The MOST frustrating thing when it comes to dieting is doing the work, hitting your macros consistently, and not making the progress you know should be.
We call this “diet purgatory” because you’re spending time and mental energy dieting, but not actually eating in enough of a deficit to lose the weight.
It’s a really common problem - ask anyone who’s in this situation and they’ll probably say...
“I’m doing everything right, I just don’t understand why I’m not losing weight.”
The primary reason this happens (and the thing we check first with our online clients)?
You're not tracking your food as accurately as you think you are.
Tracking inaccuracies can be a touchy subject for some people, because it could feel like an accusation, or in a lot of cases it just feels frustrating because you know you are measuring and tracking your food.
The thing is, in these cases it’s the sneaky extras that you don’t realize you’re having, or don’t think they really matter or add up to much.
Let's look at the most common culprits for "I'm hitting my macros, but still not losing fat."
CULPRIT #1: BITES, LICKS, AND TASTES
Bites, licks, and tastes are one of the most common reasons you're stuck in diet purgatory.
On paper, you’re doing all the right things:
- Pre-planning your meals so you know you’ll hit your macros
- Preparing and eating the food you planned on
- Working hard in the gym.
The thing you’re not accounting for in your food log?
That extra cracker you have after you measure them out, then your kid’s half sandwich crust, those couple chips at the restaurant, or the last bit of peanut butter stuck to the spoon.
These are the little hidden calories that don’t increase fullness or satisfaction in your diet, but they do add up to significant enough calories to stall your fat loss.
It takes a 3500 calorie deficit over the course of a week to lose a pound that week. Divided over 7 days, that's a 500 calorie per day deficit. (Maintenance is a range, and the body doesn’t always work perfectly like this, but for simplicity’s sake let’s use this example.)
You’re in a 500 calorie deficit, losing 1 pound per week, then things start to slow down. You start to lose that motivation you started out with and get a little lax on the extra BLTs (bites, licks and tastes).
They seem harmless enough so you don’t feel like you need to track it.
But let's calculate how those add up over the day...
This isn’t at all out of the realm of realistic for one day’s worth of bites, licks, and tastes.
You could include all of these if not more without even realizing you’re doing it. This is a big problem among parents, whose kids will never finish all their food because that’s what kids do, and parents have a hard time seeing a bit of food thrown away.
These add up to a total of 205-245 calories per day (Not to mention it adds zero protein or micronutrient value).
That wipes out a shocking half of the planned calorie deficit for the day.
This means you'll lose (at most) 1/2 pound per week, which can easily be covered up by a little extra water retention and lead to massive frustration with your lack of progress.
THE BLT SOLUTION
The best solution for avoiding the calories from bites, licks, and tastes is to cut them out completely.
They’re not adding any value to your diet and you probably don’t want to willingly trade 2 pounds of progress for the month (24 pounds in a year) to have that extra cracker off your kid’s plate.
The biggest factor here is awareness. Once you can see how these things are affecting your progress you’ll probably decide to cut them out on your own.
Another way of accounting for these is tracking them before eating them.
In this case, you’ll probably realize you end up needing to adjust your other meals so much that it’s not worth it, but at the very least you’ll at least know you’re accounting for all the calories you’re eating and continue your progress.
CULPRIT #2: TOPPINGS, CONDIMENTS, & DRESSINGS
All of the extras you use to spice up your meal are counting toward your daily total whether you log them or not.
We're talking about...
- The pan spray you use
- The salad dressing
- The sprinkle of cheese you use
- Even the sugar-free sauces and syrups you use.
This is how a salad with grilled chicken at home can be 200 calories, but a similar type of salad at a restaurant ends up being 1000+ calories.
Let’s take a look at the calories in some examples of these add-ons that can sometimes be left out of the tracking app:
- 3 Seconds of pan spray = 30 calories
- 3 TBL Bolthouse salad dressing = 60 calories
- 10g Low fat cheese = 30 calories
- 2 TBL Pb2 = 50 calories
- 3 TBL Sugar-free teriyaki = 45 calories
- ¼ cup sugar free syrup = 35 calories
- 3 TBL Sugar-free coffee creamer = 45 calories
If you notice, these are all “diet” products, so they are even easier to consider free calories that really won’t add up or matter.
It’s easy to add all of these over the course of the day in an attempt to make your food tastier and make the diet more enjoyable.
If you’re having all of these and not measuring them or even counting them whatsoever, that adds an extra 295 calories, enough to wipe out ⅔ of your calorie deficit for the day, and enough to add up to 30 pounds difference over the course of the year. (Again, the body does adjust and this isn’t a perfect equation, but it’s a big difference compounded over time!)
THE TOPPINGS, CONDIMENTS, & DRESSINGS SOLUTION
Again... TRACK EVERYTHING.
Even when something doesn’t add up to a significant number of calories on its own, weigh it and track it.
If you eat it, your body tracks it, so if you want to avoid spinning your wheels, you need to get a very clear picture of what your body is actually getting for energy.
If something says on the package it doesn’t have any calories, or says it has “<5” calories, take a look at the serving size.
Oftentimes it’s an unrealistically small serving size, like ⅕ second spray for pan spray.
Make sure you’re extrapolating that out to what you’ll actually use to get an accurate entry for your food log.
Track your day ahead of time using the amount of these types of extras you know you’ll want to have, then measure and stick to that amount.
