For many of us, we are not good at knowing how much we eat. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, as our Body Mass Index increases, so does our ability to properly gauge our calorie intake. In total, we are not very good at:
This is often more of an issue for people who follow “elimination” diets like paleo, vegetarian, low-carb, low-fat or what have you. Part of the reason many of these people follow these kinds of diets is because they aren’t willing to track their food intake. In some cases people will even assume that adding “healthier” foods to an otherwise “unhealthy” meal actually reduces the calorie content.
Most of us underestimate the calories we consume, especially when we eat at fast food restaurants. A study of adults, adolescents and children eating at six different fast food chains found that at least two-thirds underestimated the calorie content of their food. About a quarter underestimated their meals by at least 500 calories. It’s become easier to tell whether the meal you’re eating is potentially fattening. Nutritional information for many fast food restaurant menus is available on the Web. If you carry a smartphone you can check out calorie counts before ordering.
Even the best of the calorie trackers are off by up to 20%, even if you use a digital scale to weigh your food.
Here are several reasons why:
When you consider all of these variables, it’s easy to underestimate your food intake by several hundred calories per day. That’s often enough to slow your rate of fat loss by 20 or 40%.
Another common problem among motivated people is an occasional “binge” or “off the rails” eating episode, often disguised as a “cheat day”. When these people binge, they usually don’t count the those calories.
Most people don’t really enjoy binging and don’t want to think about what they ate, how much they ate, or how they felt at the time. It’s easier to try to forget it. In other cases people purposely overeat… aka have a cheat day… aka eat way too many calories and not count them.
Here’s an example to show how this might affect your long-term fat loss.
Let’s say you eat 2,000 calories per day to lose weight. That gives you an average weekly calorie intake of 14,000 calories.
You have a 5,000 calorie binge on one of those days. This amount is certainly not hard to attain, and in many cases would be much higher.
Your weekly calorie intake just rose to 19,000 calories. This would change your average daily calorie intake to more than 2,500 calories per day, which is enough to completely stall your fat loss.
This doesn’t mean elimination diets don’t work, that you should turn into a perfectionist, or that you should not occasionally enjoy life’s little pleasures. However, if you’re having trouble losing weight, you might want to reassess your calorie intake and see if you’re making one of these mistakes.