You’re Not losing Fat Because You’re Eating Too Damn Much. Even When You Don’t Think You Are. Let Me Show You.

REPOST BY PHYIQONOMICS

Do you want to know why you’re not losing fat? Like, for real?

You’re eating too much. 

Yup, Even when you think you aren’t. Even when you think you’re eating healthy, even when you’re exercising hard, even when you think you’re hardly eating, and yes, even despite reading this and getting pissed at me for telling you you’re wrong.

The fact remains: You’re not losing body fat because in one way or another, whether you realise it or not: you’re eating more than you think are even when you think you aren’t.

And in the next 6-thousand-motherfucking-words I’m going to be explaining and showing you exactly how and why.

Let’s play a game. 

The rules are easy: I’m going to list several food items below and all you have to do is guess the calorie count, roughly, in each one, cool? Good. Let’s begin.

  • A Medium-sized tub of cinema popcorn. 
  • A Large Pepperoni Pizza. 
  • 1 Tablespoon of Peanut Butter. 
  • A Grande Caffe Mocha from Starbucks. 
  • A Big Mac Meal.

You can check how close you were with the answers in the footnotes. Remember your answers because we’re going to come back to them.

But, first. We’re taking a small diversion from our regular scheduled programming because until we don’t get these myths out of the way: we’re not going anywhere.

Starvation Mode, Metabolic Damage, and Slow Metabolisms. OH MY!

I’m supposed to write an epigrammatic lead here – but I can’t be bothered. So let’s just pretend I did. Oh, and let’s also pretend it was funny and you laughed.

• Starvation Mode / ‘Metabolic Damage’

Starvation mode [sometimes referred to as metabolic damage] is the idea that if you eat too little an amount of calories for an extended period of time, your body stops burning fat; in fact, it starts doing the opposite – you start gaining weight ‘even when consuming 800 calories’. Sound familiar?

So, how much truth is there to this?

Well, see, Starvation Mode is an odd one. Odd because, while it’s not entirely correct; it’s not entirely incorrect either.

The correct part: When you reduce calories, more specifically as you begin to get leaner, there is, in fact, some slowing of metabolic rate.

The incorrect part: Due to this low-calorie consumption your body just decides HA, fuck you. And proceeds to enter this phantom zone of otherworldliness where the laws of thermodynamics cease to exist; resulting in no fat loss and even gaining fat on some absurdly low number of calories.

What’s really going on: As you start to lose body fat and weight, there’s less of you. This ‘lessness’ means your body doesn’t require as many calories to keep you alive.

Let me explain it like this. Look at this circle. Let’s assume for the sake of illustration this circle serves a purpose – and for it to serve this purpose, it requires energy which is represented by the smaller circles inside.

circle-thing

If we decrease the size of the circle, it won’t require as much energy as it’s former, larger self. So, it’s only logical we reduce the amount of energy it now requires by removing some of the circles inside.

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The red circles represent the circles [energy] we’ve removed. The dotted grey circle is a reference to its former, larger self.

Now, the same circle is requiring less energy to keep it running. If we continue to reduce the size of the circle, we also need to remove more of the smaller circles inside as it doesn’t require as much energy to keep it running.

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A similar process happens with the body: as you start to get leaner, your body requires fewer calories [energy] to keep it running than when you were, uh, more fluffy. The leaner, and lighter, you become the fewer calories the body now requires to keep itself alive and functioning.

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The number of calories your body requires when you’re 180lbs is going to be higher than the number of calories your body requires when you’re 150lbs [these are just arbitrary calorie and weight numbers for illustration purposes].

This process is referred to as adaptive thermogenesis and as the name implies, the metabolism has adapted to the lower energy requirements of your new lighter, leaner self.

As I mentioned in this article, the metabolism consists of a few different components: BMR [this is your actual metabolism], NEAT, TEA,TEF – and no, I’m not going to detail what all of these are again, go read the other article.

Studies have shown that even when people have lost huge amounts of weight, the actual change in their basal metabolic rate is around ~10%-15%.

The majority of the reduction in metabolism comes from decreases in the physical components like NEAT – simply, people begin to move around less.

