There’s No Such Thing as
“Free” Food in Weight Loss

Lori Boxer
Weight★No★More℠ Diet Center


One of the major components of weight loss (and weight maintenance) is, of course, portion control. Yet, I often get asked, “Why can I can’t have as much celery as I want? Vegetables were unlimited on the last program I did.”


No, vegetables are not unlimited . . .  and how did that last diet work out for you?


The idea that there are negative calorie foods — foods that are so low in calories that simply digesting them burns more calories than they contain — is nothing more than wishful thinking.


Certain low-calorie, water-rich foods like celery or cucumbers are often touted as negative-calorie foods. However, digesting, absorbing, metabolizing and eliminating everything you eat each day uses just 10% of your total calorie intake each day (about 180 calories for someone who eats 1,800 calories per day). It is great to include low-calorie, high-fiber, and water-rich foods in your daily diet; these foods add nutrients, bulk, and volume to your diet and can help keep you full. However, they still contain calories, and should always be included in your calorie count.


Additionally, be wary of those so-called “zero-calorie” food labels. The FDA (the Food & Drug Administration) has certain criteria that a manufacturer has to meet in order to be allowed to call itself fat free or calorie free.


  • Within certain legal bounds, the FDA allows food manufacturers to self-determine the service sizes for its products.
  • If a food has 5 calories or less per serving, the FDA allows the manufacturer to label that food item as has having 0 calories.


Just because a food item is labeled “fat free,” does NOT mean it has 0% fat. Similarly, just because a food item is labeled “calorie-free” does NOT mean it has 0 calories. And while you may think that 5 calories per serving is not such a big deal, think again: If you sweeten your coffee, tea, or yogurt with Splenda or over use 0-calorie butter or oil sprays, those stray calories can add up fast.


  1. A 1.2-pound bag of Splenda No-Calorie Sweetener has 1,100 1-TSP servings for a grand total of 2,200 calories or 96 calories per cup. While of course this calorie number is nowhere near the 774 calories in a cup of real sugar, it’s also NOT zero!
  2. Several years ago a woman in Nebraska filed a lawsuit against Parkay Spray butter for false advertising. Even though Parkay markets its spray as fat- and calorie-free, an 8-oz. spray bottle, which is labeled as 5 sprays per serving (not enough to coat a kitchen skillet) actually contains 832 calories and 93 grams of fat! not exactly what you’d expect if you’re removing the spray cap and pouring the butter over your steamed veggies, which is what the woman admitted to doing. She said she went through two bottles a week until she realized the truth about her favorite “calorie-free” butter spray. (Another popular butter spray, and one that a lot of our clients like to use, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! Spray, is also labeled as containing 0 fat and 0 calories per 5 sprays.)


So, whenever you have a 0-calorie product, you know it’s going to be between 0 and 5 calories per serving, and you should always assume the maximum of 5 calories. Then look at how many servings the product/food item has and multiply that by 5 to get the total number of calories for that product. In this way, you can at least get an idea of the full calorie potential. And when using any 0 calorie spray be it a butter or an oil spray a standard measure is 25 sprays = 1 TSP and 20 calories. You must keep that in mind when, for example, you use these sprays on your cooked veggies a couple times a day, every day for a week; or using it for cooking, which you might do more than once a day or several times a week. The calories DO add up.


As the saying goes, “nothing in life is free” . . . and no food is a “free” food. Eating too much of any food can cause weight gain or inhibit weight loss.



Recommended reading:

How Many Calories Does Cooking Spray Really Have?

Learn about who we are and what we do at the Services and Programs pages, with particular emphasis on The Client, The Fees and The FAQs. Be educated, motivated, informed and inspired on all weight loss, diet, lifestyle, and health issues by following me at Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.