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Unveiling Sneaky Calories: A Closer Look at Weight Loss Strategies

Published on: May 14, 2024

When it comes to embarking on a weight loss journey, it’s all about calories in versus calories out, right? But let’s be real, it’s not always easy figuring out where those sneaky calories are hiding. It’s kind of like trying to save money—first, you gotta know where you’re spending it. From groceries to Netflix subscriptions, every little expense adds up. And guess what? The same goes for your calorie budget. Now, I’m not saying you need to scrutinize every little thing you eat, track it and get caught up in all the numbers (calories, fat, carbs, etc.), but taking a magnifying glass to some of your food choices and habits might open up your eyes to really how much you’re eating, and give you some insight on why your weight loss isn’t progressing like you thought it would. 

Getting Real About Sneaky Calories

Just as you’d check on your financial expenditures, dissecting your caloric intake every now and then could help you reach your weight goals. From groceries and dining out, to everyday expenses like gas and utilities, every detail counts. Similarly, when evaluating your diet, take a peek at sauces, beverages, and those extra bites that often slip under the radar. Now you don’t have to do this all the time or long-term, but aim to check-in with yourself every few months, or when you notice other big changes in your life, routine or eating habits, that could have veered you off track without really thinking about it.

1. Sauces: The Silent Saboteurs

Ever stop to think about what’s lurking in your sauces? Yep, those innocent-looking condiments can be major calorie culprits. Think mayo, ketchup, butter or oil you use in cooking, salad dressings—they’re delicious (and can 100% be part of your diet), but they can seriously beef up your meal’s calorie count by a few hundred calories without even realizing it. So, take a peek at those labels in your fridge. Ask yourself, “Is this sauce worth it?” Sometimes, swapping out for alternatives like hot sauce or salsa can save you some calories without sacrificing flavour. You’ve probably heard of asking for your dressings on the side when ordering at a restaurant, but do you do that at home? Or just douse your food? Try measuring out how much you’re adding to your meals just as an eye-opener. Lower calorie swaps would be things like:

  1. Mustard: With virtually no calories, mustard adds a tangy kick to sandwiches, salads, and marinades without packing on extra calories.
  2. Salsa: Whether it’s homemade or store-bought, salsa is a flavourful, low-calorie option that pairs well with everything from chips to grilled chicken.
  3. Hot sauce: Spice up your meals with hot sauce, which adds heat and flavor without adding significant calories. Just be mindful of the sodium content.
  4. Vinegar: From balsamic to apple cider vinegar, these tangy options can enhance the flavour of salads, vegetables, and marinades with minimal calories.
  5. Greek yogurt: Swap out high-calorie mayonnaise for Greek yogurt in recipes like dips, dressings, and sauces. It adds creaminess and protein without the extra fat and calories.
  6. Hummus: Made from chickpeas, hummus is a nutritious and satisfying dip that’s lower in calories than creamy options like ranch or cheese dips.
  7. Guacamole: Avocado-based guacamole is rich in healthy fats and nutrients while still being lower in calories compared to some traditional dips and spreads.
  8. Tzatziki: This Greek yogurt and cucumber-based sauce is packed with flavor and works well as a dip or topping for grilled meats and vegetables.
  9. Lemon juice: Fresh lemon juice adds brightness and acidity to dishes without adding extra calories. Use it as a dressing for salads or a finishing touch for grilled meats and seafood.
  10. Low-calorie dressings: Look for store-bought dressings labeled as “light” or “low-calorie,” or make your own using ingredients like vinegar, lemon juice, herbs, and spices to keep the calorie count in check.

Another option would be to see if you can flavour your food in other ways, like spices and herbs. 

2. Liquid Calories: Sip Smartly

It’s easy to overlook the caloric content of beverages. While a cup of orange juice might seem harmless, its calorie count can rival that of multiple oranges, especially if it’s not 100% fruit juice. Don’t get me started on “blends”, “cocktails”, “punches”, etc. – options that have added sugar in them. Take into account your regular drink choices, including those indulgent treats from coffee shops. Maybe you have a special treat at Tim Hortons or Starbucks on the weekend that you love, but don’t realize it’s adding 400 calories to your day (and that doesn’t include the donut to go along with it). Consider downsizing your favourite specialty drink, or explore a lower-calorie alternative that still hits the spot. 