Let me show you what actual starvation looks like.

KEYS wilsnack sutton garner on grass crop

You see those three dudes in the image above that look like they just straight popped out of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video? They’re three of thirty-six men from the famous Minnesota Starvation Experiment. The experiment was done to investigate the physiological and psychological effects of severe starvation.

Let me explain what they did.

36 men were put on a 24-week long starvation diet, consisting of two meals per day at a total of 1560 calories. Their calorie intake was reduced further throughout the study to keep weight loss happening.

On top of the crazy calorie intake, they were also expected to walk or run 22 miles (36 kilometres) every week.

This was roughly around a 50% deficit. To add some perspective, general guidelines for even the most aggressive fat loss protocols are 20-25%; this was twice that amount.

Let that sink in for a second. I’ll wait.

Ok, let’s continue.

All the men lost about 25% of their total body weight and ended up around 5% body fat.

By the end of the study, the men’s metabolic rates dropped by about 40%. Once again, their actual BMR only dropped by around ~15%.

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Look at the above photo, now go look at yourself in the mirror: Unless you look like the emaciated dude above, you’re not in starvation mode.

Let’s address this logically: If there was this bizarre, incorporeal, force stopping people from losing weight because they were eating too little, then you see the 21,000 people who die from hunger every day? Yeah, they wouldn’t.

Your metabolism has simply adapted to your new, lighter, body weight.

So, then, uh…if I’m not in starvation mode: what’s going on?

Hold up, I’ll get to that in a second. We still need to take a look at one more thing…

• The ‘Slow Metabolism’

I wrote damn near an essay on the last point so I’m keeping this short.

You don’t have a slow metabolism. Let’s move on.

Ok, sheesh, man. Fine. 

Two people of the same size [height, weight] and age, have around a 10-15% variance in basal metabolic rate. This amounts to an average of 200-300 calories.

Yes, but, I’m a female s – no, stop.

Gender will impact metabolism, however, it’s less to do with women’s metabolism ‘being slower’ than their Male counterparts, and more to do with the physiological differences; Men carry more muscle and less fat at a similar body weight.

The difference, all things considered (muscle mass, hormones etc.), is a whopping 3%:

If we had a guy and a girl who both maintain their body weight at a calorie intake of 1800 calories; the difference between the two would be around 54 calories per day or, the equivalent of one medium-sized apple.

So, not much.

Well, unless you really, really like Apples.

As I discussed in this post and this post, the majority of the differences between two people of the same height, weight, and age is due to exercise, good nutrition, and increased activity in general.

• Health concerns?

There can be some medical conditions that can impact weight loss. The most prominent one being hypothyroidism. This is outside my scope of practice and all I’m allowed to say is: if you suspect this to be the case, i.e you read through this whole article, and everything is in order – go see a Doctor and get your Thyroid checked out.

So if you aren’t in starvation mode and you don’t have a slow metabolism: What exactly is going on?

There are two factors at play here. 

  • Misreporting Intake
  • Calorie Ignorance

1. Misreporting Intake

Let’s go back to the game we played earlier. Remember your answers? How close were you? If you’re like most people, probably a bit more off than you thought, right?

This simple exercise was intended to get you to stop and think about how many calories these foods contain because the truth is: people are notoriously bad – no, really, like super bad – at reporting calorie intake. This isn’t an opinion, either: it’s fact. There are a plethora of studies that have shown this over and over and over and over and over, over, over, over again…and again.

Misreporting of food intake isn’t exclusive to the general public, either. Here’s a review of a study by James Krieger of Weightology finding that even dietitians misreport calorie intake.

The results showed that the dietitians underreported their food intake by an average of 223 calories per day, while the non-dietitians underreported their intake by an average of 429 calories per day.  Thus, while being a dietitian improves the accuracy of self-report of food intake, it does not eliminate the phenomena of underreporting.

Yes, even people whose job involves dealing with these things on a daily basis aren’t immune to the error.

Let me show you one more thing. 

This British actress was adamant she had a slow metabolism, turned out she was simply misreporting calorie intake.

