One Mom’s Journey from Fat to Skinny to Confident


10 Thoughts on Calories

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Low in calories

Last week I asked the folks in my YardStick meetings what topics they would like to talk about in the coming weeks and the idea of calorie counting was mentioned. Should you or shouldn’t you?

I’m not claiming to know the right answer. Actually, I’d argue there is no right answer but while researching I learned a few things, so I thought I’d share for today’s Tuesday Ten Post.

10. A calorie really is a calorie when it comes to weight gain/loss. When people create a caloric deficit they always lose weight. When people eat more calories than they need they always gain weight. This has been shown consistently.  No, really, It has. This isn’t to say other variables aren’t involved but it’s the bottom line.

9. Not all calories are created equal. Hold the phone. Didn’t I just say a calorie is a calorie? Yes, I did, BUT let me propose two possible daily menus based on the ever popular 1,200-calorie diet assumption. (I’m not saying you should only eat 1,200 calories a day, I’m just using it to prove point.)

Sample Menu 1 – Nutritional information from the Pizza Hut website

  • 3 slices of Pepperoni Lover’s Pizza = 1,200 calories

Sample Menu 2 – Nutritional Information from the LoseIt website

  • Whole Wheat Toast with 2 tsp butter = 137
  • 2 Eggs, Hard Boiled, Whole, Large = 155
  • Apple, Small = 77
  • McDonald’s Southwest Salad w/ Grilled Chicken with half a packet of creamy Southwest dressing = 340
  • 1 Chicken Drumstick, Grilled = 70
  • 1 Chicken Thigh, Grilled = 150
  • 1 Potato, Russet, w/ Skin, Baked, Small, 1 3/4 – 2 1/2 = 130
  • 1 cup Green Beans, Blue Lake Cut, Jumbo-Can = 40
  • Fudge Bar, Premium = 100

Total: 1,199 calories

Umm, yeah. Do I even need to list which day had more nutrients? Protein? Fiber? Stuff like that? Not to mention which day you would feel satisfied?

I didn’t think so.

8. How many calories you need? More calories than you need — gain. Less calories than you need — lose. But according to WebMD, 9 out of 10 people have no idea how many calories they even need even though 67% report taking them into account when making food decisions. I definitely fall into this category.

7. It is extremely difficult to count calories accurately. Lisa R. Young, PhD, RD showed 200 dietitians five different meals served in restaurants and asked them to estimate of the number of calories in each meal. They were so inaccurate that some meals contained double the calories they predicted.  Just think: if they are underestimating we probably are too and grossly.

6. Be aware of calorie density.  According to, calorie density is simply a measure of how many calories are in a given weight of food, most often expressed as calories per pound. A food high in calorie density has a large number of calories in a small weight of food, whereas a food low in calorie density has much fewer calories in the same weight of food. Therefore, one can consume a larger portion of a low-calorie dense food than a high-calorie dense food for the same number of calories.  See No. 9 above.

5. The 3,500 calorie myth. It’s true that 3,500 calories roughly equals a pound of body fat but that does not necessarily mean you will lose a pound by creating a 3,500-calorie deficit. According to Dr. Sharma, significant and ongoing weight gain or weight loss requires a substantially greater level of daily caloric excess or restriction that may have to incrementally increase over time to sustain continued gain or loss. Bottom line: The human body is way more complicated than that.

4. Negative calories? Admit it, you tried the negative calorie diet. I did! I first remember reading about this in the late ’90s. The idea is to eat more super low calorie foods because your body take more energy to burn them then they contain. According to, about 5 percent to 10 percent of your total energy expenditure goes to digest and store the nutrients in the food you eat. Foods that contain few calories, such as celery and other non-starchy vegetables, provide a small number of calories but still require energy to digest. That means it is theoretically possible to have a negative-calorie food, but there are no reputable scientific studies to prove that certain foods have this effect.

