Basics of Calorie Counting - 6 Important Tips
Too many times do I see someone excited about the next fad diet they are trying. Maybe they are on a juice fast because they think it will help them lose weight.
Counting calories is one method you can use to gain control over your weight gain. As you start counting your calories, you will find the problem areas that you can address. This could include those midnight snacks, that 44-ounce soda you buy every day at the gas station, or a burger and fry from McDonald's.
Related - Find Out How Many Calories You Burn
Cutting calories is a fine line between eating enough to maintain performance, and cutting back when we don't need to eat as much.
If you are struggling with your weight, check out my tips at the end of the article.
The Basics of Cutting Calories
Everyone is different — they have different activity levels, they eat different foods, and their metabolism burns at different rates.
I've had a lot of success with weight loss — I've lost over 150 pounds and I want to share methods that I've used.
#1 Slow and Steady
When it comes to cutting calories, the "slow and steady" method works. The reason I believe this works the best is that we are creatures of habit. Think about it — do you eat the same foods, do the same things, drive the same route, and you prefer the routine you've set up for yourself?
A slow change in your diet over time creates a habit. That habit is what you unconsciously follow. If you've allowed yourself to get into the habit of ordering food out whenever you are stressed or out of food, that's your habit. If you have a habit of counting your calories and eating within a reasonable amount of calories, that's a habit. That's your steady part... your habit.
Change your habits, change your life.
The slow part is making these changes small enough that it doesn't inconvenience you much. Start by eliminating 300 to 500 calories per day at most. Once you start making better nutritional choices, you will be able to choose foods that keep you satiated so you do not have cravings.
#2 - Journal and Keep Records
If you're serious about gaining control over your calories and health, you're going to need to keep a journal.
Maintaining a journal and food log are two important steps that shouldn't be skipped. I used to make weight loss progress without logging my food, but it was inconsistent. I didn't keep very good track of my calories, and it showed. Once I started logging my food and using a journal to log my energy levels, I noticed more control and progress towards my goals.
The trick is to start.
Next time you're at the store, grab a notebook. You could use an app like MyFitnessPal to log your food as I do, but a notebook and something to write with works too. Log your food and write a little memo about how you feel, your energy levels, motivation levels, and try to be aware of how you react with your food.
This record of what you've eaten and how you feel throughout the day can help you pinpoint areas you need to work on. Just start logging what you are currently eating — don't feel pressured to change completely just because you've started logging. Remember, slow and steady.
#3 - Nutrient-Dense Foods
The first thing I see almost anyone who wants to cut calories is to start digging into salads... but I don't understand why. You see, eating a salad is great, full of fiber, nutrients, vitamins, and is filling... but you have to force yourself to eat it. On top of that, the salad is probably swimming in ranch and cheese and has those delicious garlic bread croutons. But where's the protein?
Instead of falling into the trap of eating rabbit food for every meal, start taking a look at your current food choices. How could you improve them?
Do you eat a lot of microwave foods? Do you eat fast food and restaurants often? There are plenty of ways to start eating healthier versions of your favorites. The only problem is you'll need to learn how to cook.
Calorie dense foods are foods like ice cream, pizza, and other sinful goods. Did you know a large blizzard from Dairy Queen is around 1,200 calories? You could eat 2.7 pounds of chicken to have the same 1,200 calories. One is calorie-dense, one is nutrient-dense.
Cooking is a skill that everyone should have, period.
If you use the excuse that you can't cook to get out of eating foods you know are good for you, what are you doing? Grab some protein and throw it in a pan!
Seriously, learning how to cook is pretty easy — there are so many recipes that spell out everything you need to do. Sure, there are skills you'll need to improve, but if you can read and are able-bodied, you can cook.
I remember my first time learning how to cook. My mom gave me a pound of ground beef and told me to brown it up in a skillet. Once I got that, I moved into cooking chicken, pork, and fish. I've had my bad dishes, my great dishes, and I've learned my go-to dishes when I'm in a hurry.
Cooking isn't hard, it doesn't cost as much as people say, and you can create quite literally any flavors you would like. Buy yourself a decent set of pots and pans, cookware, and a couple of decent knives.
Once you know how to cook, you can recreate your favorite meals, add sauteed veggies into a microwave dinner for extra nutrition, and you'll be able to impress your partner.
#4 - Watch the Sugar
I'm not against someone enjoying a reasonable amount of sugar, the problem comes when they eat sugary foods for the majority of their calories. Things with sugar in them are calorie-dense and the majority of products offer no nutritional value other than satisfying your sweet tooth.
Start timing your sugary treats around days of increased exercise like days you go to the gym. Cut out the sugary beverages — they eat up calories that you could be putting into your stomach.
Seriously, if you have four 16 ounce sodas per day, you're losing out on a little over 800 calories. You could have had a pound of chicken, four corn tortillas, and two slices of American cheese with lettuce and hot sauce for the same amount of calories.
Do you see why you are always hungry now?
#5 - Fiber and Protein
Eating plenty of protein helps us build muscle and maintain a healthy body. Since it is the building block of our bodies, it's important to get an adequate amount of protein per day.
Plenty of articles and professionals recommend anywhere between 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body. For my example, this will average to 0.36 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
Grab a calculator and multiply your weight by 0.36 — this is a good goal to strive for. For example, I weighed in at 246, so I would aim to eat at least 88.56 grams of protein. This figure isn't anything special, but it gives you a good place to start.
