What To Do When You’re Eating Healthy, Exercising, and Not Seeing Results

It’s a common issue, and about as frustrating as it gets. You’re being mindful of your food choices, avoiding junk, exercising regularly, and still you aren’t seeing the results you expect. Maybe you aren’t seeing any results at all!

There’s nothing more discouraging than feeling like you’re doing everything right, only to be met with nothing to show for your effort. Fortunately, because I’ve seen this problem so often in my clients over the years, I’ve got two easy solutions to share with you. 

Make no mistake, if you are making healthy food choices and exercising, but still not seeing results, it means somewhere along the way you are eating more than you realize. It’s an easy mistake to make.

I call them “invisible calories.” A handful of something here or a taste of something there. Maybe just a bite, a spoonful, or a taste. We eat these foods but don’t think they’re worth logging because, “it can’t be that much anyway.” The problem is that we’re often wrong. In one singular event this might be true, but often we allow ourselves to do this multiple times a day. It can add up fast.

Here you’ll get the strategies I use with my clients to eliminate these invisible calories and start seeing results again.

Track Everything

I want to share a story about peanut butter. It’s delicious, but that’s not the whole story. I used to buy the large, 48oz family-size, jars of peanut butter. It’d take me about a week and a half to finish. (By myself, of course.)

After a few weeks I was getting suspicious. I had been tracking my food as usual but not seeing the steady weight loss I would normally expect for the nutrition plan I was following. It seemed my weight wouldn’t budge. What gives?

I decided to look back to figure out what was going on. (One of the benefits of food logging is having a record to look at later.) During this time I had developed a habit of using just the tip of a spoon to scoop some peanut butter for a little taste, every time I was passing through the kitchen. It seems harmless, right? I mean, how many calories can such a small amount of peanut butter really add to the grand scheme of my day or the week at large?

The problem wasn’t the quantity in any particular spoon tasting, it was the frequency with which I participated in this new habit. It was happening throughout the day, multiple times, every day of the week.

In a 48oz jar of peanut butter there are 32 servings (2 tbsp), with each serving containing 190 calories. After reviewing my food logs over the lifespan of one of these jars, I found that I had only logged twelve of these servings. “Officially,” I had only consumed twelve servings, but the jar was clearly gone.

That means I consumed an extra twenty servings of peanut butter that had become “invisible calories,” calories I was eating that failed to be accounted for. Over the course of a week that’s an extra 3,800 calories, almost two full days worth, without even realizing it.

This is why tracking everything, no matter how small, is important for ensuring you aren’t actually eating more than you realize. (It’s an easy thing to do.) Foods will often surprise you with how many calories they contain, and keeping a log will help you identify whether your “harmless handfuls” are actually holding you back. 

Here’s another example: I have a client who had gotten relaxed about her logging. Admittedly, she’d been tracking for awhile and has a pretty good grasp on the calorie content of most things she eats. Yet, she wasn’t seeing any progress and didn’t know why.

I encouraged her to sit down and track everything she ate at a recent dinner party she had attended. She ate well: a small piece of steak, minimal potatoes, lots of veggies, and limited herself to not more than two beers. She even fasted that day so she had extra calories to spend. She was convinced everything was going to be under her goal for the day.

After sitting down and tracking everything, she realized each beer had 250 calories and drinking two meant a third of her calories were already gone. The steak wasn’t the leanest cut, that took up another third. She had a few “cheesy bites” before dinner, and three of those had a whopping 140 calories.

In the end, her one meal of the day put her over her daily goal. Imagine how far over she’d have been if she had eaten regular meals before this? It is incredibly easy to over-consume food, even healthy food. Tracking everything you eat diligently is a key habit in order to avoid invisible calories halting your progress. Here a two quick tips for logging:

1) Log before you take your first bite. This way it’s done and you can accurately track the portions while you’re looking at them.

2) Err on the side of over-logging calories. If you estimate more than you actually eat, you’ll definitely fall within your calorie goal. Underestimating will send you over, quick.

Buy A Food Scale

To illustrate the power of weighing your food, let me tell you a story about oatmeal. (A healthy food, right?)

I love oatmeal, especially overnight oats, and I eat it almost daily. For those who are unfamiliar, a serving of oatmeal is 150 calories for a 1/2 cup serving—forty grams worth of oats. I would usually eat two servings at a time (sometimes twice a day), and would use a measuring cup to make sure I was accurate. Hey, I was tracking it, right?

I ran into the same problem as before, hard work and diligent tracking but little or no results. I was even being sure I was good about tracking everything. Still no results!

I decided to buy a food scale one day to help increase the accuracy of my tracking. While I bought it primarily for meat (it’s hard to fit in a measuring cup), I was curious how accurate my “1/2 cup” servings of oats actually were. So I compared. I placed an empty bowl on the food scale and poured in my 1/2 cup serving of oats. (Remember, this should have come out to forty grams.)

The scale said sixty grams! That is 50% more oats than I intended, masked as a single serving. This happened because, like many people, when I use a measuring cup I turn it into a “bag sale”—everything you can fit in the bag at one low price. I assumed if it was a 1/2 cup per serving, that meant whatever I could possibly fit in the measuring cup counted as one serving. (Let’s just say it was a very rounded scoop, not a level scoop.)

Making this mistake twice per day meant that I was consuming an extra serving of oats without realizing it; another 150 of these invisible calories. That adds up to an extra 1,050 calories across one week!

I’ll tell you another story about one of my clients, whom we recently ran into this problem with. He was making good food choices, great food choices actually, but still seeing minimal progress. I encouraged him to invest in a food scale. (I say invest, but they’re super cheap.)

He was regularly eating salmon for dinner, and was logging one filet of salmon at around 300 calories. Nothing out of the ordinary here, that’s within the ballpark for something like this. He might have two of those for dinner.

Then we had him weigh the salmon. Sure, he was eating one filet, that filet just happen to weigh close to one pound! You bet he was satisfied after that meal, but he was also eating over 1,000 calories per filet, and sometimes he’d have two! That is almost an entire day’s worth of calories that is being overlooked. It’s a miracle he wasn’t gaining any weight, let alone losing any.

If you’re tracking diligently, but still not seeing the results you want, I would definitely get a food scale and start weighing everything you eat. This will increase the accuracy of your logs and help prevent any incidents of these invisible calories. Here are two food scale tips:

1) Weigh in grams as much as possible. It’ll be more accurate, and just about everything has a gram measurement for servings.

2) All nutrition labels show a serving size in both volume (cups, oz, etc.) and weight (grams) measurements. The weight will always be in parentheses.

3) You don’t need to spend more than $20 on a food scale.

If you feel discouraged because you’ve been doing everything right, are doing it consistently, and still aren’t seeing results, then I urge you to follow my advice using the above strategies. Remember, if you aren’t losing weight you are eating too much. These strategies can help you figure out where that’s happening.

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