Common Mistakes People Do While Tracking Food and Calories
Why is it even important to be tracking your food and calories accurately? Tracking food and calories can be a helpful tool for managing your diet and achieving your health and fitness goals. However, there are common mistakes people make while tracking their food and calories that can undermine their efforts.
What is Most Challenging about Tracking Food and Calories Intake?
- Lack of Consistency: Since most nutritional data is recorded manually, it is very challenging to maintain consistent food logs over a long period of time.
- User Bias: When it comes to nutrition, most of the tracking is self-reported, rather than automated. As a result, people easily underestimate (or overestimate) caloric intake and portions.
Below is a list of several common mistakes which we should keep in mind while tracking food and calories.
1. Forgetting Cheat Meals and Treats
Everyone indulges from time to time. Not logging those occasional treats or cheat meals is a common mistake in making a realistic view of overall calorie intake.
A standard American meal outside has 1500 Kcal (excluding the deserts). A large pizza can have 2500 Kcal. We can easily have 3-4000 Kcal extra in a cheat meal or 2 which neutralizes all the deficit we created over a week.
2. Not Being Accurate with Portions
Estimating portion sizes can be challenging, and many people underestimate the amount of food they consume.
i. A common mistake is using measuring cups instead of a food scale. Invest in a kitchen scale and measuring cups to ensure you’re accurately measuring your portions.
If you use one scoop without measuring, you can easily be consuming 1.5x the calories.
As for example, one scoop protein is 31g and 120 calories. In the two pictures below, the image on the right does not look like a full scoop, but the measurement will always be most accurate.
ii. Another common mistake is weighing certain things cooked when you should be weighing them dry.
As a rule, expect meat to lose 30% of its weight after being cooked.
iii. Ignoring the heap size of food item if we are having tbsp or tsp.
A heaping teaspoon is a unit of volume. It describes a teaspoon that has been overfilled, with the spoon’s contents piling up above the rim. As the amount of item utilised may vary depending on the density or coarseness of the item, it is not thought to be an accurate measurement. However, it is used for providing an approximate amount.
In cuisine, one tablespoon equals three teaspoons
spice spoon = 1 ml
teaspoon = 5 ml
tablespoon = 15 ml
Thus, the question is ‘What is a heaping teaspoon?’ The exact answer will depend on the teaspoon you are using, but generally, 1 heaped teaspoon is around 1 1/3 tsp, or just under 7ml.
3. Ignoring Calorie Count and Nutritional Profile of Different Body Parts of Meat
Different body parts of meat like chicken contain different number of calories. The calories you eat depends on the cut and size of the meat.
Also, the nutritional profile of meat chosen with the skin on does change in terms of added calories, fat, and protein. When compared to meat without skin, the protein level is a little lower, and the fat and calories are on the upper side. For example, the calories in different cuts of chicken are:
i. Breast – Every serving of 100 gms of the cooked boneless, skinless, chicken breast consists of 165 calories, while prepared with the bone and skin consists of 195 calories.
ii. Thighs – Thighs have higher calories compared to chicken breasts due to their higher fat composition. 100 gms serving of chicken thighs without the skin has 210 calories and the same with skin has 230 calories.
iii. Drumsticks – While the thighs are the upper portion of chicken leg, the drumstick is the lower portion. 100 gms serving of chicken drumsticks without skin has 170 calories, and with skin it has 215 calories.
iv. Wings – Without skin this has 200 calories and with skin 290 calories.
4. Ignoring Liquid Calories
Liquid calories are considered “hidden” calories because the body does not feel the same fullness from a drink as it does from solid foods.
People often forget to track the calories from beverages like sugary drinks, and even fruit juices. These can add up quickly, so be mindful of what you’re drinking.
The number of calories and grammes of sugar in some well-known high-sugar beverages are listed below:
i. Soda: A 12-ounce can of soda has between about 125 and 180 calories. All of those come from sugar — between 8 and 11 teaspoons in your glass. Those numbers give this drink a reputation as a nutritional bad guy.
ii. Sweetened iced tea: Sweet tea, at its most basic, consists of black tea, sugar, and water. A 16-ounce serving of store-bought sweet tea typically contains around 160-180 calories. This caloric content mainly comes from added sugar, making sweet tea a high-calorie beverage compared to its unsweetened counterpart.
iii. Unsweetened orange juice: Serving: 1 cup, 104.58 calories, 20.92g sugar
iv. Unsweetened grape juice: 1 cup (253g), 152 calories, 35.9g sugar
v. Fruit punch: Portion size 240g, 110 calories, sugar 26g
vi. Lemonade: 473 ml, 120 calories, 27g sugar
vii. Sports beverage: Powerade: Portion 248g, 79 calories, 15g sugar
5. Not Tracking Alcohol
Alcohol has quite a few calories, so if you’re not tracking them, you’re really doing yourself a disservice.
People watching their health should pay closer attention to how much alcohol they drink since it is second only to fat in terms of calorie content. According to the World Cancer Research Fund, alcohol makes up nearly 10 percent of total calorie intake among drinkers, the BBC reported.
Having a large glass of wine will cost you 178 calories and it will take you more than a half hour’s brisk walk to burn off. A 355ml beer can have 95 to 150 calories or more and a glass of 15ml whiskey can have 105 calories or much more.
Also, read about Alcohol’s Impact on Body Composition and Muscle Gain here.
