The Numbers Don’t Lie: Mistakes in Calorie Tracking

numbers“I am tracking calories, exercising, consistently at a deficit, and I am not losing weight! What am I doing wrong?” 

Does this sound familiar? Have you said this, or heard someone say it? Here’s a picture of what you might be thinking, and then a clue as to what might be the problem.

1) “I am tracking calories.”

Maybe you are using My Fitness Pal, Livestrong, WebMD, FitDay, some other application, pen and paper, or maybe even through a program like Weight Watchers. You track religiously every calorie, bite, lick, and taste. Most of the time you make great food choices, and even when you enjoy a delicious bowl of ice cream, you log those calories. What is important here, is you are actually eating food, and hopefully have a proper balance of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats).

2) “I am exercising.”

You are committed to regular strength training, cardio, group exercise, or whatever your flavor of working out might be. Maybe you do it because you love it, want to change your body, or maybe you do it so you can burn more calories and eat more food.

3) “I am not losing weight.”

You are consistently doing 1 and 2. You regularly, if not daily, close the day in a calorie deficit, meaning you have expended more calories than your body needs to maintain it’s current weight.  You think you should be losing weight, but you aren’t.

4) “What am I doing wrong?”

If you want to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week, you need to burn 500 to 1,000 calories more than you consume each day, through a lower calorie diet and regular exercise. The reality is, the numbers do not lie. So, the problem is most likely with your numbers, which is likely one of two errors:

Are you really tracking your food calories correctly? Are you accurately measuring your portions?


Are you overestimating how many calories you burn during exercise?

Overestimating Calories Burned

In my observation, this is the biggest error that people make in tracking calories. They overestimate how many calories they burned during exercise, and then eat food as if they burned calories they didn’t. Therefore, whatever deficit you thought you had, you really don’t. Most exercise calorie calculators are inefficient. They don’t take into factor so many important components of YOUR UNIQUE body, and all of the nuances of your exercise effort. Also, you could be overestimating your exertion level. You felt like that was moderate effort walking your dog, but it was really just a stroll.

Here’s a Solution

If you want to be exact, you need to wear a Heart Rate Monitor during your exercise. This is the most accurate way of knowing how many calories YOU burned during YOUR workout.

All I need is another gadget and something I need to remember to charge, so I try to be a technology minimalist at the gym.

If you want to keep it simple, always err on the very low side of estimated calories burned during exercise. The normal treadmill walker is not burning 800 calories in 30 minutes. I guarantee that. Remember the old adage, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.” Underestimate calories burned for a while and see if your progress changes.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

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