How to Lose Weight by Counting Calories

How many pounds do you want to lose in 2011?  5?  10?  50?  Maybe 150?

Regardless of your weight loss goals for 2011, you can accomplish them by counting calories It’s not a theory.  It’s not a debate.  You know how I know?  I lost 100 pounds in 6 months by counting calories, and nearly another 50 in a little more than 6 months after that.  And, even though I’d love to feel good about myself, my situation is not unique.

Plenty of people have lost weight by counting calories.  It’s the best way to lose weight, but you don’t hear about those testimonials because counting calories is free.  It doesn’t require you to buy any diets, plans, or gimmick exercise machines.  Counting calories is free, and thus, not advertised.  I’m looking to change that.  I don’t plan on ever asking you to pay for my advice, but I do plan on advertising the benefits of counting calories.

You can call me the chief spokesman for counting calories.

Before you get started reading this tutorial on how to lose weight by counting calories, you should make sure to friend me on Facebook, follow me on twitter, and subscribe to the blog (to get new blog posts like this one sent to you via e-mail).  If you get interrupted or feel compelled to rush out to the gym while reading this halfway through (hopefully you do!), you can find your way back here later on and finish reading.

Counting calories vs. low-carb, Weight Watchers, diet plans, etc.

Why is counting calories the best way to lose weight?  Because it’s simple and it doesn’t restrict you.  Counting calories essentially boils down to eating less than you need (counting calories) and trying to move around (burn calories).  It’s important to remember that losing weight is 95% about the food you eat.  While going to the gym, exercising, burning calories, etc., is important, you can lose weight by simply eating less.

Counting calories doesn’t require you to eat certain foods or stick to a restrictive plan, it just requires you to eat less of what you normally eat.  It’s true that there’s a big difference nutritionally in certain foods (nachos and cheese vs. a salad) and you’ll have more energy, feel better, etc if you eat nutritious foods, as far as pure weight loss is concerned there is no difference.  You could eat Twinkies and Snicker bars all day and lose weight, as long as you didn’t eat more than your body needed.  Don’t let anybody tell you differently.

How many calories do I need every day?

That’s the million dollar question.  There are a thousand charts and calculators out there online that will tell you, but they’re just wild guesses as they vary depending on your activity level and personal situation.  Ultimately, people make it overly complicated and get stressed out about finding the EXACT number of calories they need, which is unnecessary.  Counting calories isn’t like the lottery, you don’t need the exact number to win.  You simply need to pick a number, say 1,800 calories for women and 2,100 calories for men, and try to get as close as possible to that number every day.

Here’s what you should do:

  • Decide on a number of calories to eat every day.  Ex. female, 1,800.  Male, 2,000.
  • Eat roughly those amount of calories every day for 10 days.
  • Lose 1-2 pounds?  Good, keep eating those amount of calories!
  • Lose less than a pound?  Lower your daily calories by 200 for another 10 days.
  • Repeat until you reach your weight loss goals!

Remember, less calories doesn’t always equal more.  You shouldn’t just keep cutting your calories by 200 every 10 days and expect to lose all the weight in the world — there is such a thing as eating too little, and if you get below a certain amount (personally, I’d call that 1,300) then you could be doing your body damage.  Calories are just energy, and you need energy to live and function normally.

And, just to reiterate, people stress too much over finding the right amount of calories to eat every day.  If you’re looking to change your life and scouring the web looking for the right amount of calories to eat, stop.  Pick a number that’s around 2,000, eat that many for 10 days, then stick to the bullet points above.  You’ll be amazed by the results.

So was I.

How do you actually count calories?

Let me start by saying that counting calories isn’t going to make you some sort of accountant for the rest of your life, always with a calculator in one hand and a slice of pizza in the other trying to calculate your daily calories.  While it might be this way in the beginning of your weight loss journey, you won’t have to do this forever.  Eventually, as is the case with myself, after about a year you’ll know roughly how many calories a food has simply by eyeballing it (portion control) and you can keep a running tally in your head.  That may seem impossible right now, but trust me, you’ll get good at it over time.

Until you are, though, you can count calories using MyFitnessPal.

MyFitnessPal and other online/mobile applications like it allows you to keep track of your calories either through the web or through your smart phone by entering in the foods you’ve eaten during the day.  All processed foods that are pre-packaged list their calories and nutritional information on a label, so those are easy.  For things like fruits, veggies, etc, that come without packaging, you can just do a quick search on MyFitnessPal.

banana calories1 How to Lose Weight by Counting Calories

According to a quick search for “banana” on MyFitnessPal, it’s 105 calories.

When dining out, most restaurants list the calories of their dishes on their website.  If they don’t, then again, you can use MyFitnessPal to find estimates submitted by other users as to how many calories those dishes contain.  Inevitably, though, estimates of calories for restaurant meals are just that, estimates, as the amount of calories in a meal depends on the cook and how it was prepared for you.  If a cook puts more butter into a meal, sauces, gives larger portions, etc., it can increase the calories in a meal by hundreds.