3. Liquid calories count! According to the University of Rochester, Americans drink about 1.5 cans of soda per person per day. For regular soda drinkers, that adds up to 240 empty calories per day. I don’t know about you but I’d rather have a glass of water and a couple of cookies    At least my body will register the cookies! According to Madelyn Fernstrom, when it comes to weight loss and gain, it is all about calories in and calories out (we covered that already). But a large problem with liquid calories is that they are not perceived as “calories consumed” by the body.

2. Reducing calories is easier than using them up. I’ve learned over the years it’s WAY easier to eat 250 fewer calories than it is to burn 250 calories through exercise.  Let me put it another way: You can either skip the Tall Pumpkin Spice Latte OR take a 30-minute run. It all comes down to choices.

1. Calories are just a unit to measure energy. Sometimes I think we forget that. They aren’t some evil device sent from the devil to torture us, they are just a measure of energy. They aren’t good or bad. They just are.

More thoughts on calories in tomorrow’s weigh in post. See you then! :)

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There are 11 comments so far.

    Lisa Eirene

    October 8, 2013

    LOVE this post! As a calorie counter, I agree with a lot of it. I also know that I am basically “guesstimating” when I count calories but I try my best. I don’t weigh my food but I do measure sometimes. Having a kitchen scale helps you to be more accurate but after 5 years of maintenance, I don’t really feel like I need it.

      Martha Glantz

      October 8, 2013

      I count calories too and know that it is only an estimate. Figure that if I’m eating real food most of the time and moving every day it all works out. Still track, weigh and measure though as it works for me.

    Jody R. Goldenfield

    October 8, 2013

    Love this Roni! I keep an estimate of my calories & their make-up but I don’t log anymore. After 30++++ years of this – I know it is more complicated as you wrote above but we all find what works for us & knowing what I put in my bod works best for me.. but YES, you can’t out train eating too much or a bad “diet”. Food is at least 75% but we need both that & exercise for long term “success”. :) Great post!

    Martha Glantz

    October 8, 2013

    Love these and especially #1. A friend of mine said something that really resonated with me and that is “there are no BAD or GOOD foods and we’re not BAD or GOOD based on what we ate. Food is food and you need it for energy and if you overeat one day or one meal, that is a fact. It doesn’t make you bad.”

    That has stayed with me this time and helps me stay balanced.


    October 8, 2013

    I love your #2. I have been reading your blog and facebook posts for a few months and this is one of your “foods for thought” that has stayed with me. Last night, for the first time in months (yay me!), I gave into the casserole. I felt guilty about it all night and all morning, but 10am rolled around and I told myself, “I am in charge, remember!?? Not food! Just work harder at the gym today.” And I did, and I feel great, but man oh man, I used a lot of time doing it. I needed a little reminder I think :)


    October 8, 2013

    Counting calories is the only way I have ever lost weight. I was hoping for number ten you would link to the guy who lost weight while only eating Twinkies because he was in a deficit. It is because of this I get so tired of people claiming “eating clean” is the only way to lose weight. Granted if you use your number 9 idea to actually fill yourself up you may find it easier to be satisfied, but number ten still applies.

    #9 all the way! This is my biggest issue with counting calories. Yes the science part works, eat more = gain, eat less = lose, but it’s important to know all calories aren’t created equal when you are making decisions to be healthier overall, not just lose weight. Lots of great points here. Thanks for sharing.


    October 10, 2013

    I really want to join your meetings, but I do not have a regular work schedule (I’m a night nurse). I might drop in on random Tuesday nights that I am not working.


      October 10, 2013

      That’s ok but it’s Wednesdays. :)


      October 11, 2013

      Oops! Same problem though. I always know I will work 3 days in a row, just never which ones until the schedule comes out. New schedule comes out soon, then I am set for 6 weeks and will know which Wednesdays I will be free.


    October 13, 2013

    Check out Sam Feltham’s 5000 calorie challenges. Interesting results from same calorie count, different foods.