8 Sources of Sneaky Calories That Can Undermine Weight Loss

9 sources of sneaky calories that can undermine weight loss

If you feel like you’ve been working hard, logging your food, and taking more steps, but the needle on the scale still isn’t moving—don’t get frustrated. Just take a closer look at your Fitbit food log: Research shows that people tend to underreport calorie intake.

“Honestly, most people don’t understand how many calories they really eat,” says Sandra Arevalo, MPH, RDN, CDN, CDE, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Food logging is a great place to start. But you need to be specific, so you realize where your calories are coming from. Even healthy foods can hide a surprising amount.”

From the extra sugar in your smoothies to the bacon bits covering your salad, here are eight sneaky sources of calories that might be undermining your weight loss goals. 

1. Coffee Fixings

Do you track what you put in your morning mug? The struggle to count calories before you’re caffeinated is real. One study found that people who add cream, sugar, or anything else to their coffee are stirring in an average of 69 calories. That might not seem like much, but if it’s a daily habit, it can add up.

2. Smoothie Ingredients

You probably already know it’s worth saying no thanks to soda, which can contain 155 calories a can. But you might be surprised to know that smoothies can be just as bad, and sometimes even worse, especially if they contain juice, syrup, sorbet, ice cream, or any other sugary surprises. “Unless you can see exactly what they’re putting in the blender, don’t do it!” advises Avelar. Steer clear of groovy shops, and make your own smoothies at home, with real fruit.

3. Salad Mix-Ins

“Of all the sneaky surprises, salads are the worst!” says Avelar. “A salad can contain more than a thousand calories—that’s more than a burger-and-fries combo.” Make sure you log hidden fats and crispy toppings: 2 tablespoons of creamy dressing can add 129 calories, 1 strip of bacon 54 calories, 2 tablespoons of parmesan 42 calories, and ¼ cup croutons 31 calories.

4. Sandwich Toppings

A sandwich can be a smart lunch, but it all depends how you stack it up. “Cold cuts, cheese, mayo, and dressings are all layers of fat,” explains Avelar. And delis tend to pile it on, pushing portion sizes. Weigh this: 3 ounces of lean turkey is only 93 calories, but 5 ounces of pastrami is 209 calories. That’s before you add 2 slices of Swiss at 223 calories, and a swipe of mayo at 94 calories. Suddenly your lunch just got a lot more meaty.

5. Spoonfuls of Peanut Butter

Nuts offer amazing benefits, but again, they’re rich in calories. If you’re guilty of sneaking an extra spoonful of peanut butter, that could be nearly a hundred calories a bite! The same goes for seeds, so before you treat chia seeds like they’re pudding, measure and log what’s going in that mason jar.

6. Alcohol

Having a glass of red wine is totally healthy, right? Yes, it could benefit your heart. But a lot of people don’t think to log what they drink, so before you put your burgundy goggles on, do the math: A glass of wine is more than 100 calories, and a can of beer is more than 150 calories. And if one glass leads to another, and that leads to chips and chocolate, well, you can see how quickly those numbers rack up.

7. “Bites” of Food

When you pack lunches, do you munch on your kids’ crusts? When you go out to eat, are you finishing your friend’s fries? When you’re running through the grocery store, do you grab every free sample? Note it in your app. Food logging may be tedious at the best of times, but you’re only cheating yourself if you omit the nibbles and bites you take throughout the day.

8. Estimating Portions

If you start getting lax with portion sizes, that’s an easy way to up calories. Prime example: carbs at dinner. A cup of pasta is already around 200 calories, so if you end up sneaking a little extra, by making it a heaping cup, going back for seconds, or eating a couple of bites over the sink while putting away leftovers, it can hurt your counts. That’s equally true for healthy whole grains and starchy vegetables, like brown rice, quinoa, and sweet potatoes. Pull out your measuring cups if you want the real counts.

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