“The human body is an amazingly fine-tuned machine, which is one of the reasons that eating a few bites here and there — 50 to 100 calories — can add on extra pounds over time,” says Rachel K. Johnson, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont.
There have been numerous studies about the underreporting of energy intake — that is, what we report we eat, versus what we actually do eat. Various studies have shown that people who are overweight or obese underestimate how much they eat by as much as 47% (when specifically asked by researchers to keep track). Even registered dietitians — trained professionals — slightly underreport what they eat, according to a recent study at Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
In fact, just eating an extra 100 calories per day could add up to 10 pounds gained in a year. The problem is, it’s difficult to keep track of what we nibble when cooking, cleaning up, eating food off of other people’s plates, sampling at the grocery store, or even grabbing a Hershey’s kiss from the communal bowl at the office — unfortunately, it all counts.
The other problem is that we may think we eat a lot less than we actually do. “Most people grossly underestimate how much they’re truly eating — they simply don’t know what a real serving size is,” says New York City Nutritionist Carey Clifford, M.S., R.D. “A simple nibble or 2 a day could mean the difference between weight loss and weight gain over time.”
Those who underreport what they eat conveniently leave out what experts call “sin” foods — things such as cakes, sugars, fat, savory snacks, cheese, regular soft drinks, and high fat spreads and condiments. “People have a hard time acknowledging to themselves or to others that they ate something that is not considered ‘healthy,'” says Clifford. “It’s not that they purposely leave out the foods — they just don’t want to believe that it was significant.”
“Another major culprit of underreporting is the amount we drink — we just don’t seem to comprehend that a soda here and a glass of juice there can add up to be significant in terms of energy intake,” adds Amy Subar, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., a researcher at the National Cancer Institute.
So what’s one of the best ways to lose weight? “Eat what you actually SAY you eat,” remarks Dr. Johnson.
Here are a few suggestions to avoid the “nibble” trap:
How much can those little nibbles add up to? Here are a few “nibbles” or “just ones”:
PASSING THROUGH THE KITCHEN
EATING WHILE OUT AND ABOUT
WHILE COOKING OR CLEANING
EATING OFF SOMEONE ELSE’S PLATE