“I cleaned up my diet, but I am still gaining fat!”
“My diet has never been this healthy, yet I am still fat. I must have a slow metabolism!”
“I am following a strict nutrition plan that was designed for me by (insert nutritionist/trainer here” and I still can’t manage to lose body fat!”
Do any of these thoughts sound familiar? I mean, come on, we’ve all thought/said some variation of the above statement before. You can admit it, it’s okay. This article was inspired by a conversation I had with one of my best friends last night. He happened to be eating a healthy meal while asking me about lifting, dieting and losing body fat. What you are about to read was mainly inspired by that conversation as well as my observation of his eating habits. So, you should thank him for this post!
One of the most widespread mistakes that people make is underestimating how many calories they’re eating. This is especially true when you put together a diet plan in hopes of creating a caloric deficit and thus lose body fat. Quite frankly, in 90% of cases, this dieting mistake is unintentional. Regardless of whether it’s intentional or unintentional, the end result is the same: you either gain more fat or you stay fat!
Nowadays, underestimating caloric intake is very easy due to markets being flooded with processed and junk food. Food that is so calorie-dense it would make our ancestors fat overnight! This is also augmented by the fact that our lifestyles are more fast-paced than ever. We have jobs and schools to go to. We must pick up our kids from school, do grocery shopping, run errands…etc. and by the time you finish everything you’re doing, you are either starving or too tired/lazy to cook your own food. So, what happens? For the sake of convenience, you end up eating out or ordering a delivery. Simple! I mean, it’s still food, right?! RIGHT?! Yes, food is essentially food, but here is how you could easily end up eating much more than you had planned. And even if you don’t eat that “much”, you could easily surpass your planned caloric intake easily. And as you should know by now, losing fat/weight is all about creating a caloric deficit. There is no way around it. Your calories in must be less than the calories you expend.
Preparation is key
You see how happy this chef looks? He is happy because he is making you fat! Well, unintentionally. You may think you deserve some credit for ordering food from a healthy restaurant as opposed to eating at McDonald’s, and you do! To an extent! Ultimately, improving your body composition is all about making better food choices. However, when you eat out, you have NO CONTROL over how the food is prepared. You may have ordered grilled chicken to eliminate consuming excess calories from oil and other additives used during food preparation, but the restaurant’s chefs don’t give a crap what you want! They may add a bit of oil to your savory “clean” grilled chicken breast and unintentionally boost your meal’s caloric content by a few hundred calories that you hadn’t planned for! Let’s look at an example of what you think you are eating vs. what you are really eating:
Your order: Garden salad, grilled chicken breast (let’s say, 200 grams) and a side of rice (100 grams, cooked)
Your order’s caloric content (depends on amounts, of course):
Garden salad ~ 40 calories
200 grams grilled chicken breast = 300 calories
Side of rice (100 grams, cooked) = 112 calories
Total = 452 calories
What you really got:
Garden salad with a touch of olive oil (For example, 1 tablespoon) = 40 + 120 (from olive oil) = 160 calories
200 grams grilled chicken breast with a tablespoon of oil to keep it moist and add some flavor = 300 + 120 = 420 kcals.
Side of rice that is prepared using oil instead of parboiled/steamed = 112 + 120 (conservative estimate based on 1 tbsp. of oil -usually more-) = 232 calories!
Total = 812 calories!
Compare what you really ate vs what you had planned for and you will get my point. You pretty much ended up eating almost double the calories without even knowing!
This causes big problems in the shape of a domino effect because you discretely consumed about 400 calories than you thought you did. And if you plan on eating 2500 calories that day, you will have ended up eating 2900 calories instead! Given that you actually calculated the rest of your meals’ caloric intake properly and did not underestimate how much you ate. Thus, this huge margin of error could literally make or break your fat loss progress. Depending on what you are trying to do, you can end up stalling your fat loss progress due to eating more than you should be eating. Or, if you are trying to lean bulk, you could end up eating much more and thus gain fat rapidly!
One might say that in the grand scheme of things 400 calories is not much. Which is somewhat true! But, keep replicating the same mistake on a daily basis and eating X number of calories more than you should be eating, and I promise you that the numbers will add up quicker than you can even imagine. This leads me to my next point.
It’s all in the flavor!
I can’t deny the fact that food is one of life’s pleasures. Syrups, dips, sauces and other condiments are delicious and usually healthy, but they could be discretely making you fat. Let’s look at another meal example:
100 grams grilled chicken and a garden salad.
Total = 150 + 40 = 190 calories
We will assume that whoever made your food did not f*ck it up by adding oil, butter and other calorie-dense food used during food preparation. So, optimistically, your meal’s caloric content is 190 calories.
