Sunday, January 31, 2010

Calorie Counting Dinner

Calorie counting is a futile exercise. Can you imagine yourself to be meticulously noting down every single thing you put into your mouth throughout the day? Even if you are able to count Calories with the accuracy of an accounting auditor, you will still never get exact numbers. Our food just do not come in standard calibrated units that happily lend itself to exact, precise calculations. Therefore is there any merit in such an exercise at all?

The science behind the Glycemic Index tells us that food is not digested at a uniform rate, and by similar reasoning, it is not unlikely that not all food is absorbed uniformly too. So even if 'a Calorie is a Calorie' seducively sounds like a single reducible truth, we are doing ourselves a disservice if we believe that food can be cut down to a single number alone. While I won't argue against having a rough ballpark number to work with, there should be some sensibility on not relying on it too specifically.

To the avid hard-core Calorie counters out there, let me satisfy you a little with my own Calorie counting exercise. Here is a snapped picture of what I normally have for dinner:

All the food is cooked in a steamer, seasoned with some salt, plus pepper on the trout that I was having. There are no cooking oil or any other added ingredients to what you are seeing, so what you see is what you get. I'll go through the breakdown of what was in my dinner:

Onion, whole
Beetroot, whole
Carrot, 1 stick
Sweet potato, 1/2
Asparagus, 8 tips
Coriander, 2 sprigs
Leek, 5 slices (not visible, under trout)
Rainbow Trout, 250gm

Let's try to calculate the total Calorie intake. It will not be accurate, but I'll give higher numbers on all my estimates just for argument:

Onion (94gm) - 41 Calories
Beetroot (87gm) - 37 Calories
Carrot (61gm) - 25 Calories
Sweet Potato (84gm) - 72 Calories
Aspragus (120gm) - 26 Calories
Leek (26gm) - 15 Calories
Rainbow Trout (250gm) - 387 Calories

Total Calorie Intake: 603 Calories

That's typical dinner, and sometimes with an additional fruit or cheese as dessert after. That is usually all for dinner, and I do not consume any more after I cleaned up my kitchen. If I make a simplistic projection of these numbers to a full day (x3 for breakfast, lunch and dinner), then I'm consuming less Calories than the standard daily requirement! So if the standard is to be believed, then by definition I must be starving!

Our environment is a complex one, and our bodies are miraculous complex organisms that have to deal with this complexity. We have many bodily functions that regulate themselves autonomously without conscious thought or control, and our body constantly adjusts itself based on the feedback it receives; we feel sleepy when we are tired, our bodies ache and stop us from hurting ourselves when we over-tax it, we get thirsty when we are dehydrated. Shouldn't that mean it is naturally correct that we eat only when we are hungry?

There is no reason not to trust our bodies to do the right thing. If I am not feeling hungry from my food intake, then my body is telling me that I am not in energy deficit. And I trust that my body is right. Who do you believe, your body or the standard conventional wisdom out there?


Andrew said...

Hey there - a thought provoking article!
A couple of points to add - for me, calorie counting is about rough estimates - I laughed when I saw your total of 603 (did you round that up or down ;)). Calorie counting in is one thing - calorie counting out is another which in my experience is even more diffucult to measure accurately, so again ball park figures.

What I find fascinating is the concept of this standard - the people who set this obviously just work on averages so a woman 1.4 metres tall of slim build will need fewer calories in than a woman of 1.8 metres who is not so slim!

In the UK they have just raised this "standard" number of calories, presumably due to the fact that the average size of the average person has risen, so the calculation is based on a bigger person. Madness!

Wendy Greer said...

What I find fascinating on calorie counting, and standard calories to intake everyday, is the fact that in the UK, the recommended number of calories for adults has just been increased - presumably because the average requirement has gone up, because people are getting bigger!!!
Some people just don't understand science. and then they join government......

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