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A Simple Way to Keep Track of Calories in Order to Lose Weight

Updated on August 28, 2012

What this is not

This is not a complex plan involving carbohydrates, proteins and fats. This is not a plan that calculates the amount of your fiber intake or how many meals you eat per day or how late you eat your last meal. This plan is not terribly concerned with what specifically you are eating or the quality of your food choices or the needs of your body. Many of those things are important, to be sure, but all of that comes later. And, it goes without saying that you should consult a doctor if you have any concerns about diet and exercise and how it may affect your health.

The Basics

In its purest form, this plan involves figuring out how much you are eating every day. You can call it calorie counting if you wish, and you would be accurate. It is no secret that your body is an engine that requires fuel. Without fuel, you cannot function. Thus, diets that deprive you of too much fuel almost always result in failure. The biggest problem that most people have is that they are eating too much fuel. When trying to determine how much you are eating, it can be frustrating and confusing, trying to keep track of how much of everything is being eaten; how many calories, grams of protein, ounces of carbs, etc.

This plan attempts to break down food into fuel units. For simplicity's sake, each fuel unit is 100 calories. It is an arbitrary measurement, but it seems to work fairly well. It is easy to remember and easy to keep track of, and a lot of diet conscious food products are portioned out either at or near 100 calories or in a number easily divisible by 100.

Step One: Pick Your Fuel Number

The first step is to figure out how much you need to be eating; how much fuel you should be putting into your system. How much is right for you depends on a myriad of factors that we will not address here. Factors such as age, gender, activity level, current weight, and more will determine how much fuel you burn every day. A very rough estimate states that women need 1800 calories per day and men need 2400. If we use those examples then a woman would need to consume 18 units of fuel per day and a man would need to consume 24 units of fuel per day. If you wanted to gain or lose weight, you would adjust the amount of consumption accordingly.

How many fuel units do you suppose this contains?
How many fuel units do you suppose this contains? | Source

Step Two: Getting Familiar With Fuel Units

This is the most time consuming part of the plan. It may seem daunting at first, but is not as hard as it appears. The more you work on this part, the easier it becomes and the less and less you will have to do it. Basically you are learning how many fuel units each type of food contains. There are some easy units to determine, such as a prepackaged snack bar, and there are some more difficult units to determine, such as an old family recipe. Your purpose in this step is to figure out how many calories are in a particular food and round it to the nearest 100. After you do that, you just have to remember how many units that particular food is. For example:

Sample List of Fuel Units

Hard boiled egg
70 calories
1 fuel unit
Tablespoon of Peanut Butter
89 calories
1 fuel unit
Snickers bar
280 calories
3 fuel units
120 calories
1 fuel unit
Broccoli Spear
10 calories
0 fuel units
4 Fuel Units of Broccoli
4 Fuel Units of Broccoli | Source

Important Notes

Firstly, you do not care what you are actually eating at this point. You will work on that later. At this point it does not matter if you are eating 50% protein or 60% carbohydrates or 40% fat. Obviously you don't want to eat 6 Snickers bars in 24 hours and call it a day, but in theory, you could. You just want to be able to get a rough idea, throughout a day, how many calories you consume when you eat a particular food. As you practice this, you will not be able to help but notice that you can eat vast quantities fruits and vegetables for very little fuel units, whereas food heavy in butter and batter will use up your fuel allotment for the day quite rapidly.

Secondly, don't worry if your fuel units aren't EXACTLY 100 calories each. It is a guideline; an approximation. What helps the plan to work is that you don't have to remember precisely how many calories are in a standard slice of bread, but that a slice of bread is one fuel unit. You look at your favorite candy bar and it is two fuel units. A plate full of carrots is one fuel unit. That big dinner is eight fuel units, but you have eighteen for the day. You get the idea. You don't have to calculate your consumption, calorie by calorie, but rather you do so by easily identified estimates - fuel units.

Thirdly, don't try and convert every food on earth into fuel units. Concentrate on what you normally eat. If you never eat asparagus, then it doesn't matter how many fuel units a cup of asparagus is. If you love ice cream, and must have it, find out how many fuel units comprises two scoops. Get a good idea of how many fuel units your most common foods are. By the way, if you don't have a reference book on calories, Google the food and the word "calories" and you will find it easily.

Step Three: Testing the Plan

This is the step where you test out the plan. See how it works for you. See what you like and don't like. Is it easier to track fuel units throughout the day? Is it easier to keep a log of fuel units at the end of every day? How often do you have to look up food to remember how many fuel units it is? You will find that after a week or so, the things you eat the most of, will automatically register in your head as to how many fuel units they are. It will soon become second nature to look at a food and "see" how many fuel units it is.

So Many Choices!
So Many Choices! | Source

Step Four: Tweaking the Plan

This is where you make the plan your own. Once you have a grasp on the concept, you can move your fuel unit consumption around and make it fit your lifestyle. You can eat three meals a day or six meals a day; you can eat earlier or later. You can start to tweak you fuel unit consumption and pick fuel units that have higher or lower amounts of protein, fat, or carbohydrates. You will, of course, find that certain fuel units keep you fuller for a longer period of time and that certain fuel units do not satisfy. Tweak accordingly.

The beauty of this plan is that it is exceedingly flexible. It makes no determination as to what you have to eat or not eat. There are countless book and studies and plans that tell you what types of foods you should eat and what types of combinations you should eat and what you should avoid. Since that work has already been done ad nauseum, it is not done here. This plan just helps you to keep track of your consumption in an easily memorable way. Hopefully it will help you be successful in you dieting endeavors.


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