So far, so good. But, not to rain on your parade, but in addition to your healthy delicious meal, you got the following condiments on the side:
I will be conservative and estimate that you only got 2 tablespoons of each dip/sauce. Realistically, we usually get much more than that amount.
Based on the average caloric content of each dip/sauce, you are looking at the following number of calories:
1 tbsp. of BBQ sauce = 100 calories
1 tbsp. of Tzatziki dip = 50 calories
1 tbsp. of Mayo. = 100 calories
Keep in mind that those numbers are all estimates, and the actual caloric content depends on the ingredients of those sauces/dips.
So, you decide to add the tzatziki dip to your salad (2 tablespoons) for some flavor. Your salad’s new caloric content = 40 + 100 = 140 calories
And, what’s grilled chicken without some mayo and BBQ sauce, right? Your new grilled chicken’s caloric content = 150 + 200 (2 tbsp. mayo) + 200 (BBQ sauce) = 550 calories!
Total = 140 + 550 = 690 calories
Comparing your adjusted meal’s caloric content to your original order >> 690: 190 = 3.63! You just consumed 3.5 more calories than you had planned for!
Adding calorie-dense condiments to your food can cause calories to rack up faster than you might think!
So, combining this example with the first example, you should see how your caloric intake can be easily skewed. You could VERY easily end up eating WAY more than you think you ate.
You are not going to enjoy that meal you just ordered without a nice refreshing soft drink on the side, right? Otherwise, you will have committed a crime! Let’s take the last meal as an example and add a twist to it:
Your meal + soft drink = 690 calories + 200 calories (average caloric content of soft drinks) = 890 calories!
Woah! Like 500 calories just from sauces weren’t enough damage! Now, we further amplified this damage by adding 200 calories more to our delicious meal. YUM!
So, let’s do a quick comparison between what you initially ordered vs. what you ended up consuming:
Initial meal = 190 calories (salad plus grilled chicken)
Final meal = 890 calories.
That’s 700 more calories than you planned for. And as you should know by now, to lose 1 lb. of fat, you need to urn 3500 calories. Doing some quick math:
3500/700 = 1/5. So, you just sabotaged your own progress by gaining 1/5th lb. of fat easily in one meal. Or, if you are trying to lose fat, you delayed your own progress by 1/5th of a pound!
NOTE: things are not white and black like the example above. Not everything you eat will turn into fat. This depends on multiple factors such as: metabolic rate, thermic effect of food, activity level…etc. But the examples above are used to emphasized a certain point: you stall your own progress by discretely eating many more calories than you think you are eating. Eventually, this throws off your calorie-tracking efforts and causes fat loss “plateaus”.
What does all of this have to do with my friend whom originally inspired this topic? Well, he had ordered a nice dish of chicken over rice. However, he ended up covering the whole plate (insane amounts) with BBQ sauce and mayonnaise. I am more than positive he added at least 600 calories more to his plate by just adding these two flavorful condiments. And trust me, this is a conservative estimate. He was enjoying a soft drink on the side as well while asking me about dieting and fat loss. Oh, the irony! This is not to judge him by any means, but it’s to point out a critical flaw that everyone makes when eating out. So, I love my friend for that! Lol.
It’s not a matter of eating “clean” or whatever. Food is food. And most foods are healthy by default. The problem happens when we start discretely eating significantly more than we think. This is an incredibly common mistake that I am sure everyone had made at some point, including myself! Dips, sauces, condiments, how your food was prepared and drinking a nice refreshing beverage on the side can you leave you eating thousands of calories more than you should be eating. And then we wonder why we aren’t losing fat or why we are gaining fat! Well, this is why! The best food you can eat is homemade food that you prepare YOURSELF. This is because you have ultimate control over your food’s caloric content as well as ingredients. Stop being lazy and make your own food. Or if you eat out, skip the sauces, dips and other unnecessary additives that you could live without. If you must add some flavor to your food, we luckily live in an age where calorie-free and low-calorie condiments DO exist. So, add a tiny bit of sauce instead of excessive amounts or ask for low-calorie or calorie-free condiments. Don’t be afraid to ask! Instead of adding Caesar dressing to your salad, ask for lite Caesar. Skip the mayo and add some low-fat yogurt instead…etc. Skip out on the soft drink and drink some water instead. Or, get the diet version of your favorite drink instead. Make smart food choices, keep a close eye on what you are eating and you will transform your body.
Oh, and your “metabolism” isn’t slow. You are fine, trust me.