The world of exercise and nutrition is a huge industry with people from all walks of life and there are all sorts of different goals. No matter what the goal though, we all need a plan to reach our goals. Now, no matter how good the plan is … it is ineffective if we do not do it. But that is not the only reason some of us fail to reach our goals. Sometimes it comes down to a lack of consistency and other times we are not being honest with ourselves. It might even be unintentional, but many people do not have a clue how calories they are actually eating or how many calories they are actually burning during exercise.
Underestimating Dietary Intake
As a part of conducting exercise and nutrition research for the last ten years on populations that have ranged from young, healthy college-aged men and women to middle-aged, moderately to severely overweight women some common trends exist related to their own perception of themselves and their habits.
For starters, most people when asked to record their dietary intake for a period of three to four days, a common activity required by dietitians or researchers to determine what comprises an individual’s typical diet, will underestimate the amount of calories they consume. Studies have suggested that people typically underestimate by 30%! Thus if a person says they consumed around 2,000 calories they likely have consumed 2,600 calories. That’s a big difference and for many people may be equivalent to a meal or a couple of snacks throughout the day.
This is a problem, especially for individuals who would like to lose some weight before summer, but one where I’m sympathetic. How does this happen? Due to busy lifestyles, pre-packaged foods, fast food and take-out have grown in popularity. Overall these foods can be quite high in calories, sugar, fats, etc. but not “look” that big.
If you’re like me and often determine portion size with your eyes and feel you need to eat everything given to you (I can thank my parents for that) this creates a problem where people often don’t realize how many calories they are consuming. The only solution here is to self-educate yourself on the foods you eat and make smarter choices. Another option is to cook more and eat out less.
Almost always, the food prepared in your own kitchen will have less calories and fat than a similar food prepared by a restaurant. This message goes out to everyone. I can almost guarantee that when you eat out, the amount of calories you consume will be much larger than you would normally think.
The flip side to this is that when asked to record their exercise habits people will typically overestimate the amount of exercise they complete by 20 – 25%. Added together a scenario is created where people on any given day could think half of their caloric balance has been accounted for when it hasn’t. This scenario is less forgiving to me. It’s pretty easy to determine how many calories you burn from activity and you have to be honest with yourself. A trainer or friend isn’t going to care if you only walked one day last week as opposed to the four or five days you tell yourself and everyone else that you do.
People are busy, for sure, but this doesn’t mean you stop being honest with yourself because you can’t exercise as much. Many websites exist where you can get an idea of how many calories you are burning during exercise or other daily forms of physical activity. Add it up some time and be honest with yourself. You’ll likely be surprised that the number is lower than what you might think. And you will also likely be even more surprised (and maybe a little depressed) when you compare the weekly amount of physical activity you get against the ONE piece of cheesecake you ate after a week of dealing with work, children, family, etc. After all you earned it right?
I’m committed to writing straight-forward blogs, but that are twisted with a positive note. The single best way to turn this balance in your favor is to strive to do two things:
1) cook one more meal at home for yourself than you did last week
2) try to get 10 minutes more physical activity this week than you did last week.
I didn’t say only eat celery for a week, never eat again or cook all your meals, just one more than last week. On the same note, I didn’t say you need exercise every day for long periods of time. That’s unrealistic, but the beginning of the process is to be honest with yourself and figuring out where you stand.
Take measures each week to make this week better than last week … Check in on Weigh in Wednesday with the TransPHORMation Challenge … Take notice of how your clothes fit … That’s it, nothing more! If you are honest with yourself, focus on the process, do the best you can by making good decisions more times than not, and stay consistent you will reach your goals!
This post was written by Chad Kerksick, an Assistant Professor of Exercise Science at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO. Dr. Kerksick is a nerd for exercise physiology and particularly enjoys discussing strategies to lose fat and enhance performance through diet, supplementation, and exercise.