When you are trying to lose weight, it’s not a bad idea to start counting your calories. There are many reasons why you should do it. First of all, to get an idea of the calories you are consuming daily. You will be surprised at how many calories certain foods or drinks have. Once you realise that, you will certainly want to cut back.
I started my calorie counting journey at the beginning of this year when I wanted to lose some winter weight. But before I started I thought that the whole thing was silly. Why on earth would I want to count calories? I was curious so I decided to give it a go.
Now that I’ve done it, I can see the clear benefits of it and I am much wiser. I’ve learnt a lot and now I have a lot of knowledge and tips that I can give you and hopefully help you on your own weight loss journey.
Before you get started with calorie counting, here is what you should know and consider first:
1. Determining your daily calorie intake
In order to lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit. This means that you have to use more calories than you consume.
To determine how many calories you should consume in order to lose weight, first, you need to know your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) – this is an estimate of how many calories you’d burn if you were to do nothing but rest for 24 hours. This represents the minimum amount of energy needed to keep your body functioning, including breathing and keeping your heart beating (this excludes any daily activities/exercise).
BMR depends on your activity levels, age, sex, weight and height. To calculate it easily go to this page.
To find out how many calories roughly you should consume daily to maintain your weight you have to add up your BMR and estimated calories your body needs for typical daily activities (many online BMR calculators will give you this figure).
To determine a daily calorie intake for weight loss, a good rule of a thumb is to deduct 500 calories from the total calories needed to maintain your weight. When you count your calories and follow this rule every day, this will help you lose about one pound every week. It may sound like a lot of effort for only one pound a week but this can easily be accelerated by exercising more.
2. How much weight do you want to lose? How quickly?
The next thing to do is to decide how much weight you actually want to lose. What is your goal? Do you just want to lose the weight you gained over holidays or you want to lose the weight that has crept up over years? Or maybe you want your pre-pregnancy body weight back? Whatever your goal, write it down either on paper, in your phone app, or wherever, just be clear on what you want to achieve.
It’s also a good idea to know how quickly you want to lose this weight. Although it’s worth keeping in mind that you don’t want to lose weight too quickly as it wouldn’t be healthy. Experts say that healthy weight loss involves losing a maximum of two pounds per week.
The reason why you should know how quickly you want to lose weight is because if you want your weight loss to happen faster, you will have to increase your calorie deficit. So maybe instead of 500 calories less you eat 600 less. Calorie deficit calculators can help you determine exactly how many calories you should eat daily to meet your weight loss goals (here is just one of them).
Once you know your numbers and you are clear about your weight loss goals, it’s time to get started with calorie counting!
How do you actually count calories?
Calorie counting is not complicated (although it could be). To count the calories, you need to know how many calories there are in certain foods/drinks and what’s their weight.
First, you check their label (if it exists) and then see how many calories there are per 100g. Let’s say the weight of the food is 30g, for example. To calculate how many calories it contains you use the following formula: 30 x (calories per 100g) / 100
If you are not good at maths, the calorie counting apps make this process much easier. So you really don’t have to do any calculations at all if you don’t want to. Just input the food you eat and its weight/portion and the calorie counting app will do all the work for you.
Luckily, many times you don’t even have to know the weight, for example, if you take one teaspoon of honey, you will know that it contains about 20 calories. You can find this information online and in the calorie counting apps.
So these are the basics you need to know when first starting out with calorie counting. I have some further tips for you based on my own personal experience.
My top calorie counting tips
Get yourself a digital kitchen scale
If you are really serious about calorie counting you should get yourself a digital kitchen scale. It’s much more accurate and precise than the traditional kitchen scales and it will allow you to trace your calories more accurately, giving you a better control of the calories you eat daily.
This is actually an essential tool if you want to have a better success with calorie counting. So no estimates of weight or portions, use this essential weight loss tool to help you reach your goals faster!
Use a measuring jug
Along with a digital kitchen scale, it’s useful to have a measuring jug as well, just to quickly measure how many ml of certain drink you are having.
