If it’s 65 calories for an apple, does that count the core? What if I throw the core away? How much core are we talking?
And what about the butter left in the frying pan after I cook something? Hmm? What about that?
What if I’ve eaten a piece of cheese but I gave a little chunk to the dogs?
This shit is stupid. Stupid stupid stupid shit. I used to worry about shit like this. It used to sabotage my calorie-counting — not this most recent Feb. 2012-present successful stretch of calorie-counting, but in the two or three times in years past that I tried half-assedly calorie-counting.
Nik told me counting calories was a good thing. So fine. I’d pour 2 tablespoons of salad dressing, mix it into the salad, eat the salad, then stare into the bowl afterward, where I’d see a tiny little puddle of salad dressing left. And I’d get neurotic about it. I’d think: What about that? Huh? Look at all that salad dressing left over that I didn’t eat. How do I count that? Those are calories I didn’t eat. Do I take off half a teaspoon? Should I get a slice of bread and sop it up so I’ve technically eaten it all? Fuck! What do I do?
Stupid stupid stupid shithead.
The answer, of course — which I figured out this time around — is to count the damn calories anyway, because what’s it fucking matter. In almost all cases we’re talking a matter of single-digit calories. I can’t begin to tell you how eye-opening it was when I realized this, because it years past it used to hang me up big-time. It’s basically the reason I stopped calorie-counting in years before. I thought if I couldn’t be 100% accurate, then what was the point? I’d sit and wonder about slices of bread. The Nutrition Facts said it was 80 calories a slice, but not all slices are equal size — there are those ill-formed end pieces that everyone leaves in the bag until you absolutely have to get rid of them. So I’d wonder if the 80 calories referred to the average slice or the average of all the slices, rinky-dink end pieces included. Yes, really.
For some reason it clicked with me this time: there’s accuracy and then there’s being a fruitcake. It’s nitpicking over a matter of 5 calories here, 10 calories there, maybe 20. Who cares? If you ate 20 calories too much, do push-ups for two minutes — now you’ve burned 20 calories. Move on.
Here’s a quick quiz to hammer it home:
1. I sauteed something in a teaspoon of olive oil and smears of it remained in the frying pan.
(a) Scoop the remainder olive oil into a measuring spoon and subtract it from what you counted.
(b) Count the full teaspoon anyway, because who cares.
2. I had a banana that was probably about 6¾” but all they have in my calorie-counting database is “medium banana.”
(a) Google the average size of a banana and use that as your base to determine what fraction of that your banana was, then calculate the estimated calorie count.
(b) Just input “medium banana,” because it’s close enough.
3. I put a quarter-cup of feta cheese in my salad, but thinking about it I’m pretty sure there was a tiny air pocket somewhere in there not filled by cheese.
(a) Pick all the feta cheese crumbles out of the salad, put them back into a measuring cup, and re-measure.
(b) Count a quarter-cup and stop being a mentalcase.
The answer to all these questions is b. Count, eat, move on. The concept of counting calories really is very easy. It’s us who over-complicate it and make things go horribly wrong. I mean, shit — how exact do these measurements have to be? What am I, a fucking science experiment?
I was spurred to write about my bizarre calorie-counting hangups after visiting the My Fitness Pal forums and seeing this — apparently a serious question. I’ve redacted the people’s usernames:
When you eat and get diarrhea … how many of the calories do you add to your diary? I mean, if you ate the Waffle House Special and it passd [sic] through you in 15 minutes, there’s no way you absorbed all of the calories. Furthermore, if you fight it and hold it in, are any calories absorbed through your colon? Is there possibly an equation one can use? Like TotalCalories x (time digested in minutes / (4×60)) = NetCalories ?
First off, don’t eat whatever the fuck a Waffle House Special is. What is that? You know what — I don’t want to know. Whatever it is, my advice is don’t eat it. It’s probably awful for you. Waffle House is not for people who want to be fit — so if you want to be fit, make peace with the fact that nothing they serve will help you with that process. Next tip: Don’t “fight it and hold it in.” I never thought I’d ever type out the following sentence, but here goes: No amount of cheek-clenching will reverse diarrhea. It doesn’t happen. If you’ve got diarrhea inside, it’s already over. You on a toilet having a shit — that’s what’s happening next. “Holding it in” is just prolonging the inevitable, which is eventually you getting tired of clenching and pooping yourself. If your body is trying to evacuate something out of your colon, listen to it. Your anus knows best.
Whether or not calories are absorbed is a moot point. If you eat the Waffle House Special and then immediately crap it out (along with the rest of whatever you ate yesterday), you should probably lie down for a little bit and drink some fluids. Don’t worry about calorie-counting. Take the rest of the day off — you earned it, champ. Also, take this as a lesson that Waffle House = the shits. Don’t eat there anymore.
There’s another post on the My Fitness Pal forums with the title “What do you count as water?” There are 10 pages of this. Ten pages. You know what you count as water? Water. In fact, don’t bother counting water unless for some reason you put something in it, like sugar or honey or chunks of ham or whatever the fuck — and then that’s not “water.” That’s a beverage you just made. Just drink enough water so you’re not thirsty. Why make this complicated?
