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Are we getting fat because we can't count the calories we consume - or are we just lying about how much we eat?

A British research report - compiled by the Behavioural Insights Team, a research group partly owned by the government - stated the paradox. "Official statistics show a large decline in calorie consumption in the U.K. over the last 40 years. At the same time, we have seen the population gain weight over this period." It's just not possible for both those things to be true.

This matters to the United States too. That's because more than one in three of us are obese, according to government statistics. Another third are overweight.

We, by the way, are saying much the same as the English, according to the U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines 2010 report, where it wryly noted that although our self-reported calorie counts were admirable, it didn't believe us. "Well-controlled studies suggest that the actual number of calories consumed may be higher than these estimates."

In England, the Behavioural Insights Team found much the same when it came to the accuracy of the numbers: "The apparent fall in consumption can be explained by an increase in underreporting of calorie intake in official statistics. In other words, calorie intake may not actually have declined." Their guess is that the Brits are eating 30 to 50% more calories than they report. That's a lot of extra calories.

But maybe the other problem is that we aren't lying. That's the opinion of multiple experts.

"I don't think underreporting is intentional in most cases," said Dr. Adrienne Youdim, a Beverly Hills based weight loss specialist. What Youdim said is important. We aren't lying, she said, but we definitely are not doing a good job of counting our calories.

Youdim elaborated: 'Underreporting means a lack of awareness."

Mindlessly eat an entire bowl of buttered popcorn - maybe 500 calories - and if what you recall is a small cupful, maybe 75 calories, saying 75 isn't a lie, necessarily. It's more a function of inattention.

Another complexity: we eat out a lot and, said Gina Keatley, a dietitian in New York who says "the portions are enormous and packed with far more fat and oil than many suspect."

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How many calories are in Olive Garden's Chicken and Shrimp Carbonara? Guess 1,590, and you are right. How many calories are in Outback's Bloomin' Onion? 1,950. How many calories in a Subway footlong meatball marinara? 960.

The USDA, by the way, says a moderately active male of 30 needs 2,600 calories a day. A 30 year-old woman needs 2,000.

Keatley added that matters are not necessarily easier at home. "When eating at home, it is difficult to gauge what exactly a portion is. Oftentimes the serving size picked by the manufacturer is selected to make the product seem healthier not necessarily what will fill you up."

What's a pasta serving? On the side of the box it probably says two ounces - maybe 125 calories. But in many homes a one pound box of spaghetti feeds two. That's 500 calories apiece, plus a lot more sauce to cover those noodles, meaning still more calories.

We also just aren't good at estimating calories. Shari Portnoy, a dietitian with the Daycare Council of New York, said: "People underestimate the calories in food by sometimes as much as 90%."

Youdim said a lot is at work in the underreporting. She pointed to a salad bar. A good idea for weight management? Indeed. People heap on the lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes. But then, said Youdim, "Oftentimes they pour dressings on top. The condiments are super high in calories." Four ounces of Thousand Island dressing, by the way, has about 400 calories.

Another trouble spot, said Youdim, is what happens between meals. Many of us are good at counting calories in meals. But "so much happens in between. At Happy Hour you have that 150 calories glass of wine - and then you grab a handful of nuts. That's an extra 200 calories" - meaning that snack adds up to 350 calories and, for many of us, those are calories that are never noted. Not out of malevolence. Just out of inattention.

Said Youdim: "It does not take a lot of calories to pack on weight." Consume 350 calories every day at Happy Hour and that's potentially a pound every other week and, said Youdim, many of us get fat little by little. Put on five or ten pounds a year and, five years later, that's a problem.

A solution - for the weight conscious - said Youdim is what she called food logging, which simply is making a note of everything eaten, pretty much in real time. "That raises awareness," she said.

Is that good enough? Nobody knows a magic bullet for our national obesity issue. But awareness is at least a start.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held TK positions in the stocks mentioned.