‘I’m eating really well and exercising, but I’m not losing weight!’
Does this sound like a familiar experience?
It can be hugely frustrating when you feel you’re doing everything right but nothing seems to be changing.
There’s SO MUCH confusion and conflicting advice when it comes to weight loss, so I want to try and clear a bit of that up in this blog.
To keep things as simple as possible to begin with, this is what you really need to know –
The number one thing that will affect your weight is how many calories you are consuming.
If you’re not losing weight, you are eating too many calories.
You don’t need to worry about cutting out gluten, carbs, or sugar, eating too late, or whether or not you have breakfast. If your progress has stalled, there’s a 99% chance it will be down to the amount of calories you’re eating and drinking.
This can feel quite frustrating to hear, and many people are adamant that they’re not eating very much.
But study after study has proven that the vast majority of us consume a lot more calories than we think we do. As humans, we’re pretty bad at guessing what is in our foods, and realising how much we actually eat. We underestimate portion sizes and the calories in our meals, and we have little extras that we forget about. This can be a big problem when we live in a world that makes it incredibly easy to overeat anyway, even when we are totally aware of everything we’re having.
The good thing about knowing this is that we can then look to do something about it. A little extra knowledge and awareness can have a big impact, and by making a few changes to the way you do things, you can suddenly start to see the progress you were looking for.
Often when people are struggling and have hit a plateau, they are doing a lot of things right, but maybe haven’t considered a few of the points below.
Here’s a list of 10 common situations where it’s easy to consume more than you think…
1. Serving up too much / eating everything on the plate
A lot of us have been conditioned since childhood to eat everything on our plate, otherwise we don’t get pudding or are made to feel guilty about people who are starving in Africa (how does eating all our food help them? I’ll never know).
Even if we feel ok to leave some of it, we’ll often eat past the point of feeling full before we stop, thereby taking in calories that we just didn’t need.
The best solution – serve yourself a smaller portion. Many people find it helps to actually reduce the size of their dinner plates, so it appears they’re still eating the same amount. You can always go back for a bit more if you’re genuinely still hungry, but if you eat slow and wait 10 minutes after finishing, you’ll probably find you’re full up anyway.
Fill half your plate with veggies, and eat the veggies and protein source as a priority rather than the carbs. If you’re in a restaurant and tend to eat too much, you could ask for extra vegetables instead of potatoes / chips / rice, or share a portion of chips rather than have it all on your plate.
As a foodie I find it really tough to leave anything on my plate, especially when it’s delicious and I’ve paid for it! Honestly, I’m still working on this, but I find it helps to remember that it’s better to leave some and feel good rather than go home feeling stuffed and bloated.
2. Cooking with oils
Olive oil and coconut oil in particular are healthy fats that have lots of benefits to the body. BUT they are also high in calories, which still need to be accounted for. 1 tablespoon of oil is around 120 calories, and part of the trouble is these are calories that you don’t really register that you’re having.
If you record your calories on an app like my fitness pal, just add the oil (this is something many people forget to do) and then you can adjust your day if that puts you slightly over. If you don’t track calories its worth looking at your day as a whole and having a think… have you had quite a light day with few other sources of fat?
If so, the oil may fit in fine. If you’ve already had some fats, like eggs, avocado, butter, salmon, or less healthy fat sources too, you might be better off saving calories and using frylight instead. Either way you can usually get away with less oil than suggested in most recipes – a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon often still does the job.
3. Thinking healthy foods are lower in calories
It’s been proven in numerous studies that if we think a food is healthy, we often believe it’s lower in calories and tend to eat more of it. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case. Foods like avocado, hummus, nuts and nut butters are full of good nutrition and healthy fats, but they are still also very high in calories. Eat too much of them and you will still gain weight because your total calorie intake will be too high.
It’s all about balance. We DO still want to include these healthy foods at least some of the time. We just need to remember that they still contain calories, so need to be eaten in an appropriate portion size. Half an avocado, and 1 tablespoon of hummus / nut butter / nuts would be deemed an appropriate amount, with 2-4 total portions of healthy fats each day usually being about right.
