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Does Calorie Counting predispose some to Anorexia/Wannarexia/Orthorexia?

Commented on September 30, 2014
Created September 29, 2014 at 1:22 AM

Religious calorie counting bears much resemblance to the ritualistic and obsessive eating patterns of Eating Disorders. But can calorie counting (whether for weight gain or weight loss) be a trigger for people to slip into an eating disorder?

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3 Answers

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Be157308a0438e382b88d9db4c12ab30

on September 29, 2014
at 03:00 PM

If you have a predisposition based on your personality (like an obsessive compulsive disorder for example), calorie counting could trigger some of the conditions you mentioned. Let's face it some people are over-achievers and might try going lower and lower with calorie counting which could result in some problems.

Counting calories is a naive way to maintain weight, it would be almost as naive as counting mass. Sure you could say calories in calories out all you want just like you could say mass in mass out but these approaches ignore the human body's innate autoregulatory control systems which maintain energy homeostasis. Calories out is the trickiest part of the equation since it would involve measuring calories lost to heat production (thermogenesis), calories lost in breath (ketones in breath for example), calories lost in urine as ketones or glucose in the case of diabetics, calories that are not absorbed by the digestive tract (fiber, unabsorbed fats), calories lost to digestion, calories lost to physical activity, calories lost to organ function and calories deposited as fat in adipose tissue.

The naive idiocy of the calories in calories out argument is that it ignores all these variables and assumes that they are actually constants which do not fluctuate based upon the particular foods being consumed and the effects these foods have on fat-storage and fat-breakdown hormones, thermogenesis, intestinal absorption, urine/breath excretions etc. For instance, when fat is consumed in large amounts and ketosis ensues, a calorie lost in breath as ketone bodies is not going to your fat tissue like, say, a calorie of excess sugar would be, so this calorie doesn't need to be counted in the first place since it is literally being thrown away by the body.

Calorie counting is a heuristic approach to weight loss wereby you simply limit what you eat to a point below what the body requires to execute all necessary functions. So that even when the body lowers its energy requirements to the bare minimum, weight loss can still be achieved, which in essence is nothing more than controlled starvation. If a person gets "addicted" to this perceived control over their body, then they could very well dive into a condition such as anorexia.

Medium avatar

(10601)

on September 30, 2014
at 12:43 PM

It is simplistic, but it's effective if taken seriously. It can lead to the -exia's if it's taken too seriously. Finally calories-out is well enough documented. But like any other heuristic cc needs personal documentation.

Be157308a0438e382b88d9db4c12ab30

on September 29, 2014
at 08:17 PM

Since it's the internet I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or serious.....

Either way, on a more personal note, that's basically what I do and it has worked out just fine for me. I dropped 30 lbs and I've held steady at around 148 lbs (I'm a 5'10" male so that puts my BMI at 21) for the last 2 years without counting calories and eating until full. I would highly recommend it.

Be157308a0438e382b88d9db4c12ab30

on September 29, 2014
at 08:02 PM

Well, that depends on your circulating insulin levels and by how much you overeat. If you have very low insulin levels and literally consume nothing but 0 carb whipped cream, you could very well overeat it without noticing any substantial weight gain, as you might most likely just go into ketosis and get a really strong case of keto-breath whereby you will end up excreting a lot of ketones in your breath. You'll also find the need to urinate quite often in order to excrete the ketones (ketonuria). Additionally, you might also notice an increase sense of warmth or heat (thermogenesis). Just ask any type 1 diabetic what happens when they don't take their insulin (spoiler: they lose weight no matter how much they eat).

Obviously if you exceed a very high calorie amount like, say, 5000 calories (double the average calorie consumption), the excess ketone levels in your blood would become so high so as to trigger a modest release of insulin as a protective mechanism in order to not go into a state of ketoacidosis; the insulin would slow down ketosis and eventually cause some of the excess energy to be synthesized into fat. However, the amount that would be stored as fat would be a lot less than if you had consumed the same number of calories in carbohydrates (glucose), since your body is actively excreting a great deal of it in breath and urine. So while you can get away with a pretty high amount of calories from fat, especially when compared to carbs, that doesn't mean consuming 5000 calories of whipped cream in one day is necessarily the best way to go about it and would take some serious binging.