When she recorded her food intake via video journal, her intake, according to her, was 1100 calories. When they checked her actual intake [with doubly labeled water] it came to 3000 calories.

Even when she was keeping a food diary, she misreported by 43%.

Numbers are abstract. Let’s make this palpable.

Let’s say your calorie intake is 1500 calories: 43% is 645 calories. Maybe within the scope of a day or two, this wouldn’t make that much of a difference, but you misreport like this over a week? That’s an additional +3500 calories you ‘forgot’ about – enough to gain a pound of fat.

Suffice to say, I’ve made my point. People are terrible at tracking and reporting food intake accurately [1].

2. Calorie Ignorance.

People are grossly unaware of not only how many calories they’re eating, but what a calorie even is.

As Marion Nestle put it:

People have a vague idea that calories have something to do with putting on weight, but little intuitive grasp of the number in foods or what they do in the body

Remember the documentary Super Size me? Where the guy eats nothing but Mcdonald’s for a whole month?

There’s a clip in the movie where the camera crew goes around asking people what a calorie is. And nobody could answer it. The closest someone came was ‘it’s the stuff that makes you fat?’ The Director – and ‘lab rat’ of the documentary – Morgan Spurlock admitted that they couldn’t find even one person who was able to give a clear definition of a calorie.

And this is the problem. When you’re not paying attention to calorie intake you’ve left yourself open to all the environmental and cognitive factors that have you eating more and more without even realising, as we’re about to find out.

 

The Obesogenic Environment and Cognitive Errors.

As I’m about to show you, there are a host of different environmental and cognitive factors at play and If you’re not being calorie conscious you’re going to have a hard time either losing weight or controlling your weight – even when you’re eating healthy, cutting out junk, exercising, and ‘hardly eating’.

Note that throughout the article I use the term calorie conscious. You don’t have to be uber-neurotic with calorie tracking, but having some semblance of calorie intake helps. How meticulous you wish to be will depend on your goals and circumstances. I would highly recommend checking out this blog by the Shredded by Science team on that exact topic.

The Environment

Let’s journey back a few thousand years. No, a bit further. There we go.

Life is drastically different than what we’re used to now. Most prominent being there are no fast food restaurants, takeaways, or supermarkets everywhere. Food is extremely scarce and the only way for us to have food is to get out and work to produce it.

Fast forwarding a few hundred years and we hit the industrial revolution: bringing with it the boom in technology and mechanisation. With this boom came increased abundance and easy access to food. We no longer had to go and find or work for food: our food started to come to us.

But, it doesn’t stop there. Not only do we have easy access to food, the food itself isn’t exactly helping.

– Calorie Density

Have you ever looked at a food item, then seen the calorie count and thought ‘No way that can have those many calories’?

Well, it can. This is because food today is ‘calorie dense’: Calorie density refers to the number of calories relative to the weight [and size] of a food. Fruits and vegetables have a low-calorie density, while heavily processed foods like chocolate bars, cakes, doughnuts have a high-calorie density.

Let’s look at an example: A large apple weighs around 220g and packs 110 calories. One Krispy Kreme Original Doughnut weighs 52g but packs a massive 220 calories.

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 08.52.28
The apple contains twice the amount of calories for its size, the doughnut contains 4.5x the calories for its size.

We assume because a food item is ‘small’ [whether this is our own perception of the item, or how it’s been labelled] the calories ‘can’t possibly amount to that much’.

Unfortunately, in the modern food environment, they can: foods are becoming smaller but containing two, three, four, and sometimes, even more times the number of calories for their size.

Solution: Most of the modern day calorie tracking apps like Myfitnesspal are pretty accurate with the calorie counts. As long as you’re tracking these calorie dense foods, feel free to enjoy them as part of a nutrient-rich diet. The only time I would limit the intake of these foods is during a low-calorie phase, like when dieting, where low-calorie dense foods like fruits and veggies will help keep you satiated and not take a chunk out of your calorie total.

– Food Palatability

‘Hyper-palatable foods’ is the fancy term for ‘it tastes fucking good’, and is the combination of sugar, fat and salt in the right amounts — also known as the ‘bliss point’.

