Empty Calories

seductively filling?

Sweet, greasy and delicious, empty calories are filler food that keep you feeling full while offering little nutritional value. In the short term, these empty calories are great. They let you feel good and are easy to swallow. But their glory is short lived when they leave you with disease and obesity.

Empty calories aren’t just in our food, they are in our lives. Empty calories are all those tasks that make you feel productive even though you aren’t contributing any value. Empty calories are those hours in front of the television to let you feel entertained, even though you are watching reruns. Empty calories are in the running shoes you buy instead of jogging and the investment books you read instead of saving. Empty calories give you the feeling, but not the nutrition.

Our bodies were designed before McDonalds. Designed tens of thousands of years before agriculture and mass production, the human body is easily tricked by a french fry. It has fats and carbohydrates galore, satiating hunger without mentioning that it has very little else. Tastes good now, but can you stomach the results?

The Broken Counter

The problem with empty calories is we have a broken counter. Our body counts the empty calories the same as the nutritious ones. Donut or broccoli, the counting works the same.

Broken counters happen in all areas of life. Some people count anything they do at the job as work. Their counter goes up whether they sit around and push papers or finish their project. Some people count reading about public speaking with the same weight as getting in front of an audience.

The counters aren’t broken so much as they are too simplistic. Nutrition, productivity, and growth are such fuzzy concepts that they are too difficult to really measure. So, we count other things instead. Time spent on the job, widgets produced and books read. The counter is easy to use, but it lets the empty calories slip by.

More Work = Less Value

Empty calories tend to travel in groups. The more calories you manage to consume, the higher proportion of empty ones get thrown in. Your cola doesn’t just have more empty calories it has more calories in total. Trying to eat more calories to cover the empty ones will just leave you fat.

When work slides, instead of cutting down on empty calories, people just try to consume more. Spend more time at the office, more time working on your goals. Work harder and harder. More calories, less value and eventually burnout.

The way to be healthier is not to eat more calories to make up for the empty ones but to eat better foods. Effectiveness at anything doesn’t just mean doing it more, but doing it better. Cutting the calories that really don’t matter.

Examining Your Diet

The most dangerous empty calories aren’t the soft drinks and burgers that you willingly consume, they are the ones that trick you into believing they are healthy. They are the breakfast muffins and processed granola bars that look healthy but are mostly empty. You don’t even feel guilty eating them.

Take a look at everything you are doing towards your goals. Don’t guess about what is making a difference and figure out what actually is. A successful article on this blog can gather in thousands of new readers. An average one is lucky to garner a single comment.

It took me a lot of time before I realized that volume is good, but quality is crucial. This isn’t just common sense. Other blogs live and die by the volume of their content. I actually had to pour through the numbers on mine to realize that this wasn’t true for me. Volume could keep me where I was but only very high quality could take me where I needed to go. This meant shifting time from writing to more time developing ideas.

The empty calories that are going to kill you won’t come with a nutritional information box. These calories are often hidden and wasting your time. The only way you can uncover them is not to guess but to actually look. Pull up the results, run an experiment, test your idea.

Most people already eat the amount of calories they need. Nutrition isn’t eating more it is eating healthier. Productivity doesn’t mean working more, it means working smarter. It is a strategy of cutting those empty calories and trading them for the work that really matters. Sometimes it might surprise you.

Image courtesy of flickr

  • Michael

    I love how this article really wasn’t about food at all. It’s a wonderful comparison. I, and probably many others, can relate to consuming a lot of empty calories, just kind of going through the motions without getting anything out of it.

    I must say I’m thoroughly impressed with your insight into some of these issues and your ability to make links between a simple thing like calories to a very complex thing that is life.

  • Seth

    Nice article. I definitely agree that efficiency is the answer. People always seem to run around in 5th gear at 20mph.

  • Alex Shalman

    Fun way to tie in food and effectiveness. Your point comes across loud and clear.

  • Sham

    Hi Scott,
    You have mentioned some important factors that we all need to give more thought to. Nice post


  • Scott Young

    Thanks for the comments.

    For anyone who has been following my post on holistic learning, this is basically what it is about — connections between ideas that you already understand with things that are harder to visualize.

  • Pia Magalona

    I “digged” this!
    I’m trying to help my children UNLEARN their habit of eating junk food because they complain about being hungry all the time.
    Thanks for this!

  • Scott Young

    Thanks Pia!

  • Bob Ong

    I didn’t know there is such thing as empty calories. Thanks for the info

  • detoxdiets

    i always make sure that i am on a Low Calorie diet. i avoid foods with high carbohydrate load because it would just cause more fats on the body. a low calorie diet is also associated with longer life span.

  • dietnutritionprof

    When it comes to weight loss diets, carbohydrates are becoming misunderstood nutrients. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy in your body. They are also one of the three macro nutrients required for nutrition. The other two are proteins and lipids.

  • Health | acne care

    i always make sure that i dont consume too much Calories in my diet. a high calorie diet is bad for the heart so i always avoid high carb and high sugar diet.