Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

Google’s new calorie counting app may be dumb but that doesn’t mean counting calories is

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Apparently Google is developing a “smart” food diary that allows you to track calories simply by taking photos of your food. This concept has been around for a little while and is still notoriously inaccurate. From that standpoint, I agree with the reviewer in the verge who called the smart food diary “dumb”. However, I disagree with their reason for calling it dumb.

He states that “calorie counting doesn’t work”. Um. What? Tell that to the countless people who have successfully maintained weight loss with the help of tracking their food intake. Sure, no one thing works for everyone and calorie counting is not 100% accurate. This doesn’t mean that it’s not a useful weight management tool.

You see, the thing about calorie counting is that it’s not really about the calories, or the counting. It does give people a rough idea of how many calories they’re consuming and a sense of how much to increase or decrease depending on whether they want to gain or lose weight. In addition to that, it increases mindfulness. When you have to record everything you eat it makes you pause before you mindlessly snack out of boredom or anxiety or whatever non-hunger related reason that you might be tempted to eat. It can also help you to get a better idea of what and when to eat. If you see that you’re skipping breakfast and then snacking all night then you might be prompted to aim to start your day with a more substantial breakfast to help curb excessive snacking later in the day. Or if you find that you’re always tired in the afternoon you might see that there’s room for improvement at lunch time or that you might need to add a snack and more water to your afternoon routine.

Yes, in the sense that cutting 3, 500 calories does not generally translate to a pound of weight lost over the course of a week, calorie counting “doesn’t work”. However, as a tool to help guide your food choices and timing, food diaries can be invaluable.

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Author: Diana

I'm a registered dietitian from Nova Scotia, living and working in Ontario, Canada. My goal is to help people relearn how to have a healthy relationship with food.

10 thoughts on “Google’s new calorie counting app may be dumb but that doesn’t mean counting calories is

  1. I completely agree that calorie counting can be a really useful tool. The mindfulness especially. If you have to write down or log something you eat, you think twice about everything you eat before you put it in your mouth.

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  2. I think it is so funny when people say calorie counting doesn’t work- like, what are you talking about? Ask anyone who has actually, really done it (like tracked everything instead of deciding certain things don’t count).

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  3. Spot On! Love your wording for eating out of boredom ect……NON-HUNGRY reason! Mindful eating – more and more clients are asking for more information as they want to learn more especially those that have a difficult time with tracking food intake. Enjoy reading your articles:)

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  4. I’m a Lifetime member of Weight Watchers (at my goal weight for 3 years now after losing 150+ pounds) and I agree with your comments. For me, the two most important parts of staying on track are mindful eating and accountability. I pay attention to what I eat, how much I eat and when and why I’m eating it and stay accountable by tracking what I eat (I still do it on paper) and attending meetings to weigh in weekly. Some people are surprised to find that I do exactly the same things to maintain my weight loss as I did to lose the weight in the first place but I know it’s what I have to do.

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    • Thanks for sharing your story :)

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    • Love the comments – truly it is calorie counting but so much more a mindfulness about the food we eat and why. Congratulations Somecatsandarabbit. I too need to lose weight but not in the habits of tracking everything as I know I could lose the weight and improve my life in so many ways. Again, so enjoy the comments and the article.

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  5. It’s ironic that The Verge article cites this paper as evidence that calories don’t count when it comes to weight-loss: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1014296. The paper itself says:

    “All these relationships must be mediated by changes in energy intake, energy expenditure, or both. Total energy intake is not well estimated from dietary questionnaires, nor does it reflect energy balance, which is necessarily codetermined by energy expenditure. Thus, weight change is the best population metric of energy imbalance and at least partly captures energy intake after adjustment for determinants of expenditure (e.g., age, body-mass index, and physical activity).”

    The authors do say that some foods are more or less satiating, but that absolutely doesn’t invalidate the calorie principle.

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