I’m Not Hungry, I’ll Just Pick

by Charles Platkin, PhD

“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:

  • Be aware of your “picking times,” that is, the times you’re most likely to pick at food. Stay away from key “pick areas” such as the kitchen or a buffet table.
  • Avoid leaving candy dishes or bowls of chips and other foods handy.
  • Skip free samples at stores, and stop yourself from picking from other people’s plates.
  • Limit sodas, juices, and other high calorie beverages.

How much can those little nibbles add up to? Here are a few “nibbles” or “just ones”:


  • 4 tablespoons Haagen-Dazs Butter Pecan Ice Cream: 155 calories, 11.5g fat, 10.5g carbs
  • 5 Lay’s Classic Potato Chips: 40 calories, 2.5g fat, 3.75g carbs
  • 1 Oreo Double Stuf cookie: 70 calories, 3.5g fat, 9.5g carbs
  • 10 Rold Gold Classic Tiny Twists Pretzels: 65 calories, 0.6g fat, 14g carbs
  • A handful of Quaker 100% Natural Cereal (granola) with oats, honey, and raisins: 109 calories, 3.5g fat, 18g carbs
  • A handful of Cheerios: 28 calories, 0.5g fat, 11g carbs
  • A handful of trail mix: 174 calories, 11g fat, 17g carbs
  • 1 Hershey’s Kiss from the candy bowl at work: 25 calories, 1.5g fat, 3g carbs
  • A handful of raisins: 86 calories, 0g fat, 23g carbs


  • 4 wheat crackers: 76 calories, 3g fat, 10g carbs
  • A slice of brie cheese: 189 calories, 16g fat, 0g carbs
  • 2 heaping handfuls of movie theater popcorn: 168 calories, 13.5g fat, 9g carbs
  • 1 bite of a hot dog at the ball game: 48 calories, 3g fat, 4g carbs


  • Crumbs at the bottom of a bag of Pepperidge Farm Nantucket Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies: 140 calories, 7g fat, 18g carbs
  • The slices/edges of pie or cake that are trimmed before putting it away so that it looks neat and even: 86 calories, 5g fat, 9g carbs
  • A spoonful of Pillsbury Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough while making cookies: 32 calories, 1g fat, 5g carbs
  • One spoon of just the chocolate chips: 80 calories, 4g fat, 10g carbs
  • Peanut butter on a knife while making a sandwich: 95 calories, 8g fat, 3.5g carbs
  • Whipped cream off the beaters: 52 calories, 5g fats, 1g carbs


  • 2 forks full of chocolate cake that you would never order — but will gladly eat when someone else does the ordering: 117 calories, 5g fat, 17g carbs
  • Leftovers from your kid’s Happy Meal at McDonald’s:
    10 fries: 53 calories, 2.5g fat, 6.5g carbs
    2 bites of a McDonald’s Cheeseburger: 80 calories, 3g fat, 9g carbs


  • 2 bites of cold Pizza Hut Hand-Tossed Cheese Pizza: 77 calories, 2g fat, 11g carbs
  • 3 forkfuls of beef chow mein: 68 calories, 4g fat, 3g carbs


  • A sip of someone’s beer: 24 calories, 0g fat, 2g carbs
  • A sip of Tropicana Orange Juice from the carton in the fridge: 28 calories, 0g fat, 6.5g carbs
  • A sip of soda: 25 calories, 0g fat, 7g carbs
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