Eating plenty of fiber in our diets help keep our poo regular, helps with water regulation, and most importantly, helps keep you feeling full. There are two types of fiber, and most plants contain some of each kind.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a thick gel substance in the stomach. The bacteria in your gut break down this fiber, providing some calories. Insoluble fiber won't dissolve in water and it passes through our gastrointestinal tract relatively intact. This means insoluble fiber is not a source of calories.
You can find soluble fiber in beans, peas, oats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. You can find insoluble fiber in fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables, whole-grain foods, and wheat bran.
#6 - Stay Hydrated and Eat Mindfully
Many of us struggle to drink enough water. It's estimated that 75% of Americans are dehydrated or chronically dehydrated. If you have access to drinkable water, you should be drinking plenty.
Dehydration can be dangerous and living in a dehydrated state means you may deal with fatigue, foggy memory, irritability, and is one of the most common risk factors for kidney stones.
Drinking plenty of water means something different for each person. A quick way to tell if you are drinking enough water is to take a look at your urine.
Tips and Truths About Cutting Calories
I'm not a dietician or a certificate-laden trainer, but I know what works. I've lost 120 pounds twice, but I'm currently down 154 pounds with 46 more to go.
In order to actually get control of your health, calorie intake, and your weight... you're going to have to make some changes. Since we are creatures of habit, we have to slowly change what we've allowed to be the norm.
The candy bar you eat every day, the stash of Little Debbies aren't helping, and you definitely need to start watching the daily donut in the office break room.
You Need to be Honest
I still have my demons. I still have the times where I freak out and go microwave whatever I can find. I still see foods that trigger cravings and eat them. I still do it all.
The difference is I'm honest with myself. I've eaten it, so now what? I log my food, recognize what caused me to freak out and lose my cool, and move on. It sucks, slows your progress down, and can hurt your ego... but you need to be honest with yourself.
We all make mistakes, but if we can do just a little better every day, that's all you can hope for.
Make the Change
It takes an extraordinary amount of discipline to eat the same foods you are currently eating and lose weight. We have our favorites, we like how full our bellies feel, and it's become a habit.
You're going to have to change that.
As you make small changes, you'll start feeling compelled to try new things. Once you see new things making positive changes, you'll feel compelled to be more disciplined and watch the weight on the scale drop. It's like a snowball rolling down a hill — you can pick up momentum as you keep making these small changes.
Choosing Your Food
The best thing I've found for maintaining a reasonable calorie intake is the 80/20 rule. I eat 80% of my calories from natural whole foods like chicken, beef, fish, brown rice, vegetables, and fruits. The remaining 20% of my calories I can have whatever — ice cream, a candy bar, a soda.
For easy numbers, that means someone with a 2,000 calorie per day diet can eat 1,600 calories from whole foods and 400 from whatever you'd like. This is an easy rule to hold yourself to and can give you a reason to "eat right" throughout the day.
I mean seriously, it is worth it to eat right during the day so you can have a treat at some point in your day.
Sticking to Your Plan
The hardest part about sticking to a plan is starting one... so here's what you do now:
- Sign up for MyFitnessPal or another food logging app, or break out the notepad.
- Get on your scale and get your weight. If you don't have one, you can get nice ones for a decent price on Amazon.
- Once you have your weight, jump over to our TDEE calculator — this gives you a starting point on how many calories you need to maintain your weight.
- Now that you have your TDEE, subtract 300 to 500 calories from that and this is what you need to eat per day. For example, if your TDEE says you burn 2,500 calories per day, aim for 2,000 to 2,200 calories per day.
- Go through Pinterest or any other recipe website and get some cooking ideas. Write down different foods you'd like to start eating. Having MyFitnessPal or another food logging app will help determine how much of each food you should eat.
- Every day, write in your journal how you feel, your motivation, your cravings, whatever. Use this as a personal diary. Write everything you want to write down.
- Hop on your scale every week and record your weight.Do this every day, work on improving your nutritional choices and strive to eat a variety of healthy foods.
That's how you lose weight. You make a plan, you execute that plan, and you remain consistent to that plan. You will have measurable results that you can look back on to see what works and what doesn't work.
Something I've had a lot of luck with is intermittent fasting. There's a lot of information out there about fasting, so be sure to read more about it.
In short, intermittent fasting is where you spend a specific part of your day not eating. You still drink water, but you refrain from eating. A basic feeding window would be eight hours of eating and then 16 hours of not eating. It's kind of like skipping breakfast.
There are plenty of different methods to intermittent fasting, and I've been using a four-hour eating window and a 20-hour window of fasting and love it. I invite you to check out intermittent fasting and try it for yourself.
Wrapping It Up
Cutting back calories can suck because of a few reasons — you have to change what you are doing currently, you need to make better food choices, and you'll need to record your data to measure your results. You don't need to cut your calories a low because a too aggressive approach will leave you fatigued and often suffer frequent illness.
Choose foods that replenish your body. Focus on foods that are good for you like fruits, vegetables, and whole foods. This allows you to maintain proper vitamin and mineral levels which help you lose weight and improve your overall health.
Start getting more sleep, try to reduce your overall stress, and start lifting weights when you can.