While the media will try to convince you that sugar is the devil incarnate, it isn’t sugar on its own that drives the ‘reward response’ — have you ever binged on table sugar? Exactly. It’s the combination of sugar, fat, and salt that make foods ‘hyper-palatable’ and drives us to want and eat more.

Typical quote-unquote junk foods such as ice cream, pop tarts, cookies, cake, pizza are the quintessence of hyper-rewarding foods.

When we consume hyper-palatable foods they light up a series of mechanisms in our brain collectively referred to as ‘the reward response system’ that make us want to consume more of said food. This is the same system that lights up when people take drugs, drink alcohol, and have sex.

Food hyper-palatability encourages us to eat more and drives us to keep eating more, even when we feel full.

Dr. David Kessler, perfectly summed up this response in his book, The End of Overeating:

The food environment provides so much food designed deliberately to excite pleasure centers that it overrides biological stop signals. The factors that discourage calorie intake and promote satiety ought to function quite well in environments that encourage the consumption of diets high in nutrient density and low in calorie density. But in food environments that aggressively promote overconsumption of high-calorie foods, the ‘’eat more’’ signals overpower those that promote satiety. In such environments, matters largely beyond personal control are remarkably effective at overcoming physiological regulatory mechanisms

Solution: As I discussed in this article, if you find that you have certain foods that trigger you to eat more, don’t eat or keep these foods in the house. The more you decrease your exposure to these foods, the more likely you are to succeed with your diet. Studies have shown that when people reduce the palatability of the diet, they’re more likely to succeed and keep the weight off in the long-term. Please note that not all foods are trigger foods, find the ones that are and get rid of them.

 

All of these factors have culminated in what we now call the obesogenic environment.

We’re innately hardwired to be fat, not lean: Through years of evolution, the goal has been to eat as much as possible when food was available, with the goal of packing on as much fat as possible, and then wait out the winter when food was scarce and hard to come by.

Compare that to today, where food is in constant supply, easy to access, and unnaturally delicious – throw in our decreasing activity levels, and you have the perfect formula for rapid fat gain.

This isn’t to say that fat gain is inevitable, and that exercising and eating well is pointless. In fact, quite the opposite, in all the research we have on successful dieters that have maintained weight in the long term, exercise and being calorie conscious were two key habits.

Cognitive Errors

The environment is only one-half of the problem. The second half is not external, but internal and takes place in your mind. These cognitive errors can be just as, if not more insidious to our waistlines than the environment around us. The bad news? Most people don’t even realise they’re committing these. The good news? By the end of this article, you will.

landing-pages-deadpool-brain-failure
I waited a whole goddamn year to use this image. And yes, it feels just as good as I’d imagined it would, thank you for asking.

– The Health Halo Effect of Food. 

The “health halo” effect of food is when consumers believe foods that are advertised as healthier have fewer calories, and then compensate by eating more of these healthier foods which then leads to additional calories consumed.

In one study consumers chose beverages, side dishes, and desserts containing up to 131% more calories when the main dish was positioned as “healthy,” even when the ostensibly healthy main dish contained more calories than the “unhealthy option”.

Here’s a video clip from popular UK TV show “Secret Eaters”, showcasing the halo effect.

The Woman can be seen liberally pouring Olive Oil over several meals. When she’s shown the video she replies, ‘but I thought Olive Oil was good for you’.

The dietitian made her aware that ‘over the course of surveillance you got through 2000 calories of just olive oil, which works out to around 460 calories a day. If you use this amount of oil on a daily basis, over the course of a month that’s the same amount of calories as 1.8 kilograms of butter.’

You can see her face screw up in horror as the dietitian’s last sentence hits her. This is the health halo effect of food in full effect. We assume because a food is “healthy” we can eat more of it.

As Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating, said:

Many of us are reasonably diligent about *what* we eat but we don’t put much thought into *how much* we eat. People may decide to eat fruit instead of potato chips because it’s ‘healthier’, but once they make that initial choice, they tend to not monitor how much they eat. And a pound of grapes is not ‘calorie-free’

The same study also found that ‘even people who do seek out healthier foods (e.g. Subway) tend to suffer the “health halo” effect, adding unhealthy extras (e.g. mayo) and rewarding themselves with an unhealthy dessert (e.g. cookie). Although Subway customers consume fewer calories than the average McDonald’s customer, they overeat their caloric intake estimates by a greater amount.’

