To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn.
In theory, this sounds simple.
However, in the modern diet world, it can be difficult to control your food intake.
Counting calories is one way to address this problem and is often used for weight loss.
This is a detailed guide on counting calories that explains everything you need to know.
What are calories?
Calories are a measure of energy that is typically used to measure the energy content of foods and beverages.
Technically, a food calorie is defined as the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree Celsius.
You use the calories you eat and drink for vital functions like breathing and thinking, as well as for everyday activities like walking, talking, and eating.
Excess calories you eat are stored as fat, and if you continually eat more than you burn, this will lead to weight gain over time.
A calorie is a measure of energy. In science, it is defined as the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree Celsius.
Why Count Calories
You often hear that calories don’t matter and counting calories is a waste of time.
However, when it comes to your weight, calories do matter.
This is a fact that has been proven time and time again in scientific experiments called overfeeding studies.
In these studies, people are asked to intentionally overeat and then measure the effects on their weight and health.
All of the overfeeding studies have found that people gain weight when they eat more calories than they burn.
This simple fact means that counting calories and limiting food intake can be effective in preventing weight gain or losing weight, as long as you manage to stick to it.
In one study, weight loss programs that included calorie counting were found to result in an average weight loss of about 7 lbs (3.3 kg) more than those that did not.
If you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. Counting calories can help you eat fewer calories and lose weight.
How many calories should you eat?
How many calories you need depends on factors such as gender, age, weight, and activity level.
For example, a 25-year-old male athlete needs more calories than a 70-year-old woman who does not exercise.
If you are trying to lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit by eating less than your body burns.
Use this calculator (opens in new tab) to determine how many calories you should eat per day.
This calculator is based on the Mifflin-St. Jeor equation, which is an accurate way to estimate calorie needs
The exact amount of calories you need depends on several factors, such as your gender, age, weight, and activity level. Use the calculator above to determine your daily needs.
The best apps to help you count calories.
Thanks to technological advancements, putting calorie counting into practice is relatively effortless these days.
There are many apps and websites that simplify the process by providing quick and easy ways to log the foods you eat.
Even if you only log your food intake irregularly, studies show that people who do this tend to lose more weight. They also maintain their weight loss better.
Here’s a list of the most popular free apps/sites for calorie counting:
- My Fitness Pal.
- Lose It!
Using an app or online tool to record your meals and track your food intake is a very easy way to count calories.
How to weigh and measure your portions
Portion sizes have increased, and in some restaurants, a single meal can contain double or triple what the average person needs in one sitting.
“Portion distortion” is the term for when you consider large portions of food to be the norm. It can lead to weight gain and hinder weight loss
In general, people are not very good at estimating how much they eat
Counting calories can help you combat overeating by giving you a better understanding of how much you are really eating.
However, for it to work, you need to properly track food portions. Here are a few common methods for measuring portion sizes:
- Scales: the most accurate way to determine how much you are eating is to weigh your food. However, this can be time consuming and is not always practical.
- Measuring cups: standard volume measures are slightly faster and easier to use than scales, but can still be time-consuming and sometimes inconvenient.
- Comparisons: Using comparisons with common items is quick and easy, especially if you are away from home. However, it’s also much less accurate.
Here are some common portion sizes compared to household items that can help you estimate your portion sizes:
- 1 serving of rice or pasta (1/2 cup): a computer mouse or rounded handful.
- 1 serving of meat (3 oz): a deck of cards.
- 1 serving of fish (3 oz): a checkbook.
- 1 Serving of cheese (1.5 oz): a lipstick or the size of your thumb.
- 1 serving of fresh fruit (1/2 cup): a tennis ball.
- 1 serving of leafy green vegetables (1 cup): a baseball.
- 1 serving of vegetables (1/2 cup): a computer mouse.
- 1 teaspoon olive oil: 1 fingertip.
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter: a ping-pong ball.
Calorie counting is not an exact science, even if you weigh and measure portions.
However, it’s not necessary to be absolutely precise with your measurements. Just make sure you record your intake as accurately as possible.
You should be especially careful with foods that contain a lot of fat and/or sugar, such as pizza, ice cream, and oils. If you under-record these foods, there can be a large difference between your recorded and actual intake.
To improve your estimates, you can try using a scale in the beginning to get a better idea of what a serving looks like. This should help you be more accurate even if you stop using the scale.
You can use scales, cups and measures, or portion size estimates to determine how much you eat. The scale is the most accurate.
The quality of your diet still matters
Calories are useful for determining how much you eat, but they don’t tell you much about the quality of your diet
When it comes to food and the human body, a calorie is not necessarily a calorie.
For example, 100 calories of broccoli affects your health differently than 100 calories of French fries.
This is important because your overall diet and the types of foods you eat have an impact on your health
In addition, the effects of different foods on hunger, appetite hormones, and the amount of calories burned can vary greatly.
It’s best to base your diet on high-quality foods from plants or animals that have been minimally processed.
High-quality foods not only offer health benefits, but also make it much easier to eat fewer calories in the long run.
A diet with as few processed foods as possible is beneficial for long-term health and weight loss.
5 more tips to succeed with calorie counting.
Here are 5 more tips for calorie counting:
- Be prepared: Before you begin, get a calorie counting app or online tool, decide how you will measure or estimate portions, and create a meal plan.
- Read food labels: food labels contain a lot of useful information about calorie counting. Look for the recommended serving size on the package.
- Remove temptations: Eliminate junk food in your home. This will help you choose healthier snacks and make it easier to reach your goals.
- Aim for slow, steady weight loss: Don’t cut calories too much. You’ll lose weight faster, but you’ll feel bad and be less able to stick to your plan.
- Fuel your workouts: the most successful weight loss programs include both diet and exercise. Make sure you eat enough to still have energy for your workouts.
Aim for slow and steady weight loss, and make sure you have a plan. Reading food labels and avoiding junk food in the house can also help you succeed.
Should you count calories?
“Calories in, calories out” is certainly not the only thing that is important for optimal health.
However, when it comes to weight loss, calories do count.
Although it’s not for everyone, you may find that counting calories is an effective way to lose weight and keep it off.