6. Not Logging Condiments and Sauces
Salad dressings, ketchup, butter, mayonnaise, and other condiments can be calorie dense. Don’t forget to include these in your food log, even if you’re just using a small amount.
|Condiment and Sauces||Serving||Calories|
|Balsamic Vinegar 1 tablespoon (16 g)||16 gm||14 cal|
|Barbecue Sauce 1 tablespoon (17 g)||17 gm||29 cal|
|Basil Pesto 1/4 cup||1/4 cup||263 cal|
|Bechamel Sauce 0.5 cup (125 g)||125 g||131 cal|
7. Neglecting Cooking Oils
Cooking oil is a plant or animal liquid fat used in frying, baking, and other types of cooking. Oil allows higher cooking temperatures than water, making cooking faster and more flavorful, while likewise distributing heat, reducing burning and uneven cooking.
Cooking oils are calorie-dense, and the amount used in cooking can add up. Measure or estimate the oil you use for cooking and include it in your tracking.
|Almond Oil||1 teaspoon (5 g)||45|
|Argan Oil||1 portion (8 g)||72|
|Bacon Grease||1 teaspoon (5 g)||39|
|Beef Tallow||1 tablespoon (12.8 g)||115|
|Butter||1 tablespoon (14 g)||102|
|Butter Oil||1 tablespoon (15 g)||131|
|Canola Oil||1 tablespoon (14 g)||124|
|Chicken Fat||1 tablespoon (12.8 g)||115|
8. Ignoring Snacking
It’s easy to forget about snacks or small bites throughout the day. Keep track of all your snacks, including those handfuls of nuts or chips. A snack portion should be enough to satisfy but not so much that it interferes with your appetite for a meal or adds too many calories. Even a small amount of snack can be high in calories.
|Chocolate Chip Cookie||1||195|
9. Failing to Account for Variability
Not all food is created equal. For example, the calorie content of fruits and vegetables can vary based on size and ripeness. Use a reliable food database or app that provides accurate nutritional information.
10. Overestimating Exercise Calories Burned
Many fitness trackers and apps overestimate the number of calories burned during exercise. It’s better to focus on the quality and consistency of your workouts rather than relying on these estimates.
11. Not Adjusting for Weight Loss Plateaus
As you lose weight, your calorie needs decrease. Failing to adjust your calorie intake can lead to weight loss plateaus. Recalculate your calorie needs periodically to continue making progress.
12. Ignoring Nutrient Quality
Not all calories are created equal. Focus on the quality of the foods you’re consuming, including their nutritional value. A calorie deficit achieved through a balanced diet is generally more sustainable and healthier than one achieved by eating highly processed, low-nutrient foods.
13. Not Listening to Your Body
Pay attention to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Relying solely on calorie counting may cause you to ignore your body’s natural signals, leading to overeating or undereating.
14. Setting Unrealistic Goals
Setting extremely low-calorie goals or aiming for rapid weight loss can be unsustainable and unhealthy. Consult with a healthcare professional to set realistic and safe goals.
How to Avoid Common Mistakes While Tracking Food and Calories?
To avoid these common mistakes, it’s essential to approach food tracking as a tool for awareness rather than an end to itself. Use it to develop healthy eating habits and make informed choices about your diet. If you’re uncertain about your calorie needs or have specific dietary goals, consider consulting with a nutritionist or fitness trainer for personalized guidance.
Be honest with yourself and do not forget to log occasional treats and cheat meals.
Please contact me Abhinav Malhotra to learn what I and my team AbhiFit can do for you through personal training and nutrition services. We train kids, teens, adults, elders, athletes and models in Dubai and online across the UAE and around the world. We help our clients achieve their fat loss, weight loss, muscle gain, strength gain, rehab, figure / physique transformation & healthy living goals.
Many female and male clients including kids, teens, adults and elderly people have greatly benefited from Abhinav’s strong experience as the best personal trainer and nutritionist in Dubai, UAE. You can see some of our client transformations here here.
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- Beverages, carbonated, cola FoodData Central (usda.gov)
- Oil FoodData Central (usda.gov)
- Orange juice, canned, unsweetened, 1 cup – Health Encyclopedia – University of Rochester Medical Center
- Grape juice – FoodData Central (usda.gov)
- Fruit punch by TWISTER nutrition facts and analysis. (nutritionvalue.org)
- Lemonade: Nutrition: Starbucks Coffee Company
- Sports drink (Powerade) nutrition facts and analysis. (nutritionvalue.org)
- “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture: https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/
- Sauces, Gravy, Dressing & Spreads: Calories & Calorie Chart
- Oils & Fats: Calories & Calorie Chart
- The Science of Snacking | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
- “Caloric Balance Equation” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/calories/index.html
- Overview of Dietary Assessment Methods for Measuring Intakes of Foods, Beverages, and Dietary Supplements in Research Studies https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8338737/
- “Dietary Assessment Primer” by the National Cancer Institute: https://dietassessmentprimer.cancer.gov/
Abhinav Malhotra is an award-winning personal trainer, coach and sports nutritionist in Dubai, UAE. He also offers online services to clients around the world. A personal trainer par excellence, Abhi has worked with the world’s leading fitness chains, supplement brands and founded his own fitness academy in India. He has achieved successes for many clients from all backgrounds and has trained the Indian Army Rugby Team. He is the first International Kettlebell Sport athlete from India.