Eating at restaurants is tricky, just leave yourself a little leeway when you do.

If you’re not technically inclined and want to count calories a simpler way, a pen and paper will do.  When you eat something, just write the amount of calories down.  Easy.

And, finally, just as I suggested that you don’t stress yourself over deciding on how many calories you should eat every day, don’t stress over counting calories either.  While you want to be accurate when you’re counting calories, again, you don’t have to get it down to the exact number.  If you’re trying to eat 1,800 calories a day, you don’t have to eat exactly 1,800.  You can have 1,750 one day, 1,850 the next, etc.  You don’t want to start a trend of always being over your daily calories, but a little fluctuation won’t hurt you.

The basics of counting calories to lose weight is to eat less and move around more.

It works.  Trust me.

43 thoughts on “How to Lose Weight by Counting Calories”

  1. Hey Tyler,

    this is Alain.

    I really liked what you had to say.

    I really look forward to learning more from your articles.

    Would you mind if I mention your blog on my blog?

  2. Thanks Tyler, that was a great article. I did awful last week during Christmas, but I’m back on track now. I also think that http://www.calorieking.com is a great, quick website for finding the calorie amounts in food as well. I use that one a lot at work.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion Sheila, I’m pretty well hooked on MyFitnessPal though! It’s alright to do awful during the holidays, you’re not superhuman — just get right back on the horse and start again.

    1. It does indeed come down to math, simple math at that, people shouldn’t have a problem figuring it out. That’s why I like to keep it simple.

  3. Hey Tyler! Happy New Year. I hope you and your family have had a lovely start to 2011. This is another terrific post, but I just want to mention something. I think when you say, “eating less than you need” you mean “eating less than you need to maintain your current weight.” In weight loss, you shouldn’t really be depriving yourself of what you need to be healthy and energetic. I know you know that, but I just wanted to throw that out there because I bet a lot of new people are finding your blog today. You know the struggles that I have had, and in 2010 I am excited to tell you I’ve actually lost the weight that has been bothering me for years. And of course, reading your blog was a daily inspiration! Here’s to happiness and healthy in 2011.

    1. You’re right, that’s what I meant to say. Thanks for the correction. I know you’re busy and don’t have time to comment, but it’s nice to know that you’re still reading. I really appreciate all the time you gave me to answer my questions months back, it means a lot.

  4. This is a real eye opener for me. I was all gung ho to go to the gym when I found out I had a torn meniscus (some weird thing in my left knee that’ll need medical attention). The doc says upper body stuff is ok but I really have no idea where to start with that.

    Just paying attention to what I eat is an important “ah ha” since that is pretty much what I’m going to have to do until I can get back to 100% again.

    1. Even if you can’t exercise or do many strenuous activities, that doesn’t mean you can’t still lose weight. Again, it makes it tougher, but weight loss comes down to what you eat.

  5. Thanks Tyler i think i have decided on a 2400 cal target for me and see how it goes then lower it from there if i have to. going to see about 90mins – 2 hours a day at the gym 6-7 days a week on days not at the gym i plan to walk or ride a bike i need to lose about 60 more pounds by mid june so my job is cut out for me its going to be a battle and i plan on winning it

    Dan

    1. That’s a good target, Dan. That’s a lot of time in the gym, don’t get burnt out… you really just need a minimum of 30 minutes a day of physical activity and anything else is gravy. It’s good to set high standards, just make sure you’re not pushing yourself too far too soon and get tired of it.

  6. Tyler, thank you for posting this.

    I checked out http://www.myfitnesspal.com and i have switched. I was on fatsecret but I definitely like MFP much better.

    I love reading your posts with hopes of losing weight one day. I have every excuse in the book, but they don’t prevent me from trying.. they just end up beating me at my plan. LOL I’m hoping once i have this baby (due 1/9/11) I’ll be able to do something and stick to it.

    I started printing your posts (for personal use only) keeping them in a binder with my weight loss journal of my own so that when I need a quick pick me up or reference I have it right here in front of me. I work better with paper visuals.

    Thanks again Tyler.

    1. MFP is definitely better than fatsecret, glad you switched! Congrats on the baby… I know a child makes it difficult to lose weight and it’s stressful… take some time off if need be from physical activity and just try to watch what you eat as much as possible!

  7. Excellent post Tyler.

    It’s all physics. Eat less than you burn and it has to come from somewhere.

    Good luck with your goals in 2011. I’m going to try to drop my 15 I think.

    Thanks for your site!

  8. Hey, this should be tagged under “Weight Loss Tips”, don’t you think? It’s sort of the grandaddy of weight loss tips, so much so that I guess it goes beyond a “tip”, but if I were new to the site, I’d want to read it along with the other tips, don’t you think?

