There is a principle in the world of weight loss that is essential to helping you understand why people are unsuccessful at losing weight. Human beings are extremely inaccurate in estimating their caloric intake. By human beings, I mean you. I also mean me, but I already read this so, I’m directing this to you. I often hear people tell me that they “watch what they eat” or that they “eat healthy” and yet they cannot lose weight. When pressed, they are almost never able to tell me exactly what this means. This creates one of the greatest obstacles to weight loss. People have absolutely no idea how many calories they are consuming.
This was proven in a study in the New England Journal of Medicine of patients who defined themselves as being “diet-resistant”. These were individuals who described themselves as being unable to lose weight in spite of reporting intake of less than 1200 calories per day. They thought they suffered from a genetic cause of their obesity and didn’t think weight loss was possible for them. Does this sound familiar? The subjects were asked to record everything they ate and all their activity in a diary. They then used a number of well validated and very accurate biochemical measures to determine the actual number of calories eaten and burned (for all you chemists, the reference is at the bottom of the page if you want to check out their methods).
The results showed that this group underreported their caloric intake by more than 50%. They thought they were taking in about 1000 calories less than they actually were! They also over reported their exercise by a difference of about 250 calories. The conclusion is clear and has been replicated in other studies. The failure of some people to lose weight while eating a diet they report as low in calories is likely due to significant inaccuracies in their perception of how much they eat and exercise. If you find yourself exasperated by the fact that you can’t lose weight in spite of ‘eating right’ or ‘watching what you eat’ etc., there is a very good chance that you are misjudging how many calories you are actually taking in.
Hopefully you now see that we humans absolutely cannot trust our assessments of the quality or quantity of food we eat in our diet. I’ll say that again so it sinks in: You cannot trust yourself! The reality is that you can only truly know how many calories you are taking in if you count them accurately. Advances in technology have made this very easy to do. If you type “calorie counter” into your internet search engine you will arrive at a number of online calculators designed to track your calorie intake. Most of these calorie counters run on smart phones so you can access them anywhere. Almost all calorie counters are simple to use and create a daily calorie goal. All you have to do is input your food, type in the quantity you ate, and it will do the rest. You then input what you eat during the day and the program subtracts from your daily allowance. These programs include most restaurant foods, packaged foods, and common recipes.
It has been estimated that if everyone in the country decreases their net calorie intake by as much as 100 calories a day it would be enough to solve the obesity epidemic. If you’re not counting calories it would be very easy to eat an extra 100 calories a day (that’s one apple). That would add up to 100 pounds gained over a decade. So an apple a day doesn’t keep the doctor away!
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Source: Lichtman S, Pisarska K, Berman E, et al. Discrepancy between self-reported and actual caloric intake and exercise in obese subjects. N Engl J Med 1992;327:1893-8.