Monday, March 1, 2021


In listening to a radio show discussing the impact of recently-released 2012 school lunch/breakfast regulations, a primary feature of which is the limitation of calories per meal, obviously in response to concern over children’s weights,  it struck me once again how misguided is the focus on calories that public health initiatives continue to have.

Certainly, it’s understandable that there is concern about children’s health.  While the automatic translation of health concerns to weight concerns is problematic, I’m not going to get into that here.

What I want to talk is about is how the continuing focus on calories as a major strategy for addressing health may create more problems than it solves.  If you just take the new school lunch regulations as an example, consider

  • the teenager who depends on school lunch as his or her major meal for the day.  Whether it be rushed schedules or limited budgets, many teenagers (and other aged children) leave home without breakfast and don’t come home to dinner.
  • the growing adolescent who is ravenous all the time — it’s not uncommon and it’s developmental, not necessarily the result of eating habits.

What does putting a limit on the number of calories allowed in a school lunch mean for these children?  The major issue: No room for individuality.

What if the focus instead was on helping children listen to their internal cues, eating when hungry and stopping when satisfied?  Rather than revolutionary, it’s just a return to the natural way.  Of course, that works best when supported with healthy choices, which are also part of the new regs with their emphasis on fruits, vegetables and whole grains as part of the meal. Dayle Hayes of the excellent blog School Meals That Rock also has important insight into how to feed kids well at school.

Let’s stop being sidetracked by a focus on calories, which has been the go-to for over 50 years when it comes to “healthy eating,” regardless of the fact that it doesn’t work for vast numbers of people, and for many, plays a role in the development of disordered eating and eating disorders.  What if the regulations supported true healthy eating that provided a variety of great choices but let the individual student determine how much they needed.  And then we backed that up with education about how to truly care for our bodies.

Why doesn’t this message get through?  Sometimes I feel like I’m beating my head against the wall.

Do you agree a calorie focus is unproductive at best and damaging at worst? 

You can read more on my blog A Weight Lifted about my opinions re calorie counting.


2 Responses to “Calories…Again??”
  1. Natalie says:

    I believe calorie monitoring in children is absolutely NOT ON! It shifts the focus of nourishing and enjoying food to meticulously monitoring and obsessing over quantity, paving the way for shame and guilt. All from a young age. It boggles my mind that some people can think that this is an ok method of “watching out for their kids’ health”.

    • Thanks for your comment, Natalie. I truly think a lot of people don’t understand the problems calorie counting can create. And it’s understandable when the sources they look to for health advice keep recommending it! That’s where my frustration really rears its head.

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