Here are some more examples of where the Health Halo Effect pops up.

• Fruit Juices

You see those 100%, natural, organic, freshly picked,and squeezed by the hands of an Angel, juices? Yh. Let’s talk about them. This is what a serving [200ml] of orange juice looks like

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 19.10.47

Now, I’m not sure about you, but I’ve never seen someone drink an actual serving. Most people are going to be filling that glass to the top. This is a full glass of OJ, coming in at 350 ml.

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But, even 350ml is less than the standard sized bottles you find in stores. The smallest size you’ll find most fruit juices at stores are 500ml bottles.

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 19.21.28

If drink two of those 500ml bottles in a day because you think it’s healthy: you’re looking at almost 500 calories. Even if they’re labelled ‘100% natural’ and contain vitamins and minerals, the calories still count and they add up. Fast. Especially as juices aren’t satiating like their whole food alternative, so you’ll drink more, and in turn consume more calories.

Compare this to eating an actual Orange.

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The Orange is lower in calories and will fill you up a lot better than the orange juice would.

One 500ml bottle of orange juice is the same number of calories as 4 medium oranges. You tell me which one will fill you up more.

• ‘Diet/Low-Calorie Foods’ and Protein-infused products and bars.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with ‘diet’ products, in fact, they can make good additions to your diet during a low-calorie period; the problem is when people assume they can eat as much of these as they like because ‘Diet Foods’. Those calories may be diet calories, but they’re still calories and they still count.

Secondly, you see all those ‘protein-infused’ products you’re seeing everywhere these days?

Well. Take a look at these two images.

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On the left, you have a popular ‘health’ bar and on the right, you have the tastiest chocolate bar on the damn planet [you can disagree, but you’re wrong].

At first glance the Nature Valley bar does seem better, right? Lower in calories, has more protein, has less sugar.

Not so fast, mi amigo. Let’s really take a look at these.

Calories — 190 versus 250. Not that much of a difference [60 cals] for an ostensible ‘health’ bar versus a ‘bad’ chocolate bar.

Even the fat intake is equal between the two.

Protein – Sure some may argue the nature valley bar has more protein, but remember the context: the snickers bar is not being advertised as a ‘high protein’ product; it’s a standard chocolate bar – Nature Valley are promoting their product as a ‘high protein’ item. When viewed in this context, 6g of protein isn’t that big of a difference.

Also, If you’re going to claim an item as high protein, you’d imagine protein making up a dominant percentage of total calories, no?

Well…

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Protein only makes up 22% of total calories, while fat makes up more than half. Not sure about you guys, but based on the numbers, I’d say having ‘Fat’ plastered on the front of the package would be more fitting.

If we were to compare this to the currently popular Grenade protein bars:

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43% of the total calories are derived from protein.  See the difference?

No, Grenade didn’t pay me to say this. However, if anyone from Grenade reads this, I’m more than happy to accept a lifetime supply of free Grenade bars for the free publicity I just gave your shit. You’re welcome.

Oh, c’mon, you’re being pedantic.

Am I, really?  Ok. Let’s see.  One Nature Valley bar may be fewer calories and could make for a good replacement for the Snickers bar during a diet.

But, you see, the halo effect kicks in and people assume that because the Nature Valley bar is ‘healthy’, they can eat more without worrying about calories: 2 or 3 of those nature valley bars in a day can add up to more than 500 calories. That’s more than enough to start gaining a pound of fat over a week.

Most of these quote-unquote marketed protein products are nothing more than glorified chocolate bars. And if you aren’t consciously paying attention to these things, the calories can add up very quickly.

• Organic Foods

Ah yes. The golden child of the food industry: organic produce. Even though studies have shown that organic food doesn’t have any additional health benefits versus conventional, people still assume that eating organic is not only better but also, somehow, makes them immune to the calorie law.

