Most days, I drink between one and four cups of tea. Each time, I put a splash of low-fat milk and one or two packets of Splenda in the tea. On a “big day” of tea drinking, I might consume as much as 50 extra calories in milk and sweetener, but I don’t count this in my FitDay calorie counting log. This doesn’t mean that I believe the calories don’t “count”, but rather that it’s unlikely that 50 or so calories one way or the other is going to hamper my weight loss efforts significantly and I’m going to explain why.
Awhile ago, there was some hoopla surrounding an article in the New York Times written by a man who proclaimed that exercise did not aid weight loss because all it would take was a mere 40 calories per day (the amount of a pat of butter) of increased consumption to nullify the effects of the exercise. Setting aside all of the obvious reasons why this is wrong, there is the fact that your body is not a calculator.
In this age when we live around machines that are capable of precision, we often make the mistake of believing our bodies are nothing more than a biological version of a computer, or in this case calculators. There is a misunderstanding that you if you enter the proper numbers, you are guaranteed to lose or gain weight. Bodies, unlike computational devices, are not nearly such simplistic mechanisms.
Your body is designed to adapt. Part of that function is to slow down or speed up metabolism in order to hold on to what appears to be the current state (unless you are ill). If you eat a few more calories today, it will likely boost your metabolism a bit to stop you from gaining weight. If you eat a few less, it will slow it down to stop you from losing. It’s only when we start to go to relative extremes in terms of exertion or consumption that we see an effect. This is one of the reasons that people plateau in weight loss.
The computational model is gratifying because it is logical and gives us the illusion of precise control, but our body simply does not work that way. You can do all of the exact calculations you like and it may refuse to cooperate or act in opposition to what appears to be logical. So, I don’t fret the low-fat milk that I splash into my tea when I calorie count. While I think eating hundreds of calories more per day would have an impact on my weight loss, I don’t think that 20-70 will have much of an impact. It also stops me from feeling that I have to fuss over and record every move I make and makes the chore of calorie counting a little more bearable.