How to Count Calories

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

Regardless of your weight loss goals, you need to learn how to count calories. It’s not a theory.  It’s not a debate.  You know how I know?  I lost 100 pounds in 6 months after learning how to count 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 tocount 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 learning how to count 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 apps like 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.

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.