Dunning-Kruger Effect and Physical Fitness

Posted on January 17, 2021
Tags: 100DaysToOffload fitness diet exercise

Tim Lavoie

Of Course I Know What I’m Doing

But why am I out of shape?

I like to eat, sometimes whether there is a real need or not. Not into boring food, but I find it all important: taste, texture, how it feels, all of that.

Maybe you feel the same; much of the North American population is overweight to some degree, and I’m sure we’re often thinking that we have a good handle on how we’re doing. Maybe the mirror disagrees.

I’m not going to blame the pandemic for any of this, as my case clearly pre-dates it. No, this is all on me. Right here (poke poke), for the most part. In the past, I have occasionally taken some steps to improve matters, only to fall back on, “I know what I’m doing, I don’t need this now.” Or another favourite, “this is just a little bit of (whatever), I’m sure it’s fine.”

Clearly, this is wrong. When it’s largely a matter of calories in vs calories expended, it becomes easy to underestimate the first, and overestimate the latter. That is, “one tablespoon” of peanut butter becomes (squinting) a heaping tablespoon, or a complete guess. Let’s say I’m not deprived here. Similarly, you might think that by working out, you need more calories, and you’d be right. But if you check, it turns out that we’re not burning nearly as much as we might like to believe.

External constraints are helpful

One tool I’ve used with some success in the past, is Under Armour’s MyFitnessPal. It’s pretty simple usually to enter what you’re eating, and how much of it. With some convincing, I’m using it again. I’d done it before, then lapsed into doing what I felt like, to predictable effect.

By tracking what actually goes in, it’s well, something of an eye-opener. For instance, I quite like these Portofino pretzel kaiser buns for a hamburger. When not paying attention though, it’s easy to miss that one is over 300 calories. That’s before the burger patty, condiments and so on. Never mind eating two burgers. That might be 700 per, when my daily budget is closer to 2000 overall. Is a heavy meal of two hamburgers worthwhile, if it means eating nearly nothing else all day? Probably not.

So, here’s the approach I’m taking:

  • Make mindful eating a habit. Consider each meal or snack as a conscious choice.
  • The tracking seems important. Maybe the tool specifically is not, as long as it’s one you have readily available, and easy enough that you actually do it.
  • Actually measure portions, no guessing. Use the provided info if available, and when searching for how much some item might be, don’t assume that the lowest ones are the most likely. A kitchen scale is cheap, easy, and quick, and helps keep you honest.
  • Pause between helpings. For me, I know that if I really like what I’m eating, I’ll want more. Second helpings aren’t necessarily evil, but I know that often, what seems reasonable right away ends up sitting like I ate a bowling ball shortly after. If I take a pause after one serving, I probably don’t want another.

Keep up the exercise

That’s the other side of the equation, and important as we get older. Muscle mass goes away if not used, and is needed to keep us mobile and able to perform regular tasks.

I’m going for a bit of a mix, between resistance training and cardio. The local gym closed with the pandemic, but I’ve gotten quite a bit of use out of a bodyweight exercise program / app. Doing a few workouts per week takes little time, and they vary, so it’s not the same old thing all the time. You know those guys who do curls all the time, but never legs or core? This isn’t that.

I did more jogging last year, then got a nagging injury. That’s still around, but improved, so I was out for a 5K for the first time in ages yesterday. As with food monitoring, do what works for you, so you can keep doing it.


It’s early to say, but the first little bit is good. I’m not feeling especially deprived, just a bit pouty that when I choose to make better food choices, I know I’d have just gone with my first impulse before.

Note: This is post #9 for #100DaysToOffload.