Calorie Detective by Casey Neistat
Diet programs revolve around a proven principle: if you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. The calorie is the defining metric. And so, in the interest of public health, the Food and Drug Administration requires most packaged foods to list their calories, among other data, on labels. To help combat obesity in New York City, the Department of Health requires most chain restaurants to post calorie content on their menus and fines those who don’t comply. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, a national program will soon follow.
In theory, this is a valuable reform. But there’s one glaring problem. According to the F.D.A. and the city’s health department, no one verifies the accuracy of these calorie listings. The system essentially runs on an honor system. Food vendors can list whatever numbers they want, until someone (somehow) catches a problem and files a complaint. So, as an obsessive calorie counter myself, I wanted to find out: how accurate are these labels?
Let me try to explain my philosophy on eating out when trying to count calories or macronutrients in order to be accurate with your daily intake. It should be done sparingly, limited primarily to special occasions or social events. Whether the restaurant (or eatery) puts up the caloric content hardly matters as they are always, always, always inaccurate. There is always a margin of error, but just how big is the margin of error is really the question.
The best way to more precise with your daily intake is to prepare your food at home. This allows you the ability to weigh (by far the most accurate method) and control the exact portions. Now, I’m not saying that you have to be a religious in weighing your food, in fact, I hope that you wouldn’t ever feel like you always have to. However, you should try it out for a minimum of a few weeks to get an idea of the portion sizes that you should be consuming and the caloric content of those portions.
My last thought is that if you’ve never counted your calories, weighed your food, and prepared it yourself then you really have never known in a given day how much you’ve eaten. How could you? I talk a lot to people that are frustrated with being overweight, yet they don’t count their calories. When I ask why they will swear up and down that they “don’t eat that much” each day. Typically what I find out is that after having the person track their caloric intake for two weeks to a month that these same people come to realize that they truly had no idea how much they were eating each day and it’s usually a bit too much. Oftentimes this is due to what I call “mindless eating” or eating out of boredom and is easily corrected when you realize you’re doing it.
Resources on how to track calories and macronutrients? Check out this page.