Remember that alcohol has lots of calories so you should monitor its intake and never forget to record the calories you consume with it.
Measuring jug is also great for other liquids such as orange juice, milk and shop-bought flavoured water.
Use a calorie counting app
To make your calorie counting easier and relatively effortless you should really use a calorie counting app. This will save you loads of time and at the same time, you will have an access to your progress over time (you can record your weight and body measurements using one of these apps).
I’ve been using Fitatu app which comes with a large database of food products and meals and this makes calorie counting extra easy. All you need to do is scan a barcode of a product and if there is a match you will get all the details about it on your screen. Then, you just choose the exact weight (or a portion) and the app will calculate the calories for you. I really like that many of the products/food items have an option to choose 1 tablespoon or 1 teaspoon (which is great for various powders and things like honey, coconut sugar, flaxseeds, etc.).
Calorie counting will be much easier when you plan ahead. It’s a good idea to plan your meals and include as many healthy and low-calorie foods as possible. Make a plan for a week if you can, if not, do it for at least 3 days in advance.
Make sure your meals are balanced and include enough vegetables and fruits. For breakfast, you could have things like porridge or Weetabix with fruits or natural yoghurt with banana, oat bran and chia seeds.
Prepare the lunch the day before, especially if you need to take it with you to work. Here are some ideas you could consider: a tuna and bean salad, chicken (or Quorn) salad, chickpea salad, low-fat cheese sandwich, hummus and salad wrap, lentil soup.
Keep an eye on your calories for dinner as it’s quite easy to go overboard. I prefer having more calories for dinner than lunch as I hate being hungry in the evening. Do what works for you, just make sure you don’t exceed your daily calorie quota.
Eating out tips
If you are doing calorie counting it doesn’t mean you cannot eat out. It just needs a little bit of planning and thought, that’s all.
These days, luckily, many restaurants put calories on their menus so you know exactly how many calories each of their meals has. So choose one of those restaurants when eating out (good to ask and research about this before you go).
Try to avoid fast food restaurants if you can as those meals will be really high in calories and you will be likely to exceed your allowed calorie intake that day.
Be aware of everything you eat
Calorie counting for weight loss will be an eye-opener for anybody who is just starting out. It really makes us more aware of what we eat and how many calories there are in a particular type of food or drink.
If you want to make your calorie counting a success you should be aware of everything you put into your mouth. It’s quite easy not to record everything. Just think about little things such as a teaspoon of sugar you add to your coffee, a sip of an orange juice or a few nuts you eat in between your meals. And if you are a parent you are likely to eat some of the foods your child doesn’t finish.
All these little things add up throughout the day and if you really want to lose weight using calorie counting you really need to record all these calories. Don’t think it won’t make a difference! It will, for certain.
So make a decision and be strict with yourself. Count all those calories and if needed exercise more to burn them. The other option is, of course, to stick to your diet plan and don’t let anything come between you and your weight loss goal.
Let yourself have some treats
If you are putting too many restrictions on the type of foods you can eat and the type you cannot, it’s more likely you will give up this weight loss regime quicker.
When you are doing calorie counting you don’t have to give up all the foods you love to eat, just be aware of the portions and how many calories you consume when eating them.
You can still have a cake, if you want, just have a small piece. And you can still have an ice-cream. Just have a mini one or have only one scoop, skipping all the toppings. You may have to do some extra exercises that day to burn those extra calories but at least you are enjoying your food and feel happier.
But try not to have treats every single day as this could have a negative impact on your weight loss goals. I like to have treats at the weekend but sometimes I also have one during the week. Set the treat days that suit you.
Monitor your progress
Make sure you weigh yourself every week on the same day to monitor your progress. Also take your body measurements such as waist and abdomen circumferences and thigh and arm circumferences. Sometimes you will not lose any weight in one week but you will see a difference in your body measurements. Make sure you use digital scales for better accuracy.
So there you have it, my top calorie counting tips for anybody who is just starting out on this journey. Have you ever tried calorie counting and how did that go? Do you have any additional tips?
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