Are You Counting Calories Correctly?

(Last Updated On: August 11, 2011)

istock_nutrition-label-000000710987xsmallHi Everyone! Thank you for all the emails I received regarding last week’s fitness article. This is obviously something you would like to have more of so I will try to get these out on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. This week we will discuss the formula for losing weight.

The formula for losing weight is simple, you just have to create a calorie deficit by burning more calories than you consume. This formula is calculated by first determining your BMR (you can calculate your BMR by using our free calculator in the Workout Manager) and then correctly adding extra calories burned from exercise and other activities. This will give you your total calories burned and now all you have to do is subtract the calories you consumed for the day.

In last week’s article I mentioned that the biggest mistake people make in calculating the extra calories burned from exercising is forgetting to subtract the calories they would have burned anyway if they had done absolutely nothing. This week I want to turn the focus on the other half of the equation for losing weight; the calories that you consume, or better stated, the calories you think you consume.

How many times have you heard people say that they eat less calories than they burn, but they still can’t lose weight? What they don’t realize is they probably have calculated either calories burned incorrectly, as I mentioned last week, or have not added up calories consumed correctly. You can easily be off by two hundred or more calories in your daily consumption calculations and this could mean at least an extra 20 pounds by the end of the year that you gained or didn’t lose. Why is this?

Well, first, when you read a Nutrition label on a packaged food from your local grocery store you need to realize that calories shown per serving may be incorrect. The FDA allows an error of 20% more calories per serving than what the label actually says. This means that instead of the 200 calories you thought you were consuming, you might really be consuming 240 calories and the label will still be considered to be in compliance with federal regulations. Since it is the manufacturer’s responsibility, and not the FDA’s, for assuring the validity of a foods nutrition and caloric values on the label this error may even be greater. You may be alarmed to learn that independent studies and spot checks have routinely found errors as high as 200% to 300% on some nutrition labels. That’s atrocious!!! As I mentioned previously, nutrition label values are not determined or certified by the FDA. The FDA only spot checks some foods and that means many food labels are often incorrectly labeled, some on purpose. Many supplement companies have been found to be guilty of purposely mislabeling their protein powders and energy bars in order to increase sales. Restaurants are also notoriously off in their calorie calculations since their ingredient measurements and serving portions are not exact for every meal and they don’t have a staff of scientists to help to accurately determine the caloric value of each meal they serve.

In addition to the issues listed above, another problem with nutrition labels is the total servings per package are usually greater than what is stated on the label. Many manufacturers deliberately overfill their packages to avoid the risk of being found guilty of consumer fraud by selling underweight packages. As a result, most food packages often contain more food than their nutrition label states and this adds to your actual calories consumed. This makes me really appreciate some of the labels that I have been reading lately that state ” Serving size: About 4″

Though inaccurate information on food labels is certainly a major problem and can cause you to underestimate your daily caloric intake, it is not the only reason you may be miscalculating the daily calories that you consume. My experience has always been when you ask a person to write down everything they had to eat they usually forget to list a few things. These may be small items, but the calories still count. An extra cup of coffee or soda, a little handful of candy, grabbing one or two mini donut holes in the office lounge, or a little extra salad dressing. It all adds up and it doesn’t take much to add an extra 100 to 200 calories to your real daily food intake. An extra 100 calories per day may not seem like much, but over a year’s time it could result in a weight gain of over ten pounds.

Lastly, inaccurate portion size is another big reason you may be consuming more calories than you think. Studies have shown that people usually eat a serving size that is bigger than what they use to estimate their calories consumed. There is a big difference between one table spoon and five tablespoons of salad dressing. If you are serious about losing weight I suggest you use a food scale and or measuring cups/spoons to assist you. Not using the correct serving size for your calories consumed calculation can cause you to greatly underestimate the calories you consumed during each meal and this and the other reasons I already mentioned may be why you’re not losing the weight you hoped to.

Cathe Friedrich

8 thoughts on “Are You Counting Calories Correctly?

  1. I do count my calories Cathe….I am not a nut about it. I more into portion control, i have also found that having several smaller meals a day helps keep the Metabolism revved up, hunger pains away, and most importantly the lbs off. I do not believe in diets,deprivation. I eat just about everything i want but w/portion control in mind.

    Back you your question!
    I typically like to stay w/in
    the 1500 cal intake per day
    some days it’s a little lower
    others maybe a little higher…

    Thanks again!
    Cathe, Love Ya!

  2. Cathe – have you ever written about eating too little calories and not losing because of THAT? I’d like to read something about that, if you have or ever do.

    I love your work-outs. Thank you for doing what you do.

  3. I’m a bit frustrated by labels. Just this weekend I found something that can’t be right. On a natural sugar substitue the label reads 0 calories but has 3 G of Carbs per serving. Shouldn’t that be 12 calories? Then I found the same exact thing on some flavored water. I thought carbs were 4 calories per gram.

  4. Thanks for the article, Cathe! I agree with you. That is how I lost over 30 pounds 3 years ago and have kept it off. While exercise is very important, without adjusting caloric intake, the results won’t happen. I purchased a little paperback book from Barnes and Noble Book Store that is a quick reference guide to all types of food and gives calorie counts, grams of fiber, carbs and fat. It was very helpful when I began my weight-loss program. I got to where I had a good idea of the amount of calories that I was consuming and didn’t have to use it as often. I always went a little under my target of 1500 calories. In light of what your article says about misrepresented calorie counts on labels…perhaps that’s how I was successful. I countinue to eat the same way, as diet has to be a life-style change….not something temporary. Since I’m over 50, I realize that I don’t need as many calories as I did when I was in my 20’s. I know a lot of people keep a food journal. I don’t but continue to do the calorie counting and portion control. It works for me. Doing that, along with doing your work-outs keep me motivated and feeling healthy and strong.

  5. So that Light n Fit yogurt that boasts to be only 80 calories as opposed to Dannon’s 100 is just a manipulation of this rule? “Pretty sneaky, sis.”

  6. This is a great reason to avoid processed foods. Foods with labels may not be avoided altogether, but I know my main shopping is done around the outer perimeter of the store. Labelling is not only not required for things like fresh produce, but it is also unecessary. I don’t trust the FDA or food manufacturer’s. They have THEIR best interests at heart, not yours or mine. It is in our own best interestes to eat clean! And that means foods that aren’t overly processed. Thinks like fresh produce, lean protein and dairy, whole grains…

  7. Thank you so much for that helpful information. So many people art not armed with the correct tools in order to become healthy and stay healthy. I truly appreciate you providing this information. I always felt I had to stay a little under my intake level in order to lose weight, it just seemed as though things worked out better that way. Thanks Cathe.

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