Avoid 6 common calorie counting mistakes

Emma White - Nutritionist

Ultimately, shedding those extra pounds comes down to a basic equation: consume fewer calories than your body burns. Using the Nutracheck app to track your daily food intake is a tried-and-trusted method to help achieve your weight goals. However, that doesn’t mean calorie counting is completely fool proof! If used incorrectly, you may not see the results you’re hoping for.

So, how do you navigate calorie counting successfully? Well, it's all about avoiding some classic calorie counting mistakes. To set you on the right path, here are 6 important tips to ensure success on your weight loss journey.

Portion control

1Portion distortion

Do you pour out your breakfast cereal until it looks like a reasonable serving? It's incredibly easy to underestimate how much we're eating. Foods we tend to pour freely like cereals, rice and pasta – can be the worst culprits. We conducted a little experiment in our office and invited people to pour a 40g serving of muesli. 91% of people overestimated the quantity! (Check out our blog on Cereal Killers!).

And it seems we're not alone. Research from Oregon State University revealed that even dietetic students struggle to accurately estimate portion size (and therefore calorie counts) from photos. Only 38% guessed the weight of the food pictured to within 10% of the correct figure. The best guessers were those who regularly cooked and weighed ingredients.

This just goes to prove that if you guess at portion sizes, you will probably be consuming more calories than you think. The only way to get an accurate calorie count is to weigh food until you have a really good picture in your head of what a 'serving' looks like.

App Tip: The Nutracheck database provides guidance on optimal serving sizes for small, medium, and large portions of searched foods.

NC advice: Weigh your food

Selective memory

2 Selective memory

Sadly there is no such thing as 'free foods', as some diets might have you think. All foods contain some calories. Fruit? Yes that counts. Veg? Yep, that too! And don't forget liquid calories. Five cups of tea with semi-skimmed milk contains around 85 cals – over a week that adds up to 595 calories – which need to be counted. Then there's the squeeze of ketchup, the butter on your sandwiches – it's important to log it all.

And don't forget food you pick at without it even registering – slivers of cheese while making dinner, leftover chips from the kid's dinner plates – I'm sure you're getting the picture! Recording what you eat makes you much more mindful (and selective!) about what passes your lips – which is why keeping a diary works. It takes no time at all to log food with the app – 10 minutes a day is all you need.

NC advice: Log everything

Woman weighing

3 Too vague

When keeping your Nutracheck food diary, you should ideally add the exact brand of food you ate. Here's an example to show why.

Say you ate a slice of Lidl Rowan Hill Bakery Seeded Wholemeal Farmhouse Loaf, but just searched for 'wholemeal bread', and added a medium slice of unbranded wholemeal bread, you would have under counted by 49 calories for just 1 slice. Multiply that by 4 slices – some toast at breakfast and sandwich at lunch – and you've under counted by nearly 200 calories! Do that with several foods, and your calorie count won't be as accurate as it could be.

App Tip: Nutracheck contains over 430,000 different food products, helping you to find the exact food you're eating. Just scan the barcode on the package or search for the item in your diary, it really is that simple!

Woman weighing

4 Empty calories

It's easy to just focus on calorie content – but the type of food you eat is just as important. Yes essentially a calorie is a calorie – whether it comes from broccoli or a piece of chocolate, it provides the same amount of energy. But some foods provide more nutrients than others which affects how your body uses the energy.

A diet rich in natural foods is definitely the way forward – so opt for plenty of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, lean protein, pulses, calcium-rich dairy foods and good fats from nuts and oily fish. Eating these foods will provide the nutrients you need to stay healthy, as well as keeping you feeling full and satisfied. While a slice of chocolate cake and sandwich might have the same number of calories – the sandwich will certainly keep you going longer!

App Tip: In your Nutracheck account, the quantities of nutrients in your diet are displayed, allowing you to see how balanced your diet has been throughout the day. You can use this as a guide to understanding your diet.

NC advice: Spend your calories wisely


5 No plan

The saying is 'Failing to plan is planning to fail!'. A top tip for success is to know what you're going to eat in advance – that way you'll know if you have any calories left to play with for an evening treat. It's much better to get to the end of the day with a few calories planned in for a treat, than to use up your allowance, crave something sweet and end up over your calorie target.

This approach goes hand in hand with completing your diary in advance or as you go, rather than waiting until the end of the day and trying to remember what you ate. Recording retrospectively makes it more likely you'll forget the biscuit you had with your afternoon cuppa. In fact when asked to recall what they ate over a day, people typically underestimated by around a third! As a regular food diary user we're sure you'll have a much better idea, but you get our drift!

App Tip: It's easy to plan ahead! With Nutracheck, you're able to enter meals and snacks into your diary at any point and however far in advance you'd like.


6 Slave to the scales

It's tempting to want to step on the scales every morning, but your weight can fluctuate a lot across a week for no good reason, and if you find the result on the scales directly affects your mood and motivation for the day, it's better to stick to a weekly weigh in. We advise weighing in on the same day, same time and same scales to get the most reliable picture of how your weight loss is going. It avoids temporary blips throwing you off course. Also use how your clothes fit as a measure of your progress. Choosing an item of clothing you'd love to wear again but is too small can be a great motivator!

NC advice: Weigh in once a week and check how clothes fit

Nutritionist Emma White (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.

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