No, really. When a food item is labeled organic, people assume it has fewer calories than a non-organic counterpart – and this is the really trippy bit– even when they’re told both products contain the same amount of calories.

• ‘Low-Fat’

The ‘low-fat’ effect is similar to the diet foods and protein bars. People see low fat and assume they can eat more.

In this review, researchers found that when snack foods were labeled ‘low fat’, participants ate more than when the food was labeled ‘regular’. Another interesting find was regardless if the food was deemed ‘junk’ [chocolate] or ‘healthy’ [granola]; low-fat labeled foods saw the participants increase the amount they believed to be an appropriate serving size.

Researchers concluding that when we see low-fat, it reduces the ‘guilt’ we feel when overeating, which in turn encourages us to eat more.

Understand: ‘Healthy’ is not synonymous with ‘calorie free’. ‘Healthy’ foods should be a staple in everyone’s diet but within the overarching context of calorie awareness and control.

As a quick aside – in this article by the New York Times, the American public were asked their opinions on foods they deemed ‘healthy’; take a look at this chart they posted.

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Open in new tab/window for a larger version.

Granola bar topped the list, and even orange juice is in there. See what I mean? Once again, most people do pay attention to the types of food they’re eating, it’s the ‘how much’ of these foods they’re eating that’s the problem.

– We forget what we’ve eaten.

Do you remember what you had for breakfast? Really, are you sure that what you think you had for breakfast today isn’t really what you had for breakfast yesterday? Talking of which, do you remember everything you ate yesterday? The day before?

Point: our memories aren’t very good at remembering what we’ve eaten, as Brian Wansink found.

Our memory is imperfect and unable to remember everything we eat ~ When asked to estimate how much food they consumed, people of normal weight tend to think they ate 20% less, while those who are obese tend to underestimate by 30-40%. Interestingly, the more food that is eaten in one sitting, the greater the underestimation – regardless of size.

– Larger portions make us eat more.  

Take a look at these two bowls.

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Which bowl contains more Coco Pops?

If you guessed left – you’re wrong. Oh, you picked the right bowl, huh? You’re wrong too.

They both contain the same amount: 25g

This illustrates the illusion of portion size: Larger portions make us eat more.  

Solution: The bigger the bowls you keep around your house, the more likely you are to eat more without even realising. Weighing food on a scale will help prevent this.

– Mindless Eating.  

How many people keep ‘snacks’ at their office desk? Quite a few I’d imagine.

A few pieces of fruit here and there, one or two handfuls of nuts to stave off hunger until lunch, Ah, it’s the dreaded mid-afternoon energy crash – time for that ‘healthy’ granola bar. All these small things we think are harmless, add up.

Let me give you an example.

One of the common ‘snack’ foods found on office desks is nuts.

This is an actual serving of Brazil Nuts [25g].

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See how tiny it is? This 25g serving comes in at 165 calories and 16.6g of fat.

If you kept a 100g bag of Brazil Nuts at your desk, snacking on them throughout the day, by the end of your working day: you’ve just consumed 656 calories and 67g of fat. (Calories in 100g of Brazil Nuts)

That’s more calories than 2 Snickers Bars.

This is on top of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and any other snacks you had. We also tend to eat more when we have food within easy reach and because we’re also working, we seldom notice ourselves doing this. And even if we do notice, remember the whole being bad at remembering what we ate?

There was an interesting study done by Brian Wansink and his team from Cornell University on this exact behaviour.

We asked some university secretaries if they wanted to fill out a questionnaire for a study on candy consumption. And then we said ‘as part of our thanks we’re going to give you this nice dish of candy’.

We asked some of the secretaries to put the dish on the desk and others to put it about six feet away from the desk. That’s only three steps, but they had to get up and move. We put 30 Hershey’s Kisses in either a clear or opaque bowl with a lid. And every night for four weeks, we secretly went to the secretaries offices, counted how many kisses they had eaten and filled the bowl back up to 30.

We found that if you put the candy on somebody’s desk, they ate about nine chocolates a day if the bowl was clear and 6 1/2 if the bowl was opaque.

