- Diet & Weight Loss
How Do I Count Calories?
My neighbor sat across the table sipping her oolong tea as we bemoaned dieting and the fight to manage our weight. I had lost 30 pounds, but with the stress of losing my job, gained 15 back. I didn't want to continue down that path. I've followed more diets than I care to count, but the one method that delivers weight loss results for me is counting calories. "How do I count calories," my neighbor asked. "I don't even know how many calories are in the things I eat."
She is not alone. It would be helpful if we had a little number that appeared over our heads to keep track of our calorie intake, but it's not quite that easy.
Basics for How to Count Calories
Calorie counting isn't for everyone, because it takes effort. You have to figure out how many calories are in something before you eat it, otherwise it's like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. It's work at the start, but after a couple of weeks of calorie counting, it isn't so bad. I recommend creating a cheat sheet of the foods you eat most often as an easy reference tool. That way you don't have to look them up every time.
Along with the commitment to count calories, you need to be equipped for success. This includes measuring devices including a food scale, but before you can learn how to count calories to lose weight, it's important to learn how many calories is right for you.
How Many Calories Is Right for You?
How many calories you need to lose weight (or maintain or gain) will depend on a number of factors including your:
- Current weight
- Activity level
While many diets promise fast weight loss, experts suggest weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week. That may sound too slow or too little, but if you keep your eyes on the goal, you'll see that following this approach means a weight loss of 52-104 pounds in a year. To lose that weight, you need to create a calorie deficit. That means you burn more calories than you take in, and as a result the body burns stored body fat as fuel. The result is in weight loss. You can find out how many calories you should be eating my using a convenient online caloric calculator. However, before you start limiting calories, talk with your doctor or healthcare provider for guidance. They know your medical history and understand your nutritional needs beyond the number of calories you eat.
Food Scale and Other Measuring Equipment
Once you know how many calories you need, and how many calories are in certain foods, it is important to have the tools on hand to make counting calories possible. This includes:
- Food Scale: I recommend a digital scale that measures in ounces or grams. Having this flexibility makes figuring out how many calories you're eating easier and more accurate. For instance, I prefer to measure things like cereal in grams rather than ounces as it is more precise.
- Measuring Cups: Have different size measuring cups on hand. These can be used instead of serving spoons when making your plate. For instance, if you have a ¼ cup as a gravy ladle you'll know exactly how many calories you're adding to your dish, or that a ½ cup scoop of rice is 100 calories. Measuring your food keeps you honest.
- Measuring Spoons: In the same way measuring cups can be used to measure servings, measuring spoons can be used to keep smaller amounts in check. For instance, if you want to add honey to your tea, using a teaspoon will keep your calories at 31 whereas a tablespoon would add 63 calories. If you're only eating 1,200 calories in a day, it doesn't take long to realize you don't want to "spend" 63 calories on a cup of tea.
Calorie Counting Tools and Food Labels
Today calorie counters make it easy to figure out how many calories are in the food you eat. I prefer the "A Calorie Counter" tool because it lets me change the unit of measure and the calories automatically adjust. For instance, I can change 1 cup of diced chicken at 266 calories to 1 ounce at 53, or change the amount of ounces to four and the calories adjust to 215 calories. I can know all that with a few clicks of the mouse.
You can also find all kinds of books offering caloric information, or apps for your phone to help for when you're on the go.
Tips for Eating Out
Eating out doesn't have to be an excuse for eating too many calories. Many restaurants have calorie information on their websites. When you're going out, check the website and know what you're ordering before you step foot in the restaurant. Also have a back-up entrée in mind, just in case they are out of your first choice.
Print out the nutritional charts from your favorite fast food restaurants and keep them in the car. That way you'll be prepared to make wise choices, even if you hit the drive-through.
Does It Really Work?
Counting calories does work. It's an effective way to manage weight, but only if you do it without cheating. Everyone goes over their calorie limit from time to time, but if it becomes a habit your weight won't budge, or even worse will continue to climb. Counting calories to lose weight means eating less calories than your body uses in a day. You can help speed the process by exercising regularly. It takes 3,500 extra calories above what your body needs, to make you gain a pound. In the same way, you need to create a deficit of 3,500 calories to lose that pound. I can tell you first hand, It can be done if you are aware of how many calories you're taking in!
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