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Why Can’t I Lose Weight? A Case Study of Calorie Counting Mistakes

If You’re Not Losing Weight, You’re Not in a Calorie Deficit

If you are eating a calorie restricted diet and your weight still won’t budge, it’s likely that you’re not counting calories as accurately as you originally thought. Not only can this be frustrating to people putting in the time and effort to have a successful weight loss, but it can give us the false belief that weight loss is impossible

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. The bottom line is: If you’re not losing weight, you’re not in a calorie deficit.

In a previous article, I talked about some of the best ways we can count calories as accurately as possible to avoid accidentally stunting your weight loss through hidden calories. While these tips are helpful, sometimes seeing how they work in the real world allows us to better apply these strategies to our own lives. 

As such, I want to show you a case study of a real client of mine. Like many, she was struggling to lose weight before seeing me, and not long after, we determined that her calorie counting was the problem. See how we identified and solved this roadblock in the study below. 

Meet Amanda – Client Case Study

Amanda is 185 lbs with a goal weight of 150 lbs. In order to lose weight, we wanted to put her in a calorie deficit of about 300 calories per day– meaning she would eat fewer calories than she burned. 

After some quick math, we determined a healthy calorie goal of 1800 calories a day, with a protein goal of 120 grams/day. (Learn more about why protein is such an important macro, here. For general information on macros, check out this article.) 

**These nutritional guidelines are specific to Amanda (based on her height, body type, age, and dieting history) and used for an example only, these may not be the correct numbers for you! 

A Week of Counting Calories

Over the course of the next week, Amanda and I agreed to count calories and regroup to determine if she was really struggling to lose weight, or, if she was accidentally eating more calories than she realized. 

Once we met back up and looked at the numbers, it was clear that there were several places calories were sneaking in, unnoticed. Here’s what that looked like:

Monday: Amanda pre-planned her day the evening before and made sure to include 30 grams of protein at breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner. While she’s off to a great start, she didn’t log in her meals until later that day. The result is that she forgot to include the chocolate chip granola bar she had mid-morning.

Uncounted calories: 150 

Tuesday:  Amanda pre-planned her day filling in her protein, fruits and veggies, and other foods she enjoys.  She does a nice job following her plan, but also grabs 2 Hershey kisses after lunch and has 5 Ritz crackers while she’s cooking dinner. While the extra food seemed insignificant, the calories really added up. 

Uncounted calories: 126 

Wednesday:  Amanda successfully pre-plans her day and follows along with what she entered in her MyFitnessPal diary, but she drinks a large fountain soda of Coke at lunch and accidentally omits the 2 Tablespoons of olive oil she used when cooking a stir-fry dinner.

Uncounted calories: 508

Thursday:  Amanda again pre-plans her day and eats only what she entered in her MyFitnessPal diary. However, she entered “Chicken Breast” for lunch without determining how it was cooked or how much it weighed. The serving she chose registered at 60 calories, but the serving she actually ate was much higher. 

Uncounted calories: 167 

Friday:  Amanda again successfully pre-plans her day and eats only what she entered in her MyFitnessPal diary. She’s ready to wind down at the end of a busy week and relax and drinks two glasses of wine that never get logged.

Uncounted calories: 340

Saturday:  Amanda eats similarly to the way she does during the week, but eyeballs all her portions and doesn’t track her food into MFP until the end of the day. Most of her entries are a bit inaccurate. 

Uncounted calories: 250

Sunday:  Amanda feels really good about the week she’s had. She’s spent a great deal of time and energy counting her calories, and overall has made some great choices! 

She decides to take the day off, and eat intuitively, including some of her favorite treats.  Some of these foods include a bagel at breakfast, fast food for lunch, and a few Oreos for dessert. 

Uncounted calories: 800

The Outcome 

It’s clear from the case above that Amanda did a great job at dedicating herself or counting calories. Apart from Sunday, most of her mistakes were easy misses– small portions of food or liquid calories that are incredibly easy to miss during the course of the day. 

Unfortunately, despite her good intentions Amanda ate 2341 more calories this week than her goal. This comes out to approximately 334 extra calories-per day than her allotted 1800. 

As you can see, while Amanda certainly felt like she was eating in a calorie deficit, she was actually eating more than her plan. As such, even after a week of counting, she didn’t lose any weight. 

The Silver Lining 

While this may seem like a discouraging story, understanding all the ways in which little mistakes can add to unexpected calories is our greatest tool for success.  If you are eating in a calorie deficit and your weight still won’t budge, it’s likely that you’re not counting calories as accurately as you originally thought.

See, once Amanda learned how to be more specific with her tracking and more mindful about her between-meal choices, she was able to stay on track and truly eat in a calorie deficit. This new attention to detail really helped her efforts pay off when working toward her goal weight! 

In summary, if you’re going to spend the time and effort tracking calories, consistency and specificity will determine your weight loss success.  

Remember — You may not be counting the calories, but the calories still count!

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