You’re determined to drop your weight and you read that it’s important to be in a calorie deficit.
You start counting calories because you read it might be beneficial too.
You find out it’s not the most fun thing to do but you stick to it because you really want to get in good shape.
After 5 days you jump on the scale and nothing. No change.
How’s that even possible?
You even created a premium account on MyFitnessPal and still, your body weight didn’t change at all.
Even with calorie counting and a good dose of willpower is possible to struggle to lose weight.
In this article, I am going to give you 10 tracking mistakes that might be stopping you to lose weight.
Why even tracking my food intake? Can I not just eat less?
Data on people who successfully lose weight and keep it off show that self-monitoring is a powerful tool that leads to clinically relevant weight loss and that 75% of the people who lose weight still monitor their food intake every now and then.
For some people the purpose of tracking is to develop a better self-awareness towards food, for others is to discover how to improve their performances, understand how their energy intake relates to their hunger or know how much of a certain macronutrient they’re eating.
Tracking and being aware of the food are essentials skills for your weight-loss goal.
There are many ways of tracking your diet such as:
-Take pictures of what you eat;
-Write down general amounts (1 medium bowl of porridge);
-Use a hunger and fullness journal;
-Use hand-size portioning such as a palm of protein, a finger of fat, a cupped handful of carbohydrates;
-Use a tool such as a portion-controlling plate;
-Use measuring cups for some food (1 Tablespoon of peanut butter) and standardised measures for other (125g of Brown Rice)
-Weigh everything you eat using a food scale and track all items precisely using calorie-counting software.
It doesn’t matter which way of tracking you use as long as you use it consistently.
‘’But, I don’t need calorie counting I am pretty good at estimating and remembering what I eat.’’
Well, so far research shows you might be wrong.
Although calorie counting with an App (such as MyFitnesPal) is not 100% accurate, is surely a powerful tool to understand more about your diet.
But let’s dive into the most common calorie counting mistakes.
1. Relying entirely on MyFitnessPal standard sizes.
This is a subtle mistake.
MyFitnessPal allows you to select food options that have a standard weight. might differ a lot in calorie content and macronutrient composition compared to the food you actually ate.
MFP allow you to select from a variety of food items. It’s important to avoid selecting food that has standard weight and size because the food you eat might differ a lot from those.
For example, you eat a banana, you find a banana with a standard weight of 118g and 105 calories. If the banana you eat weighs 220g the calories you eat will be 196 calories, nearly double.
The picture shows a banana weighed with the skin, this can be another tracking mistake because you're not eating the skin. It's still a good example because the banana was 51g so it was still worth mentioning.
Even such a simple mistake in measuring can hinder your weight loss progress.
Imagine repeating this mistake over and over all day for a few weeks. You can easily be eating way more than you think, simply because of a wrong food selection on the calorie counting software.
Make sure to check the items you track accurately so they correspond to the actual food you eat.
Luckily some software allows you to scan the bar code on the package of the food you eat (although in most cases you’ll still need to select the weight).
Before you say: ''Ah, You weigh the banana with the skin!'' I weighed the banana skin and it was 50g so the banana in the picture weighs 170g still so it has 50 calories more than the Standard size provided by the app.
2. Using measuring cup and spoon inaccurately
This is common among people who don’t use a kitchen scale to track their food.
1 Cup of Oat, depending on the size of the cup and how much you fill the cup can be somewhere between 300 and 500 calories.
This is another substantial difference that you can easily fix by weighing the food with a kitchen scale and observe how that look in a standard cup or plate.
The same mistake happens often when using a tablespoon or teaspoon.
Given that spoons are usually used for calorie-dense food option such as peanut butter, jam and honey even if the difference is small, the difference in calories is substantial.
This video from Sohee-Lee shows exactly how to use a kitchen scale.
3.Tracking too often and too precisely.
When it comes to weight loss consistency is the key to success.
Tracking every meal can be exhausting and lead to burnout.
Losing weight is a slow process and it's important to be consistent over the period of time.
Calorie counting is nothing but a tool to improve self-awareness, use it wisely.
The risk is to simply log numbers in an app rather than enjoy healthy meals that we enjoy and that we can sustain.
Luckily there are ways to make calorie counting easier and more sustainable:
-Log your meals in advance:
-Use the bar-code scanner as much as possible;
-Save regular entries or recipes (so you don't have to look for it);
-Track certain days of the week and don’t track other days. This is the most challenging because the risk is to overeat on non-tracking days.