But all you had to do was put it six feet away and the number dropped down to four kisses a day, whether it was opaque or clear

People in our biochemistry department say ‘’what’s the big deal? Five more chocolates isn’t that significant’’

But five more chocolates is 125 more calories per day. Over a month of weekdays, that’s 2,500 calories, or two-thirds of a pound. 

Solution: In interviews afterwards, the researchers found that the secretaries overestimated how many chocolates they ate when they had to walk a few feet to get some, and underestimated how many they consumed when the treats were in easy reach. ‘The less effortful it is to eat, the easier it was to forget how much they ate’, the researchers said. Conversely, when the candies were hidden or kept further away, the secretaries were twice as likely to forget the candy was around. Don’t keep snacks around your desk while working. If you do want to grab a snack, make sure it’s kept in the office kitchen. The simple act of making it harder to get to will mean the less chance of mindless eating occurring.

– ‘Hidden Calories’

Hidden calories are all the calories we don’t think about because we don’t really expect them to be there, or underestimate the impact they can have on total calorie intake.

+ Restaurants

When you go out to eat at restaurants, there are a lot of hidden calories you either forget to think about or simply don’t realise are there.

The oils they use in preparing the food, the sauces that accompany the food, the sugars, and fats they add into the marinade.

The Chef isn’t thinking about your waistline as much as he is your taste buds. All of these things add up, regardless if we realise or not.

Solution: As Dr. Yoni Freedhoff recommends: ‘Add 40 percent to non-posted calorie counts for meals at restaurants, and 20 percent to posted information (since studies have shown that restaurants often undervalue the actual calorie content of their foods).’

+ Fast Food Restaurants

Here’s a secret. You see the calories fast food places like subway post on their site and you find in your calorie app? They don’t include the sauces, cheeses, and any other condiments or additional things you get on your sub [unless explicitly stated – eg. steak and cheese].

Picking up a subway and then adding in double cheese, double meat [it’s protein, it’s healthy,right?].

This adds up.

You see that Tuna sub? What’s the tuna mixed with? Mayonnaise. A ton of mayonnaise.

This adds up.

Allow me to show you. 

This is the recommended serving of mayonnaise, 14g [just under 1 tbsp].

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See how small it is? One serving comes in at 5g of fat. Restaurants aren’t going to weigh out mayonnaise before they pour it into their dish. And these calories add up very, very fast without you realising.

Solution: Keep a tab on the extra toppings you’re getting.

+ The Cinema

Oh. You know that large tub of popcorn you ate at your last visit to the cinema?

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Solution: Ditch the movie snacks. Seriously, what are you, 12? Not eating popcorn isn’t going to impact your enjoyment of the movie – and if the movie sucked, won’t make it suck any less. But, If you simply can’t live without a snack during the movie, factor the calories into your daily total. This could mean skipping dessert if you go out for a meal beforehand.

+ Salads

Oh c’mon, salads are healthy. DON’T TELL ME SALADS AREN’T HEALTHY. 

The salad part of a salad is healthy, the other part – Caesar, Greek, or whatever other exotic country you wish to name your salad after to make it seem healthy – not so much. Most of the salads you find at restaurants tend to come with additional toppings: cheese, mayo, oil.

And it’s these additional toppings that see this humble low-calorie starter or side become a Frankensteinian calorie-rich dish.

On average, for a Caesar Salad you’re looking at anywhere from 250-400 calories. This can be much higher if you go to one of those swanky, high-end, fancy restaurants.

Solution: Pay attention. Don’t assume just because it’s called a salad, it’s zero calorie and healthy. Most restaurants have the ingredients listed in the menu, check the salad to make sure there aren’t any extra toppings. If there are you can factor these into your calorie count for the day or simply ask the restaurant not add these when they make your food – remember, you’re paying them.

+ ‘A Splash of Cream and Milk’

That ‘splash’ of cream and/or milk in your coffee? It adds up, and because it’s liquid you end up pouring in more than you think you are.

One tablespoon of cream is 70 calories and 7g of fat. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you actually are pouring 1 tbsp [you’re not, though]. 3-4 cups of coffee in a day?