    Keep up the good work. I’ve lost 125 pounds so far (roughly 15-20 pounds more to go), and haven’t felt better in my whole life (I’m 43). Have been enthusiastically reading your blog since I started losing (for the 3rd time in 17 years, finally getting it right this time!) in March.

    Thanks,
    Tony

    1. I’m not big on categories, Tony, but pretty much everything I post here would be a tip to somebody. I might move it over there. Congrats on the amazing weight loss, 125 pounds is incredible.

  9. Hi Tyler,
    This is my first time on your blog! I saw your guest post on Darren’s blog and had to come see. Good for you and thank you for sharing your info and your story with the rest of us!

    I just delivered my 5th baby in August, 2010, and while I’m not overweight, I am definitely carrying more baby weight than I’m comfortable with, so my goal is to lose 15-20lbs. I was never sure how to go about doing it, but I think you just convinced me!

    And, my husband told me of a news story he read just a few weeks ago of a guy who went on a Twinkie “diet”. He counted calories, ate only Twinkies, and lost weight!

      1. Yes, you probably could, but I don’t recommend it. LOL While you may lose weight by counting calories, you’ll also lose energy on a stictly choc. chip cookie diet.

        I just wanted to drive Tyler’s point home with that bit of news. :)

  10. The timing of your guest post on Problogger and my reading it and finding my way here is incredible. Yesterday, I made a commitment to myself that this is the year I remove the 150 pounds I put on in the last 5 years, and I’ve been running through all the things I know how to do with regard to removing pounds–food combining, types of food, counting calories, exercise, etc–and thinking about what I need to do, and then I find this, and it’s like the universe is speaking to me and giving me the answer I need. So I THANK YOU for sharing your story. So glad I found you. :)

  11. I saw your guest post on Problogger.net. I love your blog. I’ve been losing weight with a doctor’s help (no medication) but I feel so deprived. I got a ways to go before getting to my ideal weight. I’m looking forward to reading your blog.

  12. Wonderful guest post you gave on ProBlogger! It’s quite refreshing to see such motivation and dedication – especially today with so many people feeling hurt and depressed. I’m on a similar path of trying to stick to personal goals that I set over and over but never quite seem to accomplish. I’m hoping that by blogging about it, it will help keep me accountable. Many cheers to your success and support for others who seek change.

    - Sofia

    1. Accountability is a big key, but with the internet it’s common for people to simply disappear and never stop updating — don’t let that happen to you. Make the blog apart of who you are and make it where you can’t run away.

  13. Great Transformation Tyler. Although, I favor a combination of nutritious meals with occasional cheat meals,progressive strength training,conditioning games, movement prep, flexibility, and accountability. Counting Calories can be time consuming for many of my clients, so we just tell them exactly what they need to eat based on their goals. I think the overall plan must include all these pieces in order to keep you losing weight, not just look like skinny soft, increase your energy, and keep you energy free. I enjoy reading your story and appreciate you being so open. Keep up the good fight.

  14. Using loseit.com has helped me lose over 20 pounds in the last six months (I’m 5 foot 4 inches, I have maybe another 10-20 pounds of fat to lose and gain muscle instead). I definitely recommend it for anyone who wants to lose weight by counting calories! And they help you with numbers of calories to eat. There’s an iPhone/iPod/iTouch app if you have one of those also. It’s really wonderful. They just came out with a new book too. Way to keep losing Tyler! :-D

  15. I think that counting calories is VERY important, but don’t forget its also the quality of the food too. I was watching a show last night that said there was something called a “TWINKIE DIET!” I kid you not. The point the person on this “diet” was making was to show its not the quality but number of calories…but I still think that can be a big mistake.

    You also want to be a HEALTHY person…not just a thin one. Thin people can also have heart problems, and other body problems that can be averted w/ healthy eating and exercise.
    I think dieting is here to stay, but for goodness sakes people, be smart about it.

    I also believe you don’t have to be a vegetarian about it, you CAN eat meat…you can be healthy with or without meat…just probably wanna stay away from deep fried bacon grease bits…you know what I’m saying.

    Great article Thanks

    KAREN

  16. I really needed this today. I have been on my weight loss journey for almost a year and a half now….only losing 30 pounds. I was mainly focused on working out..but I hit a wall….and I had not lost a pound in a year. Recently – my boyfriend decided that he needed to lose weight…and dropped almost 10 pounds in two weeks. He told me that he did it by only counting calories. I kinda scoffed at him, resentful that he thought that the solution was so easy. But then – I did some research online…he was right…and I was floored…and I felt all the hard work that I put in(and still am putting in) was a waste of time….but it lead me to this point, and to your site. Thank you for the encouragement….I am on day 2 of my counting…and reading your story was right on time.

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