Whenever we decide to lose weight, counting calories is often the first lifestyle change we incorporate into our lives.
While counting calories isn’t necessary for fat loss, you do need to maintain a calorie deficit to lose weight, and counting calories is an effective way to do this.
It makes sense– after all, calorie counting is a fantastic tool. It builds mindfulness in our daily nutrition habits, allows us to track the type and quality of foods we consume, and it gives us concrete numbers to help us stay on track.
The problem is: sometimes even our best calorie counting efforts don’t result in weight loss.
As a nutrition coach, I have seen these struggles time and again. While they may be discouraging at first, the problem is usually caused by common and easy-to-fix tracking errors. To learn more about whether these errors are affecting your weight loss, keep reading below.
- What is Calorie Counting?
- I’m Tracking Calories, but Not Losing Weight!
- 1. Did you use a digital food scale?
- 2. Are you being specific when entering food into MFP?
- 3. Are you tracking every lick, bite and taste?
- 4. Are you tracking cooking oils and extras like coffee creamers, and salad dressings?
- 5. Are you tracking calories in beverages like soda, juice, kombucha, coconut water and alcohol?
- 6. Are you tracking your evenings and weekends?
- 7. Are you pre-logging your food ahead of time?
- Final Thoughts
- More On The Blog
What is Calorie Counting?
Let’s back up a little… How do we lose weight? Why is calorie counting so effective? In order to make the most of your effort, understanding these concepts is key to successful weight loss.
First things first– we lose weight because of a process called thermogenesis. While the name sounds complicated, it simply means eating fewer calories than you burn on a daily basis. This is also known as eating in a caloric deficit.
Now, to maintain this caloric deficit, it’s important to know how many calories you should eat per day while tracking your intake as accurately as possible. Without accurate tracking, you risk skewing your result without even knowing!
I’m Tracking Calories, but Not Losing Weight!
Counting calories inaccurately is one of the main reasons individuals struggle to lose weight. Not only does this generate frustration, it leads many to the false belief that they simply can’t lose weight.
More times than not, when a person is tracking calories but not losing weight, it’s because they are not truly in a calorie deficit. This happens when we are inconsistent or inaccurate, often causing us to inadvertently miss calories we have eaten throughout the day.
Like I always tell my clients– you may not be counting the calories, but the calories still count!
Calorie Counting Accuracy Checklist
One thing my clients find helpful is having an accuracy checklist at their disposal. This allows them to build healthier and more accurate calorie counting habits while avoiding common calorie counting mistakes.
Below is a sneak peak into what that checklist looks like.
1. Did you use a digital food scale?
The best way to accurately count your calories is to precisely measure how much of a food you’re eating. A food scale will show you that the portion you thought was three ounces may actually weigh five ounces.
While it’s certainly easier to rely on eyeballing portions and guesstimating your nutrition intake, it’s simply not effective. It’s incredibly easy to underestimate your intake – especially for calorie rich foods such as peanut butter, cooking oils, and salad dressings.
When measuring, a digital food scale is superior to any other tool. It is even superior to using measuring cups, as they can cause inconsistent and inaccurate results.
For a visual on just how large those differences can be, take a look at the graphic below:
Over the course of the day, unknowingly consuming an extra 50 calories here and there can really start to add up, unknowingly putting you over your calorie limit day after day.
2. Are you being specific when entering food into MFP?
MFP works by taking an inventory of the exact foods you’re eating. Because of this, they have hundreds of food listings for similar foods, some of them varying widely in calories.
For instance, if I type “Chicken Breast” into MFP, the options that pop up on the first screen vary from 45 calories to 280 calories. This huge calorie disparity makes it difficult to know what you’re eating.
