Who will be counting calories in 2015?

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We all know what happens when we eat too much. These mischievous little critters invade our closets, sabotage our New Years resolutions, undermine our best intentions, destroy our morale, and cause us to lose hope.

But getting rid of the creatures is not like dealing with bed bugs or termites.

Exterminating calories has proven to be more complex. With the best of intentions, our government decided to go on the offensive about twenty years ago. They reasoned that a public education campaign might help us exterminate the tiny creatures. Health care professionals and consumer activists both applauded the decision.

The plan required food manufacturers to count calories and post results on a Nutrition Facts Label. The rational was that informed consumers would make better food choices. Unfortunately, things did not work as planned. This first round of consumer education coincided with a population explosion of the tiny creatures evidenced by a significant average weight gain per person of about 20 pounds over the last twenty years. We call it the obesity epidemic.

Correlation is not causation and counting calories did not cause the obesity epidemic. Nor did it help. But the two events did co-exist within the same time frame.

Fast forward to 2015. So who will be counting this year?

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Certainly not the healthy eating crowd. As this image demonstrates, some of these folks like to count but most of them discount calories. At best, they tend to focus on whole, minimally processed foods. At worst, these folks tend to go for rigid regimes like paleo or gluten-free.

RDN’s like me who work in the field know counting calories is helpful to some and not helpful to others. We view calories as a useful food metric. Volume measures liquid. Weight measures mass. Calories measure heat.

We know that  eating too many calories tends to lead to weight gain while eating too few tends to lead to weight loss. We also acknowledge that knowing how to count offers no protection and have colleagues whose closets are full of tiny creatures.

Certain food activists will definitely be counting. These are the folks who excel at counting other people’s calories but always want us to know it’s not our fault. If tiny creatures live in our closets, it’s because our brains are wired to succumb and food manufacturers take full advantage by surrounding us at all times with foods that are tasty and irresistible. The logic continues that since we are powerless to keep tiny creatures out of our closets, the government needs to be even more proactive about extermination.

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2015 looks to be a very good year for counting. A new set of Dietary Guidelines is expected and restaurants, delis, supermarkets, vending machines, movie theaters will all need to start counting calories and posting results.

Will more counting help us get the tiny creatures out of our closets?

Probably not in and of itself. But I still like to believe it can’t hurt. Too many people still have no clue how to match up how much they eat to how much they weigh. But even someone like me who likes calories and believes they can help has to concede that it will take more than counting and posting to realize a successful extermination campaign.

As for me, I will be counting because that’s how I earn my living and calories are one of my favorite food metrics.

And just for the record, this RDN has had one serious infestation. It happened because I took a desk job, sat on my butt 10 hours a day, ate bigger lunches, and stopped shopping on foot. And yes, the tiny creatures invaded my closet. A change in behavior let the creatures in and a change in behavior got them out. I still love counting calories but know from both my own experience and my working with clients that lifestyle change is the only extermination method that actually works.