CULPRIT #3: TRACKING INACCURACIES & ESTIMATING
If you’ve made it this far in the blog, you’ll probably guess what I’m about to say:
Estimating and tracking inaccurately can add up to a lot of room for error.
This one can possibly be the most sneaky of all the previously mentioned offenders, because you can fool yourself into thinking...
“Well, I AM entering it into MyFitnessPal and tracking everything I’m eating, so I’m good…”
This is personally the most convicting portion of this for me.
I know that when I’m at maintenance I can estimate portions of some things that aren’t calorie dense: chicken breast, green veggies, condiments like sugar-free sauces and salsa.
But when I enter a fat loss phase I have seen the difference it makes between continuing to get “close enough” on those items and actually measuring everything out in grams. (The difference is literally pounds per month of fat loss.)
It takes very minimal extra effort to weigh those extra few items, especially because you’ll already be using the scale for the more calorie-dense foods, and the payoff you get in return is disproportionately positive.
THE SOLUTION TO TRACKING INACCURACY
→ Weigh most things in grams.
Grams are the most accurate unit of measurement. If you’re just starting out in macro tracking this might feel overwhelming, but use your MyFitnessPal log, the food labels, and the “tare” function on your scale to make things as simple as possible.
If your food has a packaging, it will tell you the serving size, and usually has (g) out to the side - that’s your serving size in grams.
If your food doesn’t have a package, for example a sweet potato, find that item in your MyFitnessPal (or food logging app of choice), and scroll through the measurement units until you get to grams.
[MyFitnessPal tip: If it has a green checkmark next to it, that means it’s been double checked and it’s more likely to be correct.]
→ Using the "tare" function on your food scale is life-changing.
Ok, that may be a bit of an exaggeration... but it will save you lots of extra time and dirty dishes.
How to use it:
Let’s say you’re making a salad with a few ingredients on top. The salad is using the following ingredients:
- 2 Cups salad mix, 85g
- 3 Mini Bell peppers, 125g
-60g black bean salsa
- 30g guacamole
- 3oz cooked chicken breast
- 14g pistachios
STEP 1: Place your salad bowl on the scale. Hit “tare” and it will say zero grams.
STEP 2: Add your salad until it says 85g. Hit Tare again, the scale will say zero.
STEP 3: Add peppers until it says 125g. Hit Tare, it will say zero.
STEP 4: Do the same for salsa, guacamole, and pistachios.
STEP 5: Hit Unit, it will say ounces now instead of grams.
STEP 6: Add cooked chicken until it says 3.0 ounces.
This allows you to build your salad all in one bowl without using a separate dish for individual ingredients in order to measure.
For some foods where some will stick to the spoon, or where you’re not building your meal in a serving dish, you can put your entire container of that food on the scale.
I use this method most often for peanut butter, because I won’t be able to accurately measure what comes out on the spoon.
For this method you’ll put your entire container of peanut butter on the scale, then hit tare so that it says zero. Let’s say you’re taking out one full serving which is 32 grams. You’ll scoop the peanut butter out until the scale says “-32”, then you’ll know you’ve taken out 32 grams.
→ Weigh Meat In Ounces
Weighing meat can be confusing, so the most important factor to remember is just consistency.
If you want to be the most accurate, weigh meat raw and thawed. If you want to weigh it cooked because you’re preparing for a family, or bulk cooking, weigh it cooked and track it cooked.
Most importantly, whichever way you do it, do it that way consistently.
If you’re weighing your meat for today’s lunch raw, then weighing it cooked tomorrow, then estimating how much it should weigh cooked based off of water lost during cooking the next day but logging it all as raw...that’s when the big discrepancies show up.
Weighing raw: This is the most straight forward because it’s entered into MyFitnessPal as raw as the default. If you’re weighing chicken breast for example, you can just weigh out your portion raw, search it in MyFitnessPal, and find an entry for chicken breast.
Weighing cooked: If you do cook a batch of meat you can weigh your meat out cooked. Make sure when doing that you are searching for it as cooked in MyFitnessPal.
There are even entries for different cooking methods (boiled vs. baked vs. grilled). Just make sure your entry is consistent.
If you’re logging a batch of grilled chicken as grilled chicken, use that same entry for the next day when you’re eating from that same batch of grilled chicken.
"IS ALL OF THE REALLY NECESSARY? SEEMS OBSESSIVE."
If you wanted to save up a substantial amount of money in 3 months, and your current habit is to spend as much as you want however you want, would you need to accurately track you're spending?
Learning where all the extra calories in your diet are coming from is important information.
You could be unknowingly adding hundreds of calories and adding weeks if not years to your dieting life.
Our goal is to help you learn how to diet efficiently, and empower you with the knowledge to do so without frustration.
Your body is tracking everything...every bite, lick, taste, and extra gram whether you choose to be aware of them or not.
The thing to realize:
When you're done dieting, and the goal is simply maintenance or building, you don't have to be this precise with your measuring.
But if you want to get your diet done and lose the fat efficiently so that you can get back to maintenance or building muscle, you need to know what you’re really taking in.
Being very precise and thorough with your tracking is how you can avoid staying in diet purgatory.
If you're ready to fully commit to a customized training & nutrition protocol, and finally take your physique to the next level, click here now to apply for online coaching with us.