936505According to a popular online food diary apps if I continue with my current eating habits and exercise regime I will weigh 47.9kg in just 5 weeks – a loss of 6.1kg. Wow! What a result!!! However, there’s something very obviously wrong with this picture. Actually, there’s a few things wrong with it, but let’s start with the most obvious – IT AINT GONNA HAPPEN! You know it and I know it. In fact the whole world probably knows it because if it were that easy then I doubt 65% of men and 58% of women in the UK who are currently overweight or obese would be anymore (1)

Problem 1: Calories in versus Calories out doesn’t always equal weight loss
Popular diet & food diary apps base results on simple maths and decreasing your net calories per day for weight loss. In layman’s terms this means move more and eat less. As soon as you upload your profile and plug in your ideal weight it returns a daily recommended calorie intake for you. In theory, if you stick with this you should reach your ideal weight in a set number of weeks, so why haven’t you? In simple terms (and you’ve probably heard it before) many apps are based on decreasing your net calories by 500/day or 3500/week. This is based on the theory 3500kcal equals 1lb of fat. Hmm… that sounds too simple doesn’t it?! Well it is! Basically, calorie counting on its own doesn’t account for where those calories come from. 1500Kcal per day from chips, burgers, ice cream and cakes is still 1500kcal, but I guarantee it won’t result in weight loss. However, many apps are basing your weight loss on overall net calories consumed (i.e. calories in and out), which leads to problem 2
Problem 2: A calorie is a calorie is a calorie
Not quite that simple. Many years ago: the government, many savvy ‘community diet programmes’ and food manufactures started with the ‘low fat’ range in a bid to reduce the obesity problem. It hasn’t worked how they’d hoped because obesity is still on the rise (1). Reason being fat isn’t the only problem – sugar is also an issue. Due to the insulin response in the body upon consuming it, sugar is a major culprit for increasing weight. In general, Calorie Counting App don’t distinguish where your calories are coming from when calculating your projected weight loss and you could just as easily eat low nutrient dense/high calorie food such as a couple of slices of white toast instead of low calorie/high nutrient dense food such as a bowl of steaming oats (2), which leads on to problem 3
Problem 3: There’s more to it than just Carbs, Protein and Fat
Most decent calorie counting apps like myfitnesspal(4) do provide you with a calorie breakdown of food consumed, but more often than not most skip this detailed information and move to the colourful pie chart highlighting overall Carbohydrates, Fat and Protein consumed. I know this because clients often ask how they can reduce their carbohydrates as the pie chart is showing it at 60%, which in their opinion is too much. Afterall, “Carbs are the devil and root of all weight gain” right? Wrong! Carbohydrate as a food group contains dietary fibre, sugar, starchy grains, fruit and vegetables – all of which are necessary in the right quantities. Therefore, it’s not a case of cutting down on ‘Carbs’ in general, it’s about trying to understand the detailed information provided and distinguishing between sugars and white-based starchy carbs such as rice, pasta and white bread and healthy carbohydrates from fruit, vegetables and whole-grains.
Problem 4.  Nothing changes if nothing changes
Now this one is a little more specific and pertains to the app saying I will lose 6.1kg in 5 weeks if I continue with my exercise and eating habits. However…. nothing changes if nothing changes. My eating and exercise habits are just that – habits. It’s my lifestyle. I do it day in day out and the body is very habit forming. It will become efficient at doing what you do everyday in order to use the least amount of energy. So, the fact is I’ve been eating and exercising in this way for years means I’m not all of a sudden going to lose 6.1kg. Let’s put it another way.
My lifestyle = Walking around 20km per day. Teaching around 2 vigorous hours of exercise five times per week. Running around 6-10km three times a week. Drinking alcohol probably once a month and even then it’s perhaps one bottle of wine. Eating 5-7 portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Eating lean protein, Quinoa, spelt, Rye and skipping sugary foods and white refined carbohydrates. Look at that and overlay it over your lifestyle. If it’s drastically different, you’ll probably lose 6.1kg in 5 weeks, but for me, it’s normal, so I will simple maintain my weight.

Now in the interest of offering a balanced critique, calorie counting and diet apps do have their positives, if you know how to use them. In fact, I often encourage my clients to keep track of their daily food and activity using the myfitnesspal (4) app and I do this for a number of reasons:

 

Positive 1: Keeping a food diary does help with weight loss
Keeping a food diary aids with weight loss and creating healthy eating choices for a couple of reasons. One: writing a food diary brings awareness. Often the little ‘treats’ go unnoticed until you start writing them down. Often when you keep a log of your food you can identify a pattern surrounding when you eat and why. Once you’re aware of this you can start to change that behaviour (3). The second reason apps such as myfitnesspal(4) are good is I can also look at your food diary.

 

Positive 2: You’re not alone in your quest
The sharing with friends setting allows me, as a personal trainer, to have a good snoop through your diary. This then helps me set individual goals for the coming weeks and continue to monitor them. As my approach is all about ‘healthy eating’ and changing one habit at a time, myfitnesspal allows me to keep track of my client progress and set one new change that’s based on their current individual dietary habits.  If you don’t have a personal trainer, the sharing facility is still good, as you can get other friends involved. Having friends involved can help keep you motivated. This community provides a common goal and a little healthy competition to encourage each other to keep going.

So in summary, by all means use the calorie counting and diet apps but don’t get hung up solely on calorie counting for weight loss. Upload your food to keep a food diary and create awareness of your eating habits, but aim to lose weight by regularly exercising on a consistent basis i.e. 20-30mins/day and eating a healthy balanced menu consisting of plenty of fish, lean meat, vegetables and whole-grains. Avoid the sugars and white starchy carbs and don’t kid yourself that it’s acceptable to eat cake, pizza or other such junk at any time. If you’re honest, you absolutely know this won’t aid weight loss regardless of coming in under your 1500kcal recommended daily allowance.

References
(1) https://catalogue.ic.nhs.uk/publications/public-health/obesity/obes-phys-acti-diet-eng-2013/obes-phys-acti-diet-eng-2013-rep.pdf

(2) http://www.whfoods.com/foodstoc.php

(3) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080708080738.htm

(4) www.myftinesspal.com