If you want to lose weight and you start to look around on the Internet for information on the best way to do so, you’re going to find countless different diets and methods of weight loss. There’s way more than I can discuss in a blog post, but I thought I could pick a few and write different posts about them. So today, let’s discuss counting calories. This is the type of dieting that most of us have been familiar with since we were teenagers: you count calories and eat fewer calories per day or week than you burn.
This is not a new idea by any means. We all learned about this kind of diet and probably have tried numerous times. If you’re very diligent about this and track everything, it may well work for you.
Weight Watchers falls into this category, though instead of counting calories, you count points and over the years Weight Watchers has tried to take types of foods into consideration. You can add some exercise into the mix to try to burn more calories, which allows you to eat more calories each day.
Products like Slim Fast and Nutrisystem also fall into this calorie counting category. The advantage is that you don’t really have to log your food because they’re providing you low calorie food and doing the calculations for you.
The mantra you hear for this is “eat less and move more.”
The thing about calorie counting is that it doesn’t tell you what to eat. In theory, you can eat junk food and if what you eat falls into your calorie plan, you’ll be OK. In practice, this won’t work for most of us because junk food doesn’t make us feel full for very long and we end up overeating. (Brenda O’Hara talked about this in her interview on the Becoming Elli Podcast.) So, really, the best way to consume fewer calories than you burn is to eat foods that sustain you over a longer period. Eating foods that don’t have a lot of calories and fill you up (think vegetables), you’ll hopefully begin to lose weight.
How you choose to eat is up to you. Calorie counting works for people who follow any number of eating plans, whether it’s vegetarian, vegan, Keto, or Paleo.
The way you follow a calorie counting plan is to determine how many calories you burn in a day. There are many TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) calculators online. You enter in your age, height, weight, gender, and a general indicator of how active you are. The calculator then tells you how many calories you can eat per day to maintain your weight and how many to eat to lose weight. The FDA puts out called Body Weight Planner.
You then track calories. The best way to do that is to log what you eat and calculate calories. You can log your food online; there are many popular sites where you can log. Check out myfitnesspal.com, loseit.com, and sparkpeople.com for different options. Some features you probably will want is the ability to add recipes for tracking and to be able to scan barcodes for easy logging.
I’ve used a couple of different sites and have ended up sticking with Spark People, mainly because I’ve created enough recipes and groups there that it seems like more effort to leave than it’s worth.
Most of these sites will give you recommendations on what to eat and how much to eat to lose weight. I’ve noticed that myfitnesspal always tells me to eat around 1200 calories. I’m sure I’d lose weight at that, but I much prefer the 1500 calorie per day mark that other sites give me.
If you don’t want to log your food online, then to track calories, you’ll need to write them down. Maybe just use a tablet to write down each day’s meals and the corresponding calorie count.
You also need a way to determine how much food you’ve eaten so you can correctly count calories. You’ll probably need a food scale to do this. You can use measuring cups and spoons but determining weight is often the best way to calculate calories.
My recommendation for a food scale is to look for one that has a tare feature; that’s where you can put a dish on the scale and then push a button to reset the scale to 0. That way you can add food to the dish and get a weight just for the food. Also, get a scale that converts weights to both ounces and grams. Sometimes it’s easier to count the calories if you have the grams and sometimes knowing pounds and ounces works better.
Pros and Cons
Pros: No food limitations except for quantity. You can eat any food group that you want. You can also do this with any diet plan you want to follow.
Cons: Logging food can take time and for this to work you have to know how much you’ve actually eaten. Guessing usually means you’re underestimating what you eat. You may be frequently hungry. This is hard for many to do on a continual basis so if you’re going to do this, try to find some way of eating that works for you for the long term.
There are many resources out there for information and tracking your calories. These are just a few of the better known.