Do calories really matter?

What gets your attention more when it comes to dining out,  knowing that the meal has 800 calories or knowing that it will take 3.5 hours walking briskly to burn it off?

Recently I was asked by Fox 5 News to help them with a story about the regulation requiring calories to be listed beside menu items for quick service restaurant chains and if that really means anything to the average consumer.

60-75% of your daily calorie needs in one meal!
60-75% of your daily calorie needs in one meal!

The focus of the story was on a recent study done by Texas Christian University that set out to determine if a mere number (calories) has a big enough effect on how or how much someone orders.  The assumption is that most Americans don’t really know what to do with a calorie number but would be effected more if presented with how many hours of exercise it would take to burn the meal off instead!

eat now work later!
Only 2 more hours to burn this off!

The results were not surprising to me.   Participants ordered significantly less when they were presented with hours of walking or cycling required to burn the meal off!

For this assignment, I put together meals at five chain restaurants: Panera, Chick-Fil-A, Church’s Chicken, McDonalds, and Baskin Robins.  I calculated the number of calories per meal and translated that into the number of hours on a treadmill it would take to burn it off.  (based on a 150 pound person walking briskly at 3.5 rpm. That’s 260 calories/hour:))

Watch the video to see how common menu choices translate into HOURS of activity.

What do I think?

I think that calories listed (or workouts) makes people more aware of how much they are eating and addressing the issue of Quantity consumed is step 1 in the right direction.  However, it doesn’t, and almost lessens the importance of food QUALITY!

What your body does, or doesn’t do, with a chicken biscuit is worlds apart from what it does with a banana or apple.  You may be able to burn the bad choice off but the workout will be sluggish and you will burn out much faster if your fuel source come solely from fast foods.

More importantly, to get into the habit of eating crap just to burn it off is a dangerous way to control your relationship with food and exercise and an unhealthy, fearful place to live.

What should you do?

Know how many calories you need on a daily basis and try to get more of those calories from whole foods (vegetables, fruits, lean protein) rather than fast food!

If eating out is your only option then following these simple rules:

  1. Choose salads or wraps over sub sandwiches and biscuits.  Use oil based dressing over the creamy ones.
  2. Skip the fries, chips, and extra sides with no nutritional value, I would rather see someone eat another wrap or salad than indulging in fried sugar.
  3. 3.  Go for H2O!  Ditch the sodas.

Next up:  What is a calorie and how many does YOUR need daily?

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