So many people fall into the trap of thinking that it’s possible to out-exercise a bad diet. Whether it’s an extra weights session, or smashing out kilometres on the treadmill at the gym, plenty of folks fall into the trap of thinking: if I do a little more, I’ll finally become skinny.
Sadly, science has revealed multiple times that is not the case.
Whether you like it or not, how much you eat – and the quality of what you eat – is critical to losing that spare tyre around the middle. Sounds pretty easy, until you find out that you are downright terrible at judging the quality of your diet.
Humans are terrible at estimating calories.
To put it simply, to lose weight we have to eat less energy than we expend. That theory isn’t always perfect, but it’s a good place to start when it comes to working out how much food you need to eat.
The trouble is, without tracking every last morsel that passes your lips, eye-balling how many calories you’re eating is extremely hard to do.
In 2007, researchers from the University of Wollongong discovered that almost a third of us consistently under-report how much calories we eat, preferring to note that we had just two spoonfuls of ice-cream when in fact we had half the tub.
One factor that many people struggle with is individualising a diet to their specific needs, because it’s all too easy to grab a fad diet from the internet and follow it blindly.
Knowledge about how macronutrients – that is, carbohydrates, proteins, fats (throw alcohol in there too), contribute as pieces of a pie to their total energy intake is crucial. Individual nutrition needs vary based upon height, weight, gender and physical activity and other lifestyle or disease factors.
Are we deliberately lying to ourselves?
Unfortunately, when it comes to tracking what we eat – and having the knowledge that someone else will look at your food diary – there’s an enormous emotional component involved.
Whether it’s feeling ashamed about smashing a whole packet of Tim Tams, or only writing down what we eat for main meals because “snacks don’t matter”, many people are guilty of making their diets appear better on paper than they actually are.
That begs the question: are we deliberately lying to ourselves about what we eat? Or are we subconsciously protecting our own emotional state by under-reporting just how many drinks we had last night?
The answer is a little bit of both – but the most important part is not to give up on yourself.
I would identify this as a learned subconscious behaviour. It all comes down to attention and mindful eating.
It’s easy to take your eyes off the prize if we are not making nutrition an important health focus – it’s easy to forget what we have eaten. The good news is these behaviours can be challenged.
How to get yourself back on track
Thankfully, being unable to recognise the difference between a varied, nutritious diet and one that appears to be nutritious doesn’t have to be a life sentence of salads and shakes.
If you’re ready to be honest about what you eat (even if it’s only to yourself), then you don’t need to undergo some kind of food intervention – you simply need to take things slow and think about how you feel after different meals.
I recommend keeping a food diary (especially if it’s only for your eyes) and avoiding falling down the rabbit hole of Googling different diets – because what worked for someone else might not work for you.
Nutrition can be complex and Google searches can present wild and inaccurate information. We know from scientific studies that many people underreport their food intake, some by about 25 percent, so writing a food diary can be an excellent reality check.
There are so many distractions pulling as away from our health these days. Optimal nutrition is something so powerful but we need to check in often to ensure we are living as our best versions of ourselves.