Calorie Estimation is Hard Work

Calorie estimation is hard. Do you have that friend that constantly tells you they “psychically” know how to estimate the calories in restaurant food? I do, let’s call him Howard. (To protect the names of the conceited)

Well, we all finally have a reason to slap Howard in his smug face. Actually, I would prefer it if he and several other people I’ve been meaning to slap form a line first to make it easier on me, but that’s beside the point. It turns out that in a study by the Harvard Medical School, published in BMJ and reported by Mary Beth Quirk at The Consumerist, scientists found out that we underestimate the calories in food by an average of 20-34%! Holy crap!

Calorie guessing

Calories aren’t in charge

I think we all know what this means. No more pretending the bowl of spaghetti you just ate is only 100 calories because you only had a fist sized portion. Use that fist to punch yourself in the arm and wake up. (this post is oddly violent today)

The bottom line is that restaurants are sneaky, they like to add flavors to things. To do that they might just throw in an extra pat of butter. But you know what? That extra pat of butter is another 100 calories that neither you nor Howard were expecting in your psychic calculations and now we’re all screwed! Thanks a lot Howard.

What can we do to move past this monstrosity? A couple things. We can bite the bullet (as long as we know the calories in the bullet) and keep pushing restaurants to publish their calorie counts for us to look at. I think this is crucial, because even though those menu boards aren’t always accurate either, we know that at least they are in the ballpark. The more that we ask businesses to do this, the more accurate the reporting will become.

Our other option is to start adding a 20-40% margin of error to our estimates to offset our terrible estimation skills and sneaky cooks. Since we are currently underestimating by 34% what if we started overestimating by 6%? That wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it would be the end of our mysteriously expanding waistlines. Something to think about…


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