Sneaky Calories: 10 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Progress And What To Do About It

family at dinner table with woman laughing

You’ve been doing all the “right” things:

  • You’ve established an appropriate caloric deficit.
  • You’re working with your coach, checking in every week, trying to get more sleep, and paying attention to your water intake.
  • You focus on filling your plates with proteins and veggies.
  • You moderate your carbs, choosing things like fruits, whole grains, rice and pasta, and your fats, choosing things like nuts, nut butters, avocados, olive oil and the like all in accordance to your goals. 
  • The majority of your food choices come from fresh, nutrient-dense products and sources you love the taste of.
  • You maintain a semblance of balance and occasionally allow yourself wiggle room for items you enjoy that, at one point, you may have thought of as “unhealthy” or “bad”. Things like chocolate, candy, ice cream, sodas, and treats. 
  • You know no foods are entirely restricted or off-limits and there’s a difference between limiting your foods and eliminating them entirely. You understand no foods are inherently “bad” and nothing, including your nutrition, is going to be perfect.

But things aren’t going the way you expected them to. You’re still not seeing results.

It’s quite possible you’re taking in more, or perhaps even a lot more calories than you think you are.

In fact, this is usually the case when someone is sure they’re doing everything right, “but it’s still not working!” If your goal is fat loss and you’re wondering why you’re not making as much progress as you had hoped, check to see if any of these might be part of the reason.

1. What you put in your coffee/tea. 

Any coffee fiends out there? This could be your biggest culprit. Whether or not you are adding cream, milk, sugar, honey, half & half, or whatever else, a “splash” and a  “pinch” add up, especially if you are ordering anything bigger than a (true) small. That’s not even including drizzles of sugar syrups, whipped cream or foams. Not paying attention to your coffee and tea could run you anywhere from 50-500 additional calories, perhaps more if you’re chugging multiple cups every day.

What to do instead:

  • When you’re tracking, include everything you’re putting into your coffee and tea. Grab a teaspoon or tablespoon and see just how much you’ve been adding to your daily cup of joe.
  • Invest in better quality coffee and appreciate the (brewing) process. As with a lot of things, sometimes the better the quality is, the less you usually need. People often find they are more satisfied with less coffee prepared really well, versus copious amounts of poor coffee. You can get as fancy as you’d like (and as your budget allows), but there’s a world of difference between savoring an expertly prepared cup of coffee and drinking cup upon cup of stuff resembling lukewarm dirty dishwater.
  • Decrease the amount you’re adding in (two teaspoons instead of three, for example, or three sugar packets instead of four) over time. This doesn’t need to be something you do cold turkey, wean yourself slowly.
  • Check to see if your flavored coffee uses syrups to achieve the desired flavoring (which, for one pump could tack on anywhere from 80-100 cals) or if the beans have been pre-flavored or infused with spices/blends (usually calorie-free). Ask for coffee unsweetened to save yourself the extra calories.
  • Swap out higher cal add-ins for lower cal ones. 2%, skim milk or almond milk instead of whole milk, fat-free half & half or cream instead of whole cream, and sweeteners like Stevia instead of sugar.
  • If it’s the caffeine boost you’re after, try herbal, green or chai teas which often don’t need creams or sugars. Ordering your iced tea while out and about? Check first to see if it’s been pre-sweetened. 
  • Decrease the size and/or amount of coffee you’re consuming each day. This one might be the trickiest one of all. But if the idea of completely changing up your order is too scary to fathom, you could try drinking one less coffee or tea a day, or, try ordering a medium instead of a large or a medium instead of a small.

2. Taste-testing while cooking.

If you’re cooking, how often are you trying a spoonful here, or a small (okay, big) taste? All of those BLT’s (bites, licks and tastes) have a cumulative nature and add up fast often without us even recognizing it because we don’t think or treat them as true meals or snacks. 

What to do instead:

  • Ask yourself if you’re truly tasting the food in order to check up on your cooking skills. Many times people find themselves mindlessly munching and “taste tasting” simply because the food is in front of them.
  • Just like going food shopping when you’re hungry is ill-advised, if you can, try not to cook or bake when you’re ravenous in order to lessen the chance your small nibble turns into a huge bite (or two, or three).
  • Curb temptation by staying hydrated while you’re in the kitchen with a large glass of water or seltzer or keep your mouth busy by chewing gum
  • Track it. When it comes to calories, everything going into your mouth counts. Taste tests included.

3. Trying or taking bites off of other’s plates.

Yep, more BLTs. For parents especially, one of the biggest culprits of stalled fat loss is taking bites of or finishing food left on your kids’ plates.

What to do instead:

  • Don’t feel guilty about leaving food on your (or your kids’) plates. If the thought of wasting food drives you nuts, package it up in tupperware or a to-go container for later.
  • The same strategies for taste testing apply here. Everything you put into your mouth counts.

4. Cooking oils/butters.

We often only think about what we’re putting ON our food and not what we’re cooking our food IN.

If you are cooking a lot of your own meals, a tablespoon (or two or three) of oil or butter can quickly disappear into each dish. Couple this with meals you might be eating in restaurants or at families and friend’s homes and it easily tacks on 200-600 extra calories. 

What to do instead:

  • Account for all the cooking oils and butters you are using. 
  • Swap out heavy pours for zero-calorie sprays especially for quick grilling, roasting and sauteing.
  • Keep in mind, restaurant meals are usually always higher in calories due to the amount of cooking oils, butters and other fats. If you’re eating out very frequently, this might be something you’ll need to take a closer look at. Ask for your food to be prepared plain or steamed. Another strategy to consider is keeping the fat content of your earlier meals throughout the day lower to balance out your daily macro budget. 

