If you're eating wholesome food but unable to lose weight, you may be overestimating the calories you are burning or underestimating the amount of food you are eating. You wouldn't be alone since both are common mistakes.
At one end of the spectrum is the difficulty of measuring the calories expended. For example, exercise machines can overestimate calories burned during exercise by as much as 31 percent. We can also overestimate the level of difficulty of our workout. Or maybe we are math challenged and can't follow the algebraic formulas involving our height, weight and BMI, to arrive at an accurate answer about expended calories.
At the other end of the spectrum are mistakes we make in calculating the calories we consume. For instance, one survey showed that when eating out, customers significantly underestimated the levels of calories, fat and saturated fat in less-healthful restaurant items. "Actual fat and saturated fat levels were twice consumers’ estimates and calories approached 2 times more than what consumers expected."
Are individuals any better at estimating calories in the portions they eat when eating healthful items? No. Researchers found that when people think they are eating healthy, they eat more. As a result, they consume twice as many calories as they believe they did.
We also confuse portions with servings. For instance, if I eat a large bowl of cereal for breakfast, I may be unaware that I've eaten two servings of cereal. When you add the common problem of overeating through snacking or unintentional eating (such as sampling food while cooking), you can see how many snakes are in the Medusa head of portion control.
Here are five helpful strategies to help your stay in control of the amount of food you eat:
- Educate yourself. Go to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's Portion Distortion website to see how portions have expanded in 20 years. A picture is worth a thousand words.
- Whether eating out or at home, choose healthy, filling foods. Adopt a simple, inviolable rule: No second helpings.
- Savor your meals without distraction and eat from a small plate. Chew each bite 35 to 40 times.
- Drink healthy beverages. For example, drink water instead of sugared juice or have a sugar-free tea in place of a cola.
- To address cravings between meals, eat satisfying fruit such as apples, grapefruit and oranges. (You'll find more helpful tips here.)
Developing mastery of portion control, like learning to ride a bike, requires patience and persistence. If you fall down while learning this skill (and you will fall from time to time), pick yourself up and begin anew. As author, inventor, politician and diplomat Benjamin Franklin said, "Energy and persistence conquer all things."