There are dozens of forum questions from people asking questions about the frequency of drinking water. Asks one confused person: “I know it’s 8 glasses, but glasses come in all different sizes.” Just use, you know, a glass, sized somewhere between a shot glass and a vase. Some of them ask how much water they should count for a cup. The answer is “a cup.” But again, if you’re using an app to calorie-count water, ask yourself if this is really a worthwhile use of electricity. Keep in mind that the whole “always drink 8 glasses of water a day” thing isn’t accurate itself if you’re eating a balanced diet, because there’s water in food.
No amount of cheek-clenching will reverse diarrhea. It doesn’t happen. If you’ve got diarrhea inside, it’s already over. You on a toilet having a shit — that’s what’s happening next.
There are people asking if they should count gum (maybe — the poster said she chews 12 pieces a day, so at 5 calories a pop that’s 60 calories).
Some people are asking if they should count the black pepper they use to season food (hell no).
One person said she went to Burger King and ate one “chicken whooper” and wanted to know if she gained weight (a pound of body fat is 3,500 calories, so no, not permanently unless you ate almost 8 of them).
Or: “Tic Tacs are they good or bad?” Breath mints do not exist within a moral framework — eat them if you want, or don’t.
Or this, which just makes me sad because this may be a sign of problems, and I just want to hug the poster and tell her it’ll all be OK: “I found myself wondering how many calories were seeping into my head from my shampoo … True story.”
I log my exercise on My Fitness Pal, but I don’t take it too seriously. I don’t follow every calorie down to the digit. I once saw someone on the forums asking if a couple of hours of house-cleaning should be logged as exercise. Do what you want, but I say not unless you lifted pieces of the sectional sofa over your head and squatted them — you know, doing exercise as opposed to doing an activity. I never like to log anything not directly related to my exercise routine, because otherwise that’s part of my regular day. I don’t count the calories that I burned walking up the two flights of stairs to feed my cats. I don’t count the calories I burn walking from my car to the office. I don’t count the calories I burned walking around Target. I don’t count carrying a 40-pound bag of dog food to the register as weightlifting. I don’t count vacuuming the house as cardio. When winter comes, I won’t count shoveling snow as a workout. That’s just stuff I have to do because I’m not in a coma. Those calories are just a bonus burn for not being bedridden. But people can do what they want. I just think it’s nickel-and-diming.
To be fair to the MFP forums, most of the people there seem to be fairly level-headed. I only occasionally lurk to see what other people are doing and gawp and bizarre questions like the above, but overall most people aren’t driving themselves nuts. But the fact that some people out there are worried about nonsense like Tic Tacs (“the one-and-a-half calorie breath mint”) or whether they should be drinking plain water out of 12-ounce glasses or 8-ounce glasses, along with my over-imaginative brain wondering stupidly whether the calories in an orange include the rind, and some other things I’ve read here & there on the internet — all this leads me to believe that in general people seem to focus irrationally on the nitpicky stuff and not the big stuff. I wish I knew why. Maybe because focusing on those things makes calorie-counting seem like an involved and complicated process fraught with secret traps that can inhibit your progress, because hell, it just can’t be as easy as “eat reasonable amounts of food for cripes sake,” even though that’s mostly what it is.
I count where it counts
This might seem to contradict what I just said above, but I recently took the plunge and bought a food scale. I’d been going back and forth about this for many months, because having a food scale in the kitchen has the potential to make me neurotic. However, eyeballing portions of food and estimating their size also has the potential to make me neurotic. So if I’m going to be neurotic either way, I’d rather be neurotic and slightly more accurate.
So far it’s been handy. The other day I eyeballed a piece of salmon and figured it for 7 ounces, and the scale said it was actually 8. Shock, horror, &c. It also turns out that I’ve been underestimating how many grams of bacon I have for brekkies. Now I weigh it and make sure that’s all on the up-and-up. When you eat bacon as often I do, inaccuracies of 50 calories matter add up after a while.
I use the scale to weigh important things — proteins, mostly, which are calorie-dense, and (for me) don’t come in neat packages with easy serving sizes. I can either stare at a chunk of sirloin for 10 minutes and decide, “Aaah, it’s probably 4 ounces,” or I can weigh it, realize it’s actually 5.5 (about 100 calories’ difference), adjust the rest of my meal accordingly, and get on with my day. I don’t use it to weigh things like carrots, or lettuce, or tomatoes, or things for which “close enough” is close enough because my estimates are just fine. I’m not about to accidentally eat 100 to 200 extra calories of lettuce. I did weigh my keys once, but only because I was genuinely curious. (They weigh 7 and a quarter ounces, which seems like way too much.)
My point is, I’ve figured out that this is only going to work if I’m picky where it counts. Where it doesn’t matter, “good enough” is good enough. I used to get sidetracked by the nickel-and-diming of calories, but that’s futile and just made me sabotage myself, and there’s no point. This is all one big estimating dealie anyway. You know that, right? Nobody can possibly get laboratory-quality results at home, so you’re aiming for a rough but reasonable estimate. You just want to get in the ballpark — preferably down to what section you’re sitting in. If you can nail it down to a couple of rows of seats that’s even better. And if you’re shitting yourself, don’t go to the ballgame — stay home and watch “Price is Right” instead like you’re supposed to. *