So how do we avoid confusion? Here’s some quick do’s and don’ts:
|Specify whether your meat and produce is USDA certified||Enter vague entries like “steak”|
|Specify whether food is boneless, skinless, and how it’s cooked||Leave out information about how your food was prepared|
|Use brand names when applicable, or scan barcodes||Select the first available option even when it doesn’t match what you ate|
|Weigh and record all foods (i.e. 125 grams Gala apple)||Use vague qualifiers like “medium”|
As we get farther down the list, you will start to understand just how important this specificity is– often helping us catch hundreds of unseen calories per day.
Pro Tip: Select items with a green check when possible. These foods are verified by MyFitnessPal and are likely the most accurate option from the search results.
3. Are you tracking every lick, bite and taste?
Most of us think a single spot of ice cream or finishing scraps of your children’s dinner doesn’t “count” toward your daily calories.
Unfortunately, it does.
A bite, a small handful of almonds, a few crackers – these seem harmless individually, but if you have untracked food regularly, calories will add up and put you over your deficit.
How many extra calories could you possibly be eating? Take a look at the example below for just one of many ways you could be eating almost 500 additional calories a day.
My advice to clients is to simply eliminate licks, bites and tastes. If you’re going to eat, the food should be on a plate and eaten while sitting down.
4. Are you tracking cooking oils and extras like coffee creamers, and salad dressings?
Similar to how intermittent snacking can add extra calories, so can seasonings, creamers, cooking oils, and anything extra you add to your food.
This is especially true for oils and dressings, many of which have high calories for small portions.
An example? 1 tablespoon of Olive Oil is 119 calories!
When logging foods into MyFitnessPal, be sure to specify the amount of these added condiments go into each meal. The impact they have on your calorie allowance just might surprise you.
5. Are you tracking calories in beverages like soda, juice, kombucha, coconut water and alcohol?
Similar to oils and dressings, liquid calories are easy to ignore but integral to track. Sometimes called stealth calories, these liquid calories come in undetected under the radar but have a huge impact.
As you can see in the graphic below, even small drinks can have hundreds of calories. If you don’t track these properly, it’s easy to stunt your weight loss.
6. Are you tracking your evenings and weekends?
This is a common problem that my clients face. They are very careful (even over restrictive) Monday through Friday afternoon. Then the weekend comes along.
Normally, the weekend is a time when most clients want to relax and indulge. A cheat day might turn into a cheat weekend, and in a matter of days the progress from the week before is completely eliminated.
Usually that looks a little something like this:
However– this doesn’t have to be discouraging news. Knowing where our most common mistakes are can help us avoid them before they happen.
To avoid this particular challenge, I suggest treating the weekends the same as weekdays. Go in with a meal plan, order some groceries, and prep your food. Allow for treats, but never more than usual and always include them in your food log.
7. Are you pre-logging your food ahead of time?
This is my absolute number one tip for weight loss success. More often than not, when we have our food pre-logged from the night before, it helps us stay on track and take the guesswork out of planning meals.
Here’s a method I like to use:
Log protein first: Divide your total protein target by numbers of meals/snacks to get an estimate of how much protein to incorporate in each meal.
Add in nutrition: Next, add in 6-8 servings of fruits and vegetables. This helps to ensure we are receiving the correct number of nutrients.
Fill in the rest of your calories with foods you enjoy using the 80/20 rule: Take a look at what remaining calories you have left over and start filling in. Make sure 80% of your selections are nutrient dense, and if you want, take up to 20% for “fun foods” such as snacks you enjoy.
These steps help us stay on track without buckling under the pressure of stress eating or straying from our diet because we are too tired or hungry to make the right choices.
Now that you know a bit more about accurately counting calories, this can be a useful way to understand what you’re doing well and where your routine needs improvement.
As you get better at refining your process, you will ultimately see better and more consistent results from your weight loss efforts– and that’s the goal!
As a nutrition coach, I love to help people though this very personal journey by offering support and assistance throughout the process. This is why I keep an active blog with regular tips and educational articles to help people looking to change their lives.
Need more personal assistance? Don’t hesitate to reach out!