Now I’m not here to argue as to whether we should or shouldn’t count calories. Some prefer to not be a slave to each and every calorie they consume, where as others use the system of logging food very successfully in the pursuit of their goals.
I think we can all agree though that If you’re willing to fully commit to it, calorie counting is a highly effective tool, in particular for weight loss.
It’s arguably the most reliable way to consistently eat in a calorie deficit, so that we can burn more calories than you take in and as a result consistently lose weight. However, that’s assuming that you do it well and over the years I have heard numerous stories from clients how counting calories didn’t work for them.
Unfortunately, in plenty of cases, even when you are committed to it, some common mistakes may be holding you back–mistakes you don’t even know you’re making. So regardless of which side of the fence you are on let’s touch on a few of these possible mistakes.
After all, if the whole point of calorie counting is to eat in a deficit–and you’re not actually in a deficit–it’s a lot of work for nothing.
Let’s go over nine of the most common calorie counting mistakes, and how to fix them for (much) faster progress:
Mistake #1: Not measuring everything.
As obvious as it may sound, this is probably the most common mistake made. Underestimating the weight of your food, the size of your portions, not logging sauces or spreads, forgetting to log snacks.
It’s normal to downplay our calorie intake, so we “get to” eat more food. But this can get to the point where we’re so off, we’re eating well above a calorie deficit.
Measuring everything (preferably on a food scale) although it can be laborious keeps you honest. (Note: Most apps have a frequently used function so once it’s logged once it can be a little easier from then on.) The second you start eyeballing the reliability of counting calories goes out the window.
Mistake #2: Not counting every day.
It can be discouraging to have an off day of eating. This will most likely be at the weekend, you go out to eat, have a couple of drinks or you miss your protein goal. You accept that today is a write off and as a result nothing is logged, but despite not being logged the calories have been consumed and as a result are now a part of the calories in / calories out equation.
What you need to do though is continue to log your intake. Be a grownup and own your actions. Because if you don’t log your bad days, you’re even more likely to overeat. It becomes sort of a “free” day of eating. Calorie counting is an underrated accountability measure.
1-2 ‘bad’ eating days can undo a week’s worth of progress, but they also can be saved by being more ‘good’ for want of a better word throughout the rest of the week.
Mistake #3: Not counting liquid calories.
If you’re hitting your daily calorie goal in terms of ‘food’, but not making any progress. Have you accounted for your liquid calorie consumption?
Although ‘healthy’, that fruit smoothie is packed with calories and your daily coffee order, well if yours is a mocha frappe creamalicious latte… well that’s probably hiding a few hundred calories as well. Over the course of a week, that’s more than enough to prevent progress.
Every calorie you put in your mouth needs to be counted.
(General fat loss tip: Eat as many of your daily calories as possible. Liquid calories aren’t as filling.)
Mistake #4: Forgetting about the little ‘grabs’.
While you’re making breakfast, you grab a “small handful” of nuts or a banana. At work a biscuit as you pass a colleagues desk. You ignore the handful of whatever you grab from your partner’s or child’s plate. Oh And the extra olive oil on the pan, the spreads, the sauces… They all add up.
All those “whatever” moments can easily add 500+ unlogged calories to your daily intake. In other words, enough to prevent progress. If you are struggling with progress, or progress has stalled, maybe it’s time to get tight with making sure you log the little things…
Mistake #5: Eyeballing after minimal tracking experience.
Kind of related to mistake number 1 But you can’t effectively eyeball portions just because you weighed everything for 3 days.
You have to “earn the right” to eyeball portions–after MONTHS of tracking. Not weeks, not days.
The sooner you get complacent, the sooner your progress becomes less reliable.
Mistake #6: Not tracking meals out.
Similar to #2 (not counting every day) and #3 (not counting liquid calories), not tracking meals out can blow your progress. Especially because they’re so high calorie.
Let’s assume, however, that you DO track meals out. The issue might not be your lack of tracking; it might be your lack of extra effort.
Logging the lowest “burger and beer” reading you Googled isn’t enough. There are some extra steps you need to take, if you want to log well:
-Not always possible but log as accurate as you can, many established eateries will have their exact meals and beverages in app so you can increase the accuracy of your logging.
-If possible/necessary , log ALL ingredients of that dish and any sides.
- If possible/necessary be aware of any discrepancies with specific portion size. That extra patty counts as well you know!!
Most importantly, round up EVERYTHING!!
And trust me your results will reflect your extra effort.
Mistake #7: Not adjusting logged portions.
This is most common in people who are new to calorie counting. The logging apps a lot of the time have pre saved portion sizes and calorie counts logged when you click ‘chicken breast’ but their portion and yours are not the always the same thing… Be sure to adjust the portions you’re logging. You might eat a salad, and do a decent job of logging all the ingredients:
Lettuce (5 calories)
Grated cheese (110 calories)
Chicken (185 calories)
Dressing (145 calories)
Olives (40 calories)
For a total of 430 calories. Not too bad. BUT… what if your specific portions were logged?
2 cups of lettuce (~10 calories)
3/8 cup of grated cheese (~165 calories)
6oz of chicken breast (~280 calories)
40g of dressing (~190 calories)
10 large olives (~50 calories)
With the actual portions logged, the salad actually came in at 695 calories.
Accurate portions matter.
Mistake #8: Making mental adjustments and justifications.
Again, kind of linked to a few earlier points but I’ll give you an example:
You have a solid day of eating. You’ve eaten what you thought was going to be your last meal of the day but last minute you get invited out, you go, you eat some more.
You order the pizza. Yet instead of logging the obviously much higher calorie meal, You logged your earlier one and justify the late meal by saying, “well I only had the 10” not the 16” and I did do an extra workout today…” so those calories never see the light of day in your logging app.
While justifications like this from time to time won’t totally blow your progress, they can certainly put a big dent in them.
Mistake #9: Slashing your calories too quickly.
This is also common in beginners. The scale hasn’t dropped for 48 hours, so they slash their calories in half. This won’t end well, a few days starving yourself will no doubt end in a progress stalling binge. If you’re not progressing, it’s likely because…
You’re making one of the above mistakes
Your stress is high and your sleep sucks
Your body isn’t a perfect math equation and even “perfect” calorie counting won’t give weekly progress, it’s just one of those things, keep going!
Don’t mess with your calories often, and when you do, don’t mess with them a lot.
If you feel like your counting has been on point, your sleep and stress are dialed in, and you’re still not progressing–for at least a few WEEKS–then, and only then, can/should you drop your daily calorie goal 5%-15% or up your activity level.
It’s hard to give you specific action steps or guidelines because I’m not sure or maybe you’re blissfully unaware which mistake(s) you’re personally making. What I can tell you to do is this, if you fancy giving it a go and think calorie counting may help you break a plateau or kick start some positive changes:
Make sure you’re logging every single day
Make sure you’re logging every single thing you put into your mouth
Make sure you’re measuring every one of those things
If you do that, and beware of the mistakes above, you’ll be on the fast track to hitting your goals.
P.S. I have at times used calorie counting as a tactic to dropping bodyfat and it has always worked well for me, but it is each to their own on this front. For anybody unsure where to start my app of preference for logging calories is MyFitnessPal, download it and have a play with it, although I’m no expert with the app if you have any questions let me know.