As you know, or likely suspect but maybe don't want to admit :), tracking calories is a focal point of fat loss.
More specifically, we are talking about calories consumed against calories burned:
If your calorie intake is less than you burn on a daily basis, you will (in almost all cases) start to lose weight.
If you consume the same amount as your body uses daily, you will maintain weight.
If you eat more calories than you use, you will be gaining weight.
But what happens when you are diligently eating less than you burn, and you are not seeing the fat loss that you expect as a result?
Here are some of the reasons why calorie tracking might be failing you:
#1 “Here and There” Food
How common is this scenario for you: You are preparing dinner for the family, the sides are done, but you are still cooking the chicken. You reach over, grab the spoon for the rice and “taste” a spoonful. 5 minutes later, the chicken still isn’t quite done, the rice is still there, and you snag another bite.
Or, you walk past the pantry and a little pang of hunger hits you. You swing open the door, find the quickest "grab and go," take a handful of it, and go on with your day.
Chances are, at the end of the day when you recall your meals to enter them into your tracker, you aren’t going to record the extra rice, or the handful from the pantry.
The above scenarios can happen easily and mindlessly, and usually result in under-reporting of these quick snacks or "taste tests.”
There is also research to back this up. Studies have shown "failure of some subjects to lose weight while eating a diet they report as low in calories, is due to an energy intake substantially higher than reported, and an overestimation of physical activity".
Meaning we are (and most likely not on purpose), under-reporting our calorie intake, while simultaneously over-reporting our physical activity.
Do you love ketchup, ranch dressing, buffalo sauce…who doesn't?!
Without paying attention, it's pretty easy to be liberal with condiments of all kinds. A common serving size of 1 tablespoon can quickly turn into 3 times that amount, with a few seconds' longer squeeze.
But when it boils down to tracking time, we're likely to record the single serving.
Measuring food with a food scale, or using measuring cups and spoons, is the most accurate way to determine exact portion sizes. But think about the last time you actually measured out your ranch dressing.
An extra 50-100 calories each time you are saucing up your chicken or dipping your fries can add up quite quickly.
So, what should you do?
No, it's not "bring a measuring spoon everywhere you go."
Try this: just for the next week, measure out your condiments with measuring spoons, to get an accurate feel for exactly what the serving size is, each time you use it.
This will create some valuable awareness to how large/small each suggested serving size actually is, and will allow you to understand the calorie load. In the future, your "default squeeze time" will become a single serving.
#3 Liquid Calories and Alcohol
The final area where a lot of calories can sneak in without us realizing it, is liquid calories.
Liquid calories can come from a host of different sources: coffee, wine, milk, juice, beer, and booze, just to name a few.
Like to drink craft beer? Are you tracking 150-300 calories per 12 ounces?
Having a quick sports drink after an afternoon jog…make sure to enter the 80 -150 calories into FitPal.
That delicious mocha habit at Caribou is certainly easy to forget when it comes to tracking (it's just coffee!), but those 320 calories have to be considered toward your daily total.
Or how about finishing your daughter's O.J. she didn’t drink at breakfast (I know you all do that, or at least dads do!). Does that 45 calories make your tracking sheet?
These liquid calories tend to add up the fastest of all, and in the entire scope of things, may prove to be the least valuable forms of calorie intake.
Don’t get us wrong here: calorie tracking isn’t an exact science. In fact, for most of us it is really just a "best guess" estimate.
However, we do have to remember that every calorie counts, when you have goals around weight management.
So when you are tracking, make certain to keep in consideration how easy it is to misreport or forget calories throughout the day…and this my friends, just might be why calorie tracking is failing you.