That’s between 210 – 280 calories, and 21-28g of fat. You do this every day and in a week you’ve consumed an additional, unaccounted for, 1,960 calories.

Solution: If you lack the testicular fortitude to drink your coffee straight black, you know, how god intended, and you simply must ‘lighten’ the taste – stick to skim or low-calorie milk. But just keep an eye on how much you’re pouring in.

+ Weight versus Volume.

This is common to see on food packaging: ‘1 tablespoon’, ‘1 scoop’, ‘1 cup’, etc. 

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 10.12.15
An example of the volume based serving recommendations you find on food packaging.

The problem is that when you use volume as a way to measure food it’s hardly ever accurate.

Look at the image below depicting two different servings of Peanut Butter: one was a ‘tablespoon’, and one was an actual 20g, weighed on a scale, serving.

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 10.09.29

Looking at the two servings side by side, the difference is notable. But here are the numbers:

20g weighed:

Calories – 136

Fat – 12g

‘1 tablespoon’ [came out to 43g when weighed]:

Calories – 292

Fat – 25.7g

And this is my point. When you go by volume you’re more likely than not to be way off from the actual serving size listed on the packaging.

Solution: Weigh out your food, even if it’s only for a little while at the start. This will help you better understand actual serving sizes and soon you’ll be able to make pretty accurate guesses.

It’s All Relative. 

One final point before we close up.

People forget this, but the impact of the amount you overeat will vary depending on your size – height, weight – and gender.

A 200lb man dieting on 2500 calories per day and overeating by 300 calories is only an increase of 13%, versus a 120 lb female dieting on 1100 calories and overeating by 300 calories, that’s a 27% increase.

A similar amount of calories, but depending on circumstance, it can be ‘meh, to oh shit, I’m gaining weight in a deficit.

In Closing

HOLY FUCK. You actually just read to the end of a 6-motherfucking-thousand-word article on calories and food. You, my friend, are no normal denizen of this beautiful blue sphere, you are in the top 1% of fucking crazy. Good job. Drop me an email and I’ll send you a free gift.

I hope that by reading this you now understand that the environment and our proclivity for making cognitive errors can lead us to overeat by a lot more than we think, even when we believe we’re being diligent.

This is why it’s important to have a basic understanding of calories and tracking food intake for a certain period of time.

It might not be as simple as calories in versus calories out, but calorie awareness is still our best defense against an obesogenic environment that encourages us to overeat.

Calorie tracking is a life skill that will eventually lead you to understand portion sizes, what an actual serving size of meals at your favourite restaurants looks like. You’ll soon be able to ‘eyeball’ or ‘guestimate’ calorie count of foods without having to track. But you have to start with the basics first.

P.S – There is no free gift. But thank you for reading. You might as well hit share seeing you’re here now. 


Footnotes:

  • Calorie counts of foods from the beginning of the article:

– Medium Popcorn: 600 calories.

– Large Pepperoni Pizza [Domino’s]: 2,370 calories.

– 1 Tbsp PB: 94 calories.

– Grande Caffe Mocha [Starbucks]: 250 calories (note that this is without whipped cream and using non-fat milk – if you get cream and milk this could be almost double).

– Big Mac Meal: ~1000 calories.

  1. While there are a few reasons why people misreport intake, most of which I touched on in the article [calorie density, palatability of foods, calorie ignorance] – there is a societal factor at play also. Overweight people will misreport food intake as a ‘self’ protection mechanism.  For example, this study found that even when people are told they’re going to be monitored they still misreport food intake, though the misreporting tends to be smaller than when they aren’t being monitored. Researchers commenting:

‘Deception of self and others is a common and adaptive process that plays an important role in the maintenance of both interpersonal relationships and of individual mental health (Baumeister, 1993; Taylor & Brown, 1988). In this circumstance, the deception allows dieters to escape blame from a society that values thinness and believes that overweight people are responsible for their weight problems (Crandall, 1994)’

And this makes complete sense. I see this from time to time with clients, people don’t want you to think of them as ‘bad’ or be reprimanded for their actions, so if they overeat they tend to not report this out of fear.

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