Well Being

Americans Eating Less, Still Getting Fatter (Can We Stop Counting Calories Now?)

By  | 

shutterstock_113341153Once upon a time, I used to monitor every calorie that went into my mouth. It was obsessive. It was excruciating. And despite my vigilance and ample consumption of low-cal diet foods, it was slow-going with the weight loss—so also totally frustrating.

Then I started eating real food. Fruits. Vegetables. Whole grains. Raw nuts and seeds. Goodbye 20+ pounds, almost like magic. I wasn't “dieting.” I wasn't counting calories. I was just eating good things, and cutting out bad things—things like high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, artificial sweeteners. Instead of directing my eyes toward top part of a product's nutrition facts label, I paid more attention to the ingredients list.

That was about three and a half years ago. After the initial weight loss, it plateaued, but I've remained at this new set weight ever since then with nary a diet or detox to speak of. I listen to my body. I eat what I want, within reason. And now, at my lowest weight, I probably consume the same amount or possibly more calories than I did when I was at my heaviest.

What gives? A calorie is not a calorie, to put it simply. The simple calories in/calories out equation for weight loss (or gain) doesn't work when you factor hyper-processed food into the equation. Our bodies weren't meant to consume trans fatty acids and bisphenol A and a boatload of fructose. Our bodies don't treat all foods the same way, nor all calories from foods the same way.

I bring all this up in light of a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis showing that despite America's ever-rising obesity rate, average calorie intake is actually down over the past decade. Between 1971 and 2003, the average daily intake for American adults rose by a total of 314 calories. But it fell by 74 calories between 2003 and 2010.

“It's hard to reconcile what these data show, and what is happening with the prevalence of obesity,” William Dietz, study co-author and former CDC director of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, told Reuters Health. “Seventy-four calories is a lot, and as I said before, we would expect to see a measurable impact on obesity.”

The experts offer several potential explanations for the disparity: More time is needed to see obesity rates respond to changes in calorie intake; an ongoing decrease in physical activity; faulty intel. It's possible the growing awareness about an unhealthy diet's dangers have simply led more survey respondents to lie about their food intake.

But what's not mentioned in the Reuters article is that perhaps it doesn't matter if we're eating less calories because we're also eating crappier calories. Food for thought?