The death of the calorie is long overdue, in my humble estimation.

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Okay, okay. So we had burgers at P&u tonight.

This is a long read and an absolutely essential one.

However I’m not sure what my mother would think, being a home economics teacher trained during the period of post-war food industrialization.

Since January 1, ten pounds have somehow disappeared from my (shall we say excessive) frame. I’ve gotten somewhat less outdoor exercise than during warmer months, although I’m still walking and am more active with my duties at the pub.

My beer consumption, which has declined considerably in recent years, has remained steady. Less beer, a tad more liquor and wine where merited. We’ve been eating lots of meat, comfort foods and vegetables, because our experiment for 2019 has been to eat most meals at home, reserving “eating out” for special occasions.

The latter probably explains where the ten pounds went; specifically, we’re probably consuming a quarter of the deep-fried food we’d normally be having when dining out, which invariably is salty and inspires another beer while cleaning one’s plate of an oversized portion.

Less sugar and salt. Small breakfasts and lunches; larger evening meal, taken early with only a few snacks allowed until the following morning, for instance fruit, peanut butter and maybe cheese on crackers. We’re not counting calories or following any particular regimen, just being (mostly) sensible.

There are lapses, to be sure, though overall it parallels the advice dispensed near the end of this article. Maybe it’s only a 35% change for us, but I feel pretty good. What’s more, I don’t feel as if I’ve sacrificed much in the way of enjoyment.

DEATH OF THE CALORIE (The Economist’s 1843 Magazine)

For more than a century we’ve counted on calories to tell us what will make us fat. Peter Wilson says it’s time to bury the world’s most misleading measure

 … Today Camacho could be described as a calorie dissident, one of a small but growing number of academics and scientists who say that the persistence of calorie-counting compounds the obesity epidemic, rather than remedying it. Counting calories has disrupted our ability to eat the right amount of food, he says, and has steered us towards poor choices. In 2017 he wrote an academic paper that was one of the most savage attacks on the calorie system published in a peer-reviewed journal. “I’m actually embarrassed at what I used to believe,” he says. “I was doing everything I could to follow the official advice but it was totally wrong and I feel stupid for never even questioning it.”

Given the vast evidence that calorie-counting is imprecise at best, and contributes to rising obesity at worst, why has it persisted?

The simplicity of calorie-counting explains its appeal. Metrics that tell consumers the extent to which foods have been processed, or whether they will suppress hunger, are harder to understand. Faced with the calorie juggernaut, none has gained wide acceptance.

The scientific and health establishment knows that the current system is flawed. A senior adviser to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation warned in 2002 that the Atwater “factors” of 4-4-9 at the heart of the calorie-counting system were “a gross oversimplification” and so inaccurate that they could mislead consumers into choosing unhealthy products because they understate the calories in some carbohydrates. The organisation said it would give “further consideration” to overhauling the system but 17 years later there is little momentum for change. It even rejected the idea of harmonising the many methods that are used in different countries – a label in Australia can give a different count from one in America for the same product.

Officials at the WHO also acknowledge the problems of the current system, but say it is so entrenched in consumer behaviour, public policy and industry standards that it would be too expensive and disruptive to make big changes. The experiments that Atwater conducted a century ago, without calculators or computers, have never been repeated even though our understanding of how our bodies work is vastly improved. There is little funding or enthusiasm for such work. As Susan Roberts at Tufts University says, collecting and analysing faeces “is the worst research job in the world”.

The calorie system, says Camacho, lets food producers off the hook: “They can say, ‘We’re not responsible for the unhealthy products we sell, we just have to list the calories and leave it to you to manage your own weight’.” Camacho and other calorie dissidents argue that sugar and highly processed carbohydrates play havoc with people’s hormonal systems. Higher insulin levels mean more energy is converted into fat tissues leaving less available to fuel the rest of the body. That in turn drives hunger and overeating. In other words the constant hunger and fatigue suffered by Camacho and other dieters may be symptoms of being overweight, rather than the cause of the problem. Yet much of the food industry defends the status quo too. To change how we assess the energy and health values of food would undermine the business model of many companies …

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