Infusing your water with fruit and herbs is a fantastic way to add flavour without extra calories or sugar. Here are some refreshing combinations to try:

  1. Citrus Mint: Add slices of lemon, lime, and orange along with a few sprigs of fresh mint to your water for a bright and invigorating flavour.
  2. Cucumber Basil: Thinly slice cucumber and add it to your water along with fresh basil leaves for a refreshing and herbaceous twist.
  3. Berry Blast: Mix together a handful of strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries for a sweet and tangy infusion. You can lightly crush the berries to release their juices before adding them to the water.
  4. Watermelon Rosemary: Add chunks of fresh watermelon and a sprig of rosemary to your water for a subtly sweet and aromatic beverage.
  5. Pineapple Coconut: Combine chunks of fresh pineapple with a splash of coconut water for a tropical and hydrating treat. You can also add a few shreds of coconut flesh for extra flavour.
  6. Mango Ginger: Slice up ripe mango and add it to your water along with a few slices of fresh ginger for a refreshing and slightly spicy infusion.
  7. Apple Cinnamon: Thinly slice apples and add them to your water along with a cinnamon stick for a comforting and fragrant drink, perfect for cooler weather.
  8. Strawberry Lemon Basil: Combine sliced strawberries, lemon slices, and fresh basil leaves for a refreshing and vibrant infusion that’s perfect for summer.
  9. Peach Mint: Add slices of ripe peach and a few sprigs of mint to your water for a sweet and refreshing beverage that’s perfect for hot days.
  10. Grapefruit Rosemary: Slice up grapefruit and add it to your water along with a sprig of rosemary for a zesty and aromatic infusion.

You can even use things like Crystal Light or other products when travelling. Less “natural” compared to the list above, but an option nonetheless!

3. Mindless Bites: The Secret Saboteur

We’ve all been there—mindlessly nibbling while cooking, polishing off the kids’ leftovers because you don’t want to waste food, or finishing the bag/box of a food product because what’s left isn’t considered “enough” for a snack later on. Those little bites might not seem like much, but they can really add up. Take rice, for example. Ever catch yourself sneaking forkfuls while it cooks? Guilty as charged! Or perhaps as you’re packing school lunches, you grab yourself a snack pack from the pantry cupboard too. 

Many times, these mindless bites are when you’re not sitting down. Like when you’re in your pantry testing out what you want for a snack. There’s still a difference between taking a handful of chocolate chips to try to curb a sweet craving, rather than unwrapping a piece of chocolate and enjoying it – even if they are similar in the amount of calories. Same thing with spoonfuls of peanut butter or nutella. 

But it’s those unconscious munching moments that over time, can derail your progress. So, tune in to when and why you’re snacking. Morning, afternoon, snack time, when cooking, evenings… and ask yourself when is it worth it and when is it not. Identify the “why”. If you’re taking extra bites is it because it’s delicious or because you’re super hungry? Recognize where this behaviour comes from. Is it because you only had a banana for an afternoon snack? Noticing these extra bites and when they’re happening can help you identify what strategies you need to curb these bites effectively. 

For some, noticing these extra bites while cooking can mean purposely putting less on your plate once you’re plating your meal. Or, it might look like snacking on fresh berries as you’re meal prepping and packing school lunches so you’re not reaching for Welch’s gummies or other snack packs that you’re adding to the kids’ lunch boxes. 

This third ‘sneaky calorie’ tip requires more awareness and habit change compared to the other two. You need to devote time and reflection before changing. Identify why it happens and what are your triggers (is it hunger, emotion-based, feelings of deprivation, time of day, etc.). Work on reducing/getting rid of triggers, and with time, develop a new habit. 

Embracing Change, One Bite at a Time

Getting rid of those sneaky calories isn’t just about awareness—it’s about making lasting changes. Figure out what triggers your snacking habits and work on swapping them out for healthier alternatives. And hey, it’s all about progress, not perfection. So, next time you’re tempted to reach for that extra sauce or mindless bite, pause and ask yourself, “Is this really worth it?”, “Do I actually want this?”, “Am I hungry?”, or “Is there a better option that will still satisfy me?”. P.s., you’re allowed to say yes to high-calorie sauces, drinks and bites if it brings you joy at that moment! Don’t feel like you need to say no each time. But, with a little mindfulness and some savvy swaps, you can get further along with your weight loss goals without sacrificing flavour or fun.

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Kaitlyn is a registered dietitian and fitness enthusiast dedicated to helping busy women improve their health through sustainable habits.

She’s seen firsthand how difficult it can be to balance a demanding schedule with a healthy lifestyle. That’s why she is passionate about empowering women with the knowledge and skills they need to prioritize their health, even when life gets hectic.

She aims to spread the word about the power of habits and to make healthier living more manageable for busy women who are trying to do all of the things, like herself.

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