4. Cakes and puddings
Everyone knows cake isn’t great for weight loss, but sometimes we want to have a piece with friends and enjoy it (and sometimes so we should). This one always upsets me, but cakes and puddings can be ridiculously high in calories.
Not many cafes and coffee shops list their calories, but certain chains such as Starbucks and Costa do. A slice of Starbucks cookies and cream cake comes in at 629 calories. That’s more than what you’d ideally be eating in an entire MEAL. And it’s not even that big!
Even more shocking, according to the Harvester nutrition info on their website, a Chocolate Fudge Cake pudding will set you back a whopping 1217 calories… that’s insane!
Chances are most cakes and puddings are considerably more calories than you think. This doesn’t mean never eat them (heaven forbid), it just means have a look at the nutrition info if it’s available, and consider if it’s worth the calories when you do. Sharing a piece with a friend is always a good idea…
5. Not checking portion sizes on the packet
I should probably add ‘or choosing not to’ to this one 😉 This mainly applies to nuts, crisps, popcorn, and sharing-size bars or packets of chocolate. Food companies can often be a bit misleading with how they label nutrition info on their products. They’ll show you calories for a portion, which is usually a smaller amount than most people would instinctively have, and they won’t necessarily make that very clear.
A smallish packet of nuts or bag of popcorn for example can often be two or three portions worth according to the info on the packet, but you sometimes have to look closely to find that out. With sharing bags or big bars of chocolate, it’s always worth weighing or measuring out a portion and then putting it away so you don’t get tempted to go back for more. Then you can enjoy and savour each piece while knowing you’re not going way overboard on calories. Best of both worlds 🙂
6. Shop-bought drinks and smoothies
Drinking your calories is something it would really help to avoid doing if you’re trying to lose weight. Many drinks can contain 200-400 calories, much of which is usually sugar. We don’t tend to really register these calories or feel particularly full after, so it can easily lead to feeling hungry and eating again soon after, thus over-consuming for the day.
Coffee shops are one place where this is easily done, and it’s helpful that Starbucks and Costa list calories for drinks up on the board now so it’s easier to check. For example in Starbucks, a Grande cafe mocha with semi-skimmed milk will set you back 385 calories, and a Grande signature hot chocolate with semi skimmed milk is an eye-watering 537 calories (and 47 grams of sugar).
You might think you’re being healthy and getting your five a day by picking up an Innocent smoothie on your lunch break, but it’s worth being aware that the calories in that drink are about the same as what you’d find in a chocolate bar. Of course the smoothie has more nutrients. But if drinking it means that all together you take in more than you need that day, those 200 extra calories will be stored just the same whether they come from ‘healthy’ smoothie or ‘unhealthy’ chocolate bar.
It’s best as much as possible to eat your fruit and veg rather than drink it – this way you get the benefits of additional fibre and of physically chewing the food, both of which will help you to feel more full.
For ease of choice next time you’re in Starbucks, here’s some drinks that are under 150 calories:
- Caffe Americano
- Flat white
- Iced Americano
- Mocha Frappuccino with skimmed milk
7. Mindless nibbles and little extras
Picking some grapes when you walk past the fruit bowl, grabbing a few nuts or crisps without thinking, taking a biscuit or chocolate at work, having a bite of whatever your partner is eating, finishing off the kid’s food, ‘testing’ out the food that you’re cooking for dinner…all these things are so easy to do, and they can easily all add up.
When you really think and analyse your day you might be surprised at the amount of extra little bits creep in. Just having that awareness and sticking to your set meals and snacks can make a massive difference.
Another area where calories are often not considered is in dressings and sauces. Salad dressings, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, ketchup, and many other sauces that are used for cooking or flavouring meals all add calories, and again it’s often more than we think. Having a quick look at the nutrition information and serving yourself an appropriate amount can add up to considerable calorie savings over time.
8. Guessing the serving size of carbs, cereals and nut butters
This photo is a ‘serving size’ of granola and around 200 calories.
If you were having granola for breakfast, would you serve yourself this amount?
