point I’m trying to make—that your body responds completely differently to the foods you eat, and it doesn’t give two hoots about calories!

I want you to understand this: there are no calories in your food. Calories are not things. It’s a measurement. A measurement of one tiny aspect of the complicated biological process that goes into keeping you alive.

Counting calories is about as useful as counting centimetres, or inches. In fact, I’d like to suggest that counting centimetres sort of makes more sense. The next time you go grocery shopping, take a 12 inch ruler with you and measure each item you buy. Theoretically, the fewer centimetres a food has, the less weight you should put on! Get those total centimetres down over the coming weeks and you are just as likely to lose weight.


You could stop counting calories, and start counting carbs.

How To Eat Loads and Lose WeightBUY the book here

READ the opening chapter here

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Why Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat

What follows is an extract from ‘How To EAT LOADS And LOSE WEIGHT’ – available now. 

I’ve always assumed that the human body works much like a modern day car. And why not? It’s a simple analogy, easy to understand, and one that I’ve used many times before: You have a fuel tank, and that tank needs to be kept topped up. If you start to run low of fuel, your version of a ‘fuel warning light’ kicks in—otherwise known as ‘hunger’. If you were to run out of fuel… well, then follows… starvation. Death. Or illness. Some such thing that doesn’t bear thinking about.

But it turns out you are not a car. You are waaaay more interesting than that.

Here’s—broadly speaking—how your body actually works.

All food can be broken into three macronutrients. They are fats, proteins (e.g. meat), carbohydrates (e.g. sugars, grains). Most foods contain a combination of all three macronutrients. For instance, cheese, as we all know, is high in fat. But, it’s also pretty high in protein, and there’s even some carbohydrates hidden amongst all that cheesy goodness.

Your body uses the proteins as ‘building blocks’. Muscle, bone, skin, hair… all basically made out of protein. That old saying that ‘you are what you eat’? That’s literally true.

Perhaps surprisingly, the fats you eat—at least some of them—are also used to create and maintain the human being known as ‘you’. Cell membranes, hormones, cholesterol (which the body actually needs, by the way)… all made out of juicy fat.

Which leaves carbohydrates.

Carbs are basically ‘fuel’.

Your digestive system turns carbohydrates into glucose, which it then dumps into your bloodstream. You’ve heard of blood sugar? This is it! That glucose travels round your body, refuelling your cells, your brain and your muscles.

As your blood sugar rises, your pancreas produces a hormone called insulin.

Now you might be asking yourself, what’s insulin?

Come to that, what’s a hormone?

I’d like you to think of hormones (and insulin in particular) as a flag on a flag pole; a rudimentary form of biological communication; one part of your body (in this case your pancreas) signalling to the rest of your body that ‘stuff is happening’. Namely, that you’re eating carbs.

As your fat cells ‘notice’ the rise in insulin (the hormone flag flapping around at the top of the flag pole) they start pulling the excess glucose out of your blood, and storing it for later—i.e. making you fatter.

So all that fat around your belly is actually made out of the carbs you ate.

Whilst all this is going on, other hormones (other flags on poles) are produced to make you feel hungry. Hunger, as it turns out, isn’t the feeling of an empty stomach. Neither is it a warning of imminent starvation. It’s a hormone. Purely chemical. An illusion.

So there you are, stuffing your face with pizza, and not only is your body converting those carbs into glucose and then storing some of that in your fat cells, it’s also making you feel MORE hungry, thereby encouraging you to order a side of garlic bread, maybe some chips.

Whilst you’re wrapping your head around all that, let me throw something else into the mix; this mostly happens when you eat carbs. Proteins also trigger an insulin response, but not to the same degree. And fats—the ones we like to demonise so much—have absolutely ZERO effect on insulin. Leading me to once again to tell you this:

Fat doesn’t make you fat!

Now why on earth would the body work in this way?

I’d like you to consider this: You are not a car. Not even a modern car—with all manner of fancy gizmos. You—so far as your body is concerned—are actually a cavewoman. Or a caveman. Living in the year ‘Ug’. Wearing animal skins. A fetching bone in your hair.

In the year Ug, supermarkets, pizza delivery companies, and the concept of cream cakes in the office whenever it’s someone’s birthday don’t exist yet.

The only carbohydrates you’re likely to be eating—as a cave person—are fruit.

Fruit is, by its very nature, a seasonal thing. Those berries on the bush you just found aren’t going to be here forever. So right now, your body wants you to stuff your face until your fingers are sticky and stained with berry juice. And whilst you’re doing that, it’s going to store as much of that sugary goodness as possible. It’s got to. Winter is just around the corner. And when winter arrives, there won’t be any fruit to keep you going. More than that, it might be a while before you and your fellow cave folk manage to take down a woolly mammoth. Even when you do, there aren’t any freezers around to save those mammoth steaks. You’ve got two or three days, tops, to feast at the all-you-can-eat mammoth buffet before you’re back to eating the occasional insect or something equally unsavoury. At that point, in order to keep you from starving, your body will switch gear, and start to use the body fat you created today.

How does it do that?

Those fats, the ones your body created, get converted into something called ketones, through a process called ketosis.

You might not have heard of ketones. First time I came across them was two years ago. Considering their importance in human biology, it’s staggering that most people haven’t a clue what they are.

Ketones are your body’s homegrown alternative to glucose. And just like glucose, ketones can be used to fuel your cells, your muscles and your brain. So long as you need fuel, the body will keep producing ketones, from your fat cells… thereby keeping you alive, and in the process, returning you to your slender, cave-like self.

That is, until spring arrives, and you manage to find some more berries, or fruit. As soon as you bite into an apple, your body will slow or stall the ketosis process, and return to using those fresh, apple-flavoured carbs as fuel… storing the excess for later.

I want you to think about this for a few moments, because I for one think it is utterly amazing. That we could have evolved such a complicated, clever, way of using food. Some people would cite this as evidence of a god.

But here’s the point that I hope hasn’t eluded you.

We are not cavewomen. Or cavemen. We live in a different world. One where carbohydrate dense foods are available ALL OF THE TIME.

More than that, carbs aren’t simply fruit any more. Since we left the cave, we’ve invented farming. And mass transportation. And methods of storing and preserving food. And commerce. So now we have rice, and potatoes, and grains, and sugar. We also have bread, and pasta, and chips, and all manner of cakes, biscuits, cookies, and other lovely treats. Our supermarkets are stuffed to the rafters with carb-based products, many of them labelled as ‘healthy’.

You can, and many do, have carbs for breakfast (toast or cereal), carbs for lunch (a sandwich or wrap) and carbs for dinner (pasta or something with chips). Plenty of people will tell you that this is a ‘normal’ way of eating. And it is! That’s the modern Standard American Diet right there. Or S.A.D. for short.

But our bodies haven’t changed. Not all that much. They’re still functioning in exactly the same way they always have. As far as your body knows, you’re not in a pizza restaurant, you’re simply standing in front of the most enormous blackberry bush that ever existed. One that is bursting with fruit. Fruit that is perpetually ripe and available. And whilst you stuff your face, your body is doing what it does best; making you hungry and storing the excess, ready for when the food runs out.

But it’s not going to run out.

Not today.

Not ever.

How To Eat Loads and Lose WeightBUY the book here

READ the opening chapter here

Join the discussion on our Facebook Group