Some people do very well when counting calories every day, others do even better tracking only some days a week.
Everyone’s needs and goals are slightly different.
If you’re not sure what works for you, join one of our weekly Q&A and ask that directly to a certified coach.
I hate when a person doesn't track a few days a week, overeat on non-tracking days without knowing and end up not losing weight despite the effort on non-tracking days.
Coach Francesco’s Tip: Eat the same sort of meals and quantities when not tracking and challenge yourself to eat roughly the same portions. In this way, you'll improve your food awareness skill.
The truth is that being on a calorie deficit will be uncomfortable to some degrees, with or without counting calories.
4. Licks, Bites and Tastes.
Every food has calories. Yes, even celery.
I have no scientific reference for this but I am pretty sure that cleaning a bowl of whipped ice cream with a finger and licking it straight after, increases the satisfaction in a given meal when compared to cleaning it with a spoon.
More research is needed on the topic.
Jokes aside, if you find yourself snacking, licking a spoon, or ‘’cleaning’’ a bowl of whipped cream with your finger you’re eating more than you think.
If you ‘’find’’ yourself eating when on the phone or when cooking and you tend to don’t track in those moments, just know that those calories will add up and at the end of the day can put you in a calorie balance (or maintenance) and stop you from losing weight.
5. Not tracking 1x or 2x a week. (If you do, make sure you eat the same)
As mentioned above not tracking calories for multiple days/week can put you off track.
The transition between counting calories and a more intuitive approach should happen when weight loss is already happening and the actions necessary to help you lose weight feels automatic and easy.
Keep in mind, intuitive, mindful eating is a skill and requires time and practice to be mastered.
6. You adapt your intake to MFP suggestions.
So many times I work with people who have no idea what they should be eating to match their goals. After a 3-day food journal I usually receive this question: ‘’Should I eat more when I exercise or do 5000 steps more than usual?’’
MFP, when you sign up for it, will ask you questions about your current height, body weight, age and level of activity to estimate your recommended intake for your goal, but you might be already eating way more or way less than that number.
Also, don’t log in the calories you burned in a workout.
Thinking you’re pretty good at estimating how many calories you burned in a workout?
Not to mention that your calorie target will vary depending on the length of the diet and many other factors.
The longer you diet, the more you might have to reduce your intake so sustain the same rhythm of weight loss.
MFP doesn’t take these into consideration.
Watch the video below to understand how to find your maintenance calories.
It’s very likely that, if you connect MFP to your wearable device, you will get a wrong estimate of the calories you burned during your workouts.
No wonder you aren’t losing weight despite ‘’working out all the time’’.
7. You’re picking random entries.
MyfitnessPal allows users to manually add food or meals entries.
You can literally add food entries like ‘’Orange candy’’ and make it available to other users.
Just because you found an item that ‘’sounds’’ like the one you ate, that doesn’t mean it will have the right calories and macronutrients in it.
A good solution for this is to use the barcode scanner function as much as you can.
When you really struggle to estimate the calories in a certain meal you can estimate the individual ingredients but also look at those times as an opportunity to work on your nutrition skills relating to eating slowly, being aware of hunger and satisfaction, enjoying the flavours, the social moment and stopping when satisfied - even if you haven’t finished your meal.
8. You’re inconsistent in the way you weigh food.
Weighing the food sometimes raw and sometimes cooked is not a good idea.
Cooking is a form of processing and will impact the number of calories in each food.
Weighing the food always raw will lower the impact of this variable.
9. You’re not tracking alcohol and liquid calories.
The only thing in nature that doesn’t have calories is water; everything else you eat or drink will have some calories (although unsweetened coffee and tea have roughly 1 calorie so are comparable to water).
10. You forget about tracking some foods.
This is another reason why I encourage people to eat only when seated.
It’s a good practice to reduce emotional eating and to give yourselves some boundaries.
Also, it’s easier to remember what you ate in a given meal.
Tracking calories is not the most enjoyable way to develop self-awareness and one of the most precise.
Depending on the frequency and how difficult it feels for you it can become stressful and lead you to withdraw from your weight-loss phase.
If you want to use it make sure to avoid making the subtle 10 mistakes we discussed in this article and reach out to a professional who can help you understand if it's a strategy that might work for you.