Why Kids and Teens Should NOT be Counting Calories

Why Kids and Teens Should NOT be Counting Calories

Why Kids and Teens Should NOT be Counting Calories

Calories Letterpress

We’ve all learned that if we consume too many calories, we’ll gain weight. To lose the unwanted weight, we need to take in fewer calories (eat less) and produce more energy (exercise more).  Simple, right? Wrong.

While calorie counting may be an effective weight loss tool for adults, it is not a healthy practice for kids and teens for three main reasons:

  • First, calorie counting can lead to a hyper-focus around food, i.e., fixating on exactly how many calories are in my muffin, exactly how many calories did I burn off during my morning run? The moment a parent hears their child rattling off questions like this and calculating the numbers, it all starts to feel wrong.
  • Secondly, calorie counting ignores the nutritional value of the food, which is critical for the developing bodies of children and teens. While technically a person could lose weight restricting their calories by simply consuming a package of crackers and six cans of diet soda per day, this would be extremely detrimental to any child’s physical development and nutritional needs and DEFINITELY not fun or sustainable!
  • Finally, counting calories signifies “diet” which implies a negative stigma and severe restrictions around food. Not only are diets unsustainable for our growing kids, but they can be damaging to confidence and self-esteem. Basically diets set them up for failure, because let’s face it, most kids (and adults) fail at diets. Our goal, as parents, is to help our kids be active and healthy and feel good in their bodies. We want to create healthy eating and exercise habits they can maintain throughout their lives rather than finding a fast fix to an immediate problem.

Kurbo has created a safe, effective alternative to calorie counting that is specific for kids and teens. The Kurbo Program teaches kids how to change their eating and exercise habits in order to reach and maintain a healthy weight It’s all about behavior modification and healthy choices, not deprivation.

We want it to be easy and empowering for kids to make healthy choices so Kurbo introduces them to a few simple tools:

Track your food using the traffic-light system:

  • Green-light foods, or “go!” foods are primarily fruits and vegetables. Kids should be incorporating more of these foods into their diet.
  • Yellow-light foods, or “slow down” foods include whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy choices. While these foods are healthy, moderation and portion control is important.
  • Red-light foods mean “stop and think.” The idea is to substitute these foods for healthier options, especially if weight management is a goal, because they are generally high in fat and sugar. Processed snacks tend to be packaged purposefully for lunch boxes, so kids often need extra support in avoiding red-light foods.

Understand portion control: What kids eat is just as important as how much they eat. Kids should use their hand instead of a measuring cup. For example, one serving of pasta is the size of a child’s fist. Two fistfuls count as two yellow lights. A third fist-size of pasta is a red light, which is a sign of overeating.

Budget and plan ahead for the week: At Kurbo, we don’t tell kids that they can never eat their favorite red light foods again. We teach them to budget their red-light foods, so they don’t eat too many of them on any one given day. Say, for example, your family is going to a birthday party on a Friday. Your kids can use the Kurbo app to rebudget their reds, adding more reds on Friday (and fewer on other days of the week) to make sure they can eat pizza and cake and still meet their red-light goal for the week!

Exercise Everyday! Kids are supposed to get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every day. Kurbo encourages kids to track their exercise increasing it daily over time to reach this 60 minute goal.

These simple tools allow kids to gain control of their health, achieve weight management goals and live a healthy, happier, longer life — all without any counting or cringing.


Kurbo provides the first mobile-based health coaching and weight management program for kids, teens, and their families. See whether Kurbo is right for your child, try a Kurbo coaching plan for free today!

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Thea Runyan

Thea Runyan

Thea Runyan, MPH, is the Lead Behavior Coach for the Pediatric Weight Control Clinic at Stanford Children’s Hospital and cofounder of Kurbo Health, the first mobile, scalable weight management solution for kids, teens, and families. Thea enjoys hiking, yoga, and hanging out with her three daughters when she isn’t helping families achieve their health goals.

2 Comments
  • sherri boley

    January 24, 2015 at 11:09 pm Reply

    I downloaded the app and i intend to let my child use it from my device. But when i tried to sign up and i put in his birthdate it said i can’t sign a child up. He’s 11. Shall i put in my birthdate? It won’t let me start over?? I’m just looking for something to help him get a visual on healthy eating habits. Thank you. Sherri Boley

    • Thea Runyan, MPH

      Thea Runyan, MPH

      March 4, 2015 at 4:34 pm Reply

      Hi Sherry, please give us a call and we can walk you through how to sign up your son for Kurbo! 1 (800) 444-7158.

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