But my point here is to illustrate how a low-carb diet can help a dieter avoid hunger while effectively losing weight, or as in the above example, gaining less than what they otherwise would have had they consumed the same amount of calories on a high-carb diet.

7ac49d04dce6a08fcd35a5584dbf27d1

(103)

on September 29, 2014
at 07:14 PM

are you saying I can binge on 0 carb whipped cream and it won't make me gain weight because I'm consuming excess fat?

edit: in reponse to your answer, thats amazing!

That means when I hit my target weight I will only count protein/carbs and snack on things like avocado/coconut/olives/butter and I won't gain weight!

edit: not being sarcastic, I am happy I don't have to be hungry the rest of my life :D

and liking the proper explanation of why it will work

just looked up dried shredded coconut on amazon I can eat that as a snack

Be157308a0438e382b88d9db4c12ab30

on September 29, 2014
at 06:38 PM

It's effective but not optimal, hence why I labeled it a "heuristic" approach. Mainly because its intuitive nature makes it easy to accept and follow, which works for many people, including those who might not have the desire to give up certain foods or count carbs. So does it work? Well, yes of course it does, if the amount of calories is sufficiently low enough to cause weight loss (starvation), no one disputes this. The only catch is that the deficit would have to be substantial otherwise a few more grams/calories of food here and there, could very well throw off the entire deficit. So to be safe there would have to be a margin of error to counteract rounding errors in calorie counts.

What you end up with is a diet where the dieter is essentially hungry throughout most of the day. Some people would rather put up with this hunger either for the sake of simplicity or just because they can't give up their carbs (donuts, pizza, candy, whatever) or a mixture of both. However, such starvation is unnecessary if carbohydrates are reduced as the body simply eliminates excess calories through breath, urine and increased thermogenesis, so even if the person overeats there is no fat accumulation (or loss either) primarily due to a decrease in circulating insulin (although letting carbs creep up over time or eating way too much protein could negate this effect by increasing insulin).

Notice how I said if a low-carb dieter overeats there won't be weight-loss either. This is because the body is obtaining all the energy it needs from the consumed fat. Since all energy needs have been satisfied, there is no additional need for utilization of body fat. This is what causes "stalls" for many low carbers if they overeat, however, the beauty of this is that if the low-carb dieter does overeat the worst case scenario is a stall where they don't lose weight but don't gain it either (since they are excreting the excess). If a person was to be on a high-carb diet instead and overate, then the result would not be a mere stall but rather a full on weight gain instead. So low-carb is better for managing cases of individuals who overeat (binge eating included), can't tolerate feeling hungry or are unable to count calories precisely.

 

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on September 29, 2014
at 04:55 PM

 agree that calorie counting is simplistic.  Especially agree with the difficulty of measuring calories out.

 

However simplistic, it remains one of the most effective and inexpesive ways to loose weight.  Eat to satiety, if that doesn't get you to where you want to be (for whatever your optimization function is), then count calories.  Want to drop weight, consume less.  Gain weight? consume more.  Behavioral studies have shown, consistently, that regular check-ups are #1, incentives are #2, calorie counting is #3 in terms of effectiveness in lowering weight over a 12 month period.

2
3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on September 29, 2014
at 01:45 AM

I think you have it backwards.  Someone who suffers from certain eating disorders may use calorie counting as a mechanism continue their behavior.  but simply counting calories does not predispose (in any literature that I have read) one to an eating disorder.

Medium avatar

(10601)

on September 30, 2014
at 12:52 PM

People think calorie counting is all about eating but it's just as much about activity. If nothing else it identifies excess and deficiency in both areas.

1
4426b9b77d6cc822cbb9525d10e20e5e

on September 30, 2014
at 12:25 AM

Anecdotally, I used calorie counting to lose a lot of weight. I wasn't obsessed about it when I started. But the more 'healthy' and 'clean' I got, the more I became obsessed about maintaining it, and it all morphed into anorexia/bulimia in the end. So I don't know about scientific studies on this, but in my experience it was definitely a trigger to develop an eating disorder. 

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