5. Hard candies, breath mints, gum & cough drops.

A few here and there won’t break the bank, but it’s something to be aware of if you’re popping them constantly or swiping one or two every time you walk by a bowl. Two butterscotch candies can be 70+ calories, four lifesavers or three peppermints equals 60 calories and four cough drops will run you about 50 calories, depending on the brand.

What to do instead:

  • If you’ve become a candy bowl frequent flier, swap the hard stuff for sugar-free gum. It still has calories, so demolishing a pack or two per day might not be the best idea. But if one or two pieces keeps your mouth busy and helps you hold off on grabbing several pieces of candy, it can save you calories in the long run.
  • Avoid the office candy bowl! Limit the amount of times you expose yourself to it by taking a different route to the bathroom or down the hall.
  • Fill your mouth and your hands with something else! Invest in a reusable water bottle you can keep at your desk and keep filling. 

6. Salad add ons.

HUGE salads are amazing, especially for fat loss. You get a ton of volume for low(er) calories which makes them perfect for filling you up. Plus, you get all the benefits of loading up micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc.) and fiber – all vital for your health and for maintaining proper bodily functions – into one meal. Total win.

But salad adds-ons like dressings, cheeses, bacon bits, nuts, fruits and croutons can quickly turn a low-calorie meal into a high-calorie blowout. Just a tablespoon of sunflower seeds will add on about 50 calories, a serving of walnuts is about 200 calories, bacon bits about 30 calories per serving and a “sprinkle” of dried cranberries can easily cost you upwards of 150-250.

What to do instead:

  • You know the drill… track everything!
  • Pick your battles. Love toppings more than dressings? Choose lower calorie dressings. Prefer a lot of dressing? Add fewer toppings.
  • Using different fat sources (like cheese, avocado, and bacon) often eliminates the need for dressing. 

7. Nuts/Nut Butters.

Nuts and nut butters are very caloric dense (they’ll cost you more calories for a small amount), so it’s really easy to overeat these without realizing it and without feeling full. Trail mixes too. And, that doesn’t take into account candied, glazed or coated nuts. Even a small handful can run you hundreds of calories. 

What to do instead:

  • Grab your scale and gain an accurate serving amount and get to tracking.
  • If you have a tough time limiting the amount you’re eating or a hard time eyeballing measurements, buy single-serving packs. Most nuts, trail mixes and nut butters come in single-serve packets now – use them to your advantage. 

8. Juices & sodas.

Your glass of OJ in the morning and a soda or two a day habit could be a major reason as to why you’re not seeing results. Drinking high-calorie juices and sodas are an easy way to spend your calories and because it’s liquid – it’s easy to forget we even had it! Just one glass of either could be 100-200 calories which, throughout the course of a week, could negatively impact the caloric deficit you are trying to produce.

What to do instead:

  • Account for and track the ones you do drink.
  • Cut down on your juice and soda consumption overall and switch from regular soda to diet soda or swap out soda altogether for seltzers (regular or flavored)
  • Find reduced sugar, sugar-free or other low-calorie juice options.
  • Swap out juices for flavored, infused or enhanced zero-calorie or low-calorie waters.
  • Are you actually just thirsty? When the temptation to pour a tall glass of juice or to grab a soda hits, try drinking a glass of water first and see if the temptation remains.

9. Treating fruits and veggies as a free for all.

Just eat healthy! Just eat clean! Load up on fruits and vegetables and watch the pounds melt away!

We’ve all heard things like this and, while adding more fruits and veggies into your diet unquestionably has numerous health benefits, these benefits come with calories attached. There is no such thing as calorie free or negative calorie foods.

Fruit and vegetables are excellent sources of carbohydrates and while they are typically a low(er) calorie choice per serving, it’s important to remember their calories still count. For example, a medium apple and a cup of grapes will run you about 100 calories each and most vegetables will tack on roughly 30 calories per cup. Often times people following a “clean” eating diet without accounting for the amount of food they’re eating run into this problem.

Beware of treating fruits and vegetables as  “free foods”. While an extra 30-50 calories or so won’t completely derail your progress every now and then, filling up plate after plate certainly could. 

What to do instead:

  • Track ALL of your fruits and veggies 

10. Condiments, Sauces & Syrups.

Ketchup on your eggs in the morning? 15-30 calories. Mayo in your sandwich at lunch? 90-180 calories. BBQ sauce on your steak dinner? Anywhere from 30-100 calories. Without even being overly generous, you’ve just added an easy 300 calories to your day.

Think of how many foods you eat with added condiments (ketchup, mustard, mayo, relish, etc.) sauces (BBQ, soy, peanut, hollandaise, demi-glaze, tartar, etc.) or syrups (maple, agave nectars, fruit, chocolate, butterscotch, etc).

What to do instead:

  • Account for the amount you’re using. 
  • If you prefer using a lot of these, try lower-calorie, sugar-free, fat-free or reduced-fat options 
  • Pick lower-calorie choices like salsas and hot sauces
  • To decrease the amount you might be tempted to use, buy single-serve packets or containers
  • Control what you can control when eating out  (order sauces and condiments on the side if possible to dip or add onto your food yourself) and track the best you can.

So remember:

  • When it comes to fat loss – everything you put into your mouth counts towards your overall caloric intake.
  • No food or calories are inherently bad for you. No specific foods cause more or less fat gain or loss than another food. With fat loss, the dosage (amount) of the food you eat takes precedence over the type of food you eat.
  • Don’t rely solely on eyeballing portion sizes until you have gained more experience in doing so and don’t get lazy in your tracking and assume you’ll always be able to trust your estimations.
  • If your progress has stalled, don’t keep running on autopilot. Self audit your choices throughout each day and see where you might be letting sneaky calories slip in.

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