Most people would easily (and somewhat understandably) pour out around 3 times this amount and assume that was about right, then unknowingly sit down to eat around 600 calories.
Again, numerous studies have shown that we are VERY prone to underestimating what we eat. As you can see, eyeballing portions of cereal, rice, pasta, butter and nut butters can easily lead to plenty of extra calories being consumed. A really easy way to shave off unnecessary calories while still enjoying all these foods is just to pop them on your kitchen scales.
With the photo above, realising that 45g is a portion (and is tiny), you could then take a little back out, fill the rest of the bowl with high protein yogurt and some berries, and have a perfectly balanced breakfast.
It often really helps to just have a small portion of these types of foods and then bulk the meal out with vegetables or fruit and some protein. Portions of pasta and rice are often suggested to be around 50-80g per person, but I find 40g pasta and 40-50g rice (both dry weight) are usually fine, especially if you’ve got some extra veggies in there too.
With butter and nut butters, pop them on the scales and then take your portion – 10g butter is around 75 calories and 15g nut butter is around 90 calories. Not weighing them out can easily lead to consuming near enough double that amount as it doesn’t look like a lot more, so it’s a great way to reduce calories without feeling too deprived.
Many a hard-working dieter has eaten superbly well during the week and then drank back their calories with a boozy weekend. Alcohol calories are not usually stated on bottles, and when we start to enjoy the evening and get carried away it’s easy to lose track of how much we’ve had.
Here’s a guideline of calories in alcoholic drinks –
Here it can be extremely helpful to have a plan of what, and how much, you want to have. Go for the lower calorie options that you enjoy (slimline G&T is a favourite of many of my clients). If you’re out for dinner and want a few drinks, you can save a lot of calories with your food choices that could then be ‘spent’ on alcohol instead.
Any or all of the following options will help – avoiding or choosing a very light starter and / or pudding, not eating any bread that’s put out, and swapping chips/rice/potatoes for extra some extra vegetables or a side salad. p>
10. Eating out
This photo is an example of when choosing a healthy-sounding dish backfires…for a meal at Cote I ordered Haddock wrapped in smoked bacon with puy lentils and spinach. I missed the mention of ‘Gruyere’ in the menu description, and it came out bathed in this creamy cheesy sauce. Have to say it was delicious, but slightly more calorific than I had anticipated 🙂
Eating out often makes it very hard to know just how many calories you’re consuming. You can make what appears to be a really healthy choice, but it may still have been cooked or drizzled with oil that can add a few hundred hidden calories to your meal.
If you’re trying to reduce your calorie consumption it helps a lot to scan the meal description for sauces and ask for dressings to come on the side. You could also ask to swap the chips or potatoes for a side salad or some extra vegetables (just preferably not ones that come smothered in cheese).
Most chain restaurants publish nutrition info on their websites. Zizzi for example has a good online menu that allows you to just view their meal options that are under 600 calories. Checking out the nutrition info for certain places is quite an eye-opening experience. Many meals can easily be well over 1000 calories and some desserts can set you back a good 700-800 calories plus. It can be useful to check before as that information may be enough to make you think twice and realise you’re actually fine without it.
Another tip that surprises most people – sweet potato chips are often higher calorie than normal chips. A lot of people would choose the sweet potato ones thinking it’s a healthier option, but to get them nice and crispy restaurants tend to cook them in a fair amount of oil. Harvester sweet potato fries for example are around 100 calories more than the standard chips. If you’re choosing them to be healthy and reduce calories, you’re better off choosing normal chips, mash potato or rice instead. A little research to get menu savvy helps a lot.
If you become more aware of these 10 tips and become more conscious of what and how you eat, it can make a massive difference over time.
The best thing is that you can still eat all your favourite foods and drink alcohol – you just need to stay aware of how everything adds up.
Ideally for optimum health, you’ll end up choosing to eat something along the lines of the photo above from my client Caz – plenty of colourful fruits and vegetables, plenty of protein, small portions of healthy fats, little bits of what you fancy, and food that looks and tastes amazing.
Having that extra awareness of calories enables you to eat the way that suits you and your lifestyle best, enjoy food, and still get great results.