Calories in the news

milklabelRestaurant calorie labeling doesn’t change our food choices

Calorie labeling on restaurant menus is the Food Police’s most glorious “accomplishment”.  They can’t get enough of the eat-by-numbers lifestyle.  Doesn’t everybody eat that way?  They agitated for the mandatory calorie labeling law, that’s buried somewhere in the 2000++ pages of Obamacare.  The simple-minded assumption was that: (1) everyone wants to see those calorie numbers next to their cheeseburger or soft drink or cheesecake; and (2) when people see big calorie numbers, they will be so horrified that they will give up foods they enjoy and switch to dry lettuce leaves and diet soda pop.  It’s a form of Food Shaming.

Reality has a nasty habit of intruding on idealistic dreams.  Yet another study shows that calorie labels on restaurant menus have zero effect on what customers purchase.  As any competent consumer market research organization will tell you, food choices are primarily based on taste and price.  But the Food Police were never known for letting reality intrude on their dream of enforced calorie restriction.

Calorie backloading — dieters’ downfall?

I read a very interesting study on female athletes recently.  The focus of the study was athletic performance and the impact of some health measures.  But there were some unanticipated findings.   Despite the exact same training program, some of the subjects consumed fewer calories but had higher body fat, less fitness and poorer performance.  How can this be?  They were eating fewer calories!  One reason: they tended to back load their calories.  Instead of eating to fuel training or racing, they were eating afterwards.  When workouts aren’t properly fueled, training isn’t as effective.

This doesn’t just apply to athletes.  Saving up calories, or rewarding oneself with high calorie treats is a common behavior for dieters, too.  Dieters might stick to a strict food limit during the day.  They might faithfully work out for an hour, keeping track of calories burned.  Then later they reward themselves, with a big meal or a big dessert, or both, thinking they’re entitled, because they burned those calories earlier.  But as this study with athletes suggests, calorie backloading may back-fire on diet efforts.  If you typically burn an extra 250 calories walking on a treadmill at noon, you should fuel that workout before noon, not reward yourself with a 250 bowl of ice cream at 8 p.m.

Unfortunately, plenty of calorie-counting apps and fitness gadgets give the impression that it’s OK to reward yourself with food when you burn off calories with exercise.  If you do that, and your diet efforts don’t seem to be working out so well, maybe you need to re-evaluate the behavior.  Backloading calories to reward yourself for exercising or restricting food earlier in the day may be the culprit.

It’s not ‘calories in = calories out’ after all

Which brings us to strange new theory: that it isn’t overeating that causes obesity, but obesity that causes overeating.  Hmmm.  So where did the obesity come from in the first place?  Anyway, the theory goes like this: hormones may make you more likely to store energy in fat cells then burn it for fuel.  You may be restricting calories, but the hormones are storing energy away.  You’re metabolism senses the lack of available energy and drives you to overeat, further defeating your diet.  The authors of this theory speculate that genetics, environment and diet quality may affect this process.

This might help explain why people lose weight and keep it off more easily when they switch to low-sugar, plant-based diets.  Perhaps that’s the model for weight-normalizing diet quality.  Or perhaps it’s the timing of eating that’s the issue.  Backloading calories doesn’t work for athletes, and probably doesn’t work for less active dieters.

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