Are you underestimating your calorie intake? - Why every calorie counts
"I don't know what I'm doing wrong. I'm only eating 1000 calories per day and I can't lose the damn weight." A statement that is too common amongst those, who want to shed some extra pounds.
Don't worry, you're not doomed. Here are some reasons, why you might eat over your caloric target, without even knowing.
Why only following a certain diet won't help you much with weight loss
Let me get this straight: Calories are king. You have to consume less calories than you burn, in order to lose weight. Carbs don't make you fat! Fat does not make you fat! Too many calories make you fat!
With diet style, I'm referring to diets that limit you in the type of foods you can consume, not the amount. This includes things like paleo, vegan or keto. Don't get me wrong. They all are fine. But you can also gain weight on them. Oreos are vegan by the way :)
Just because you are following one of those regimes, does not mean you will lose weight or be more healthy. A lot of people switch to, say paleo, and lose weight. Awesome! But it's not because paleo is beneficial for weight loss.
It's because those people ate crap all day before and now they consume more protein (paleo is usually high in protein) and less processed food (since our ancestors didn't have McDonalds). Again, food density and protein. You know that already.
Same with vegan. Vegan diets are high in fiber, which fills up your gut and keeps you satiated. They are also low in processed food (at least they should be) and high in low calorie vegetables. However, 5000 vegan calories are 5000 calories and will make you fat, no matter what.
Whatever lifestyle and diet style you prefer is fine. You can look fantastic with most of them. But make sure to remember the fundamentals and understand why some things work or some don't.
Calories are king
As mentioned earlier, calories are king. Don't get fooled by some media articles and "diet gurus". It doesn't matter if you eat high carb, low carb, keto, paleo, vegan or only Snickers. Deficit means fat loss! Yes, you can and will lose weight by only consuming Snickers bars all day. As long as you are in a caloric deficit. Not recommended though, for obvious health reasons.
I know many people hate counting calories. But I also know that it's absolute crucial to watch what you eat. Especially when it comes to sneaky calories, meaning food you wouldn't actually consider as food.
Those foods can be dressing (yes, even low-fat dressings have calories!), oil (1 tbsp has about 118kcal) and soft drinks/alcohol.
By the way, never drink any calories whatsoever. Ever! Not only are liquid calories faster to digest, so they don't keep you full for long - they are also super easy to over consume.
In general, the only beverages you should consume are water, tea and coffee. All of which have 0 calories. You can add a glass of diet coke or other diet drinks here and there, if you feel like you need something sweet. But don't drink too much of this stuff!
Reasons why you might go over your caloric target
If you are confused right now, I feel your confusion. After all, I've been there and done it too many times.
Let's take a deep dive into why you might eat more than you think and what you can do about it.
You overestimate how many calories you have burned
This one can't happen to you, because you have the latest Fitbit? WRONG!
Fitness tracker don't have all the numbers they need, to accurately determine your caloric needs. Your weight and age alone are not even remotely enough, to get a decent result. It's clear that a 90kg/200lbs person with very little body fat burns a hell of a lot more than a person with the same weight, but mostly fat.
Trackers don't account for that, nor for even harder to determine factors like your individual metabolism, hormonal state, etc.
The problem is that they overestimate the calories they burn, because of the missing information. If you only rely on the tracker and adapt your caloric intake to what it tells you, you might not even be in a caloric deficit anymore, potentially even in a surplus.
Same with gym equipment. The calorie counters are based on estimations and averages. Here's how they get these estimations:
A lot of people had to run on a treadmill hooked to a mask, which calculates the amount of oxygen they needed. With that amount, they calculate the calories burnt. The average is then used for the gym equipment, which spits out a number based on the weight you entered and how fast the drums were turning.
This number can be somewhat accurate if you're close to the average, but chances are it's highly inaccurate if you're a frequent gym visitor.
You underestimate how many calories you eat
Unfortunately, this one is the most common reason, besides the one above.
The reason for underestimating your caloric intake can either be the misinformation you get from your food diary (meaning, foods aren't logged the right way) or you're not recording everything you eat. Don't rely on eyeballing your portions, measure and weight everything.
Also never forget condiments, gravies, dressings, sugar and cream, when you track your food.
We're so busy nowadays and so distracted by so many things, that we often eat on-the-go or snack here and there. Therefore, we often forget that we even ate something.
Those little bites here and there will add up over the course of a day and soon, you'll be over your caloric target without even noticing or feeling satisfied. Sit down and enjoy your meal mindfully. Don't eat while you stare at a screen, TV, laptop, Smartphone or otherwise!
You overestimate your caloric needs
A lot of people seem to be confused about the amount of calories they have to consume. There are a lot of bad calculators out there. And most people overestimate their daily activity levels and therefore consume too many calories.
The following calculator uses one of the best formulas out there, to accurately estimate the calories you need on a daily basis. Activity levels are expressed in a way that better suits most people's daily lives.
We use it both for ourselves and our clients and over time noticed it was very accurate. Once you enter all necessary details, it will also give you a pie chart of the macro distribution of your calories, based on your dietary goal, defaulting to a standard high carb, high protein diet. Simply change fat and carbs as needed, while keeping protein and overall calories the same.
Many of my clients grossly underestimate the number of calories in particular foods, such as a couple of slices of pizza (nope, they have more than just a few hundred calories, sorry).
Be aware of what you put in your mouth and don't eat blindly. Even when you're eating out and you only order a salad. The bacon, cheese, croutons and dressings are probably pretty high in calories, too. Plus, you can gain weight, by just eating salad. There is no such thing as calorie-free food.
Believe me, I also love my favourite Ben & Jerry's ice cream every now and then. One pint never lasts me more than two servings and I enjoy them without guilt, because I know what I do and I don't do it very often. You just have to know how to act after that, or integrate it into your calorie goal for the day.
You use food as a reward after a workout
You just finished a good, sweaty workout and you are convinced you burned around 500 kcal. Now you want to reward yourself with a sweet treat? Think twice!
Adjusting your calories as a result of exercise isn't the right way, because you're more likely to eat the calories you just burned back, especially when all you do is cardio (30 minutes of vigorous exercise burns just a few hundred calories - even if the cardio machine or your fitness tracker say otherwise!). Rather reward yourself with some new clothes when you hit a milestone. Or healthier versions of your beloved desserts, but not junk food!
You measure inaccurately
If you follow a specific meal plan with meals and portion sizes, you have to use your kitchen scale to measure your food. What a lot of people get wrong though, is when to measure the food.
Always measure your food raw!
100g of rice means before cooking. Same with chicken breast and everything else! Keep that in mind. I see this question come up a lot.
Everything that is cooked with water will increase in weight (e.g. oats, rice), everything that is baked or stir fried will decrease in weight (meat, vegetables). Make sure you don't get that wrong.
Consistency is key
These strategies mentioned above won't give you a six pack in a week. Body fat reduction takes time and consistency. However, they will change how and what you eat - and therefore change how you look and feel in the long run.
Give your body time to adapt to the change and don't freak out or beat yourself up if you slip. Making mistakes is part of the game.
Want a helping hand and a gentle nudge in the right direction? Get a meal plan tailored to your nutritional and personal needs, made by me!