A new study found that a only a measly 9 percent of Americans can accurately track daily calories. That’s a shame, since statistics show people who track calories lose twice as much weight as those who don’t.
That’s because if you don’t track calories, you’re likely eating more than you think. My clients are always saying, “I don’t eat very much, so why am I gaining weight?” After some digging and investigating, they often find the calories are actually stacking up. Here are some reasons why, and how to kick these nasty habits.
1: Picking and Nibbling
Some folks don’t realize they do it! A few bites of their kid’s mac and cheese, a handful of gummy bears, a piece of chocolate, a few pretzels…these calories all add up! When tallied, these extra nibbles can add up to more than 1,000 calories for the day!
Instead: Think about if you’re really hungry before you grab mindlessly. If you are, portion your meals or snacks versus eating straight from the container.
2: Liquid Calories
The calories in juice, soda, lemonade, sweetened iced tea, flavored coffee, alcohol and other drinks rack up the calories quickly. For breakfast, many folks guzzle down 12 or 16 fluid ounces — that’s 180 to 240 calories not counting the meal!
Instead: Opt for lower-calorie drinks, like flavored water, cut the sugar in coffee and tea and keep portions reasonable for sweet drinks like lemonade, iced tea and iced coffee.
3: Skipping Meals
Do you regularly skip meals? Your body needs to refuel itself on a regular basis. Studies show when you skip a meal, you tend to overeat at the next. Also, when you go without eating for a long period of time your blood sugar drops, zapping your energy.
Instead: Plan easy snacks throughout the day to keep hunger at bay — you’ll be more likely to choose a healthy meal if you’re not starvingly hungry at dinnertime.
4: Dining Out Boobie Trap
A recent study by the International Food Information Council found that most people order meals based on taste and price rather than nutritional value. Problem is, some dishes can rack up over 1,500 calories or more — that’s almost as many calories as you need in an entire day! Even if you think you’re making a healthier choice, there are often hidden calories in dishes like salads and sandwiches from creamy sauces and toppings.
Instead: Your best bet is to dine out sparingly or go by the calorie listings now found on many restaurant menus and websites. Plus, prepare yourself with our list of common restaurant menu tricks before your next night out.
5: Portion Distortion
Think you can accurately eyeball a half cup of cooked pasta , 3 ounces of chicken or 1-ounce of cheese? Many folks think they do, but oftentimes underestimate how much they’re really eating.
Instead: To get a better feel for portions, measure out your food for a few days or weeks and use our visual guide to portion control. You’ll be more aware of how much food you’re really eating in no time.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »