Counting Down to Weight Loss
When it comes to weight loss, one of the most important factors is the number of calories you eat. One professor of human nutrition actually managed to lose 27 pounds eating nothing but Twinkies and other junk food. How did he do it? By limiting himself to 1,800 calories a day. (NOTE: such a diet would have nearly no nutritional value and we do not recommend it. The main point is that a major driver of weight loss is the amount of calories one consumes each day).
While the concept of counting calories may seem very simple, there are a number of common mistakes that dieters make. Unfortunately, these blunders can delay or even stop your dieting progress. To help you, we’ve gathered the below steps to show you how to successfully count your calories:
Calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). You can do it easily here. Your TDEE tells you how many calories you need to eat in a day in order to maintain your current weight, based on your age, sex, height, weight, and time spent doing physical activity weekly. To be even more accurate, use the formula that takes into account your body fat percentage. You can estimate that based on pictures found here. Just as a reference, a typical TDEE is 1,800-2,000 calories for women and 2,200-2,400 for men.
Set a daily calorie limit based on your goals. Take the number of calories you got from the TDEE calculator, and either add or subtract depending on your goal. Generally, you should stay within 300-500 of your TDEE. If you’re trying to gain mass or muscle, add 300. If you want to lose weight, subtract the same amount. Keep in mind that a pound of fat equals about 3,500 calories. So if you cut 300 calories a day from your TDEE, you can expect to lose a pound of fat every 12 days. If you want to lose faster, cut more calories, but we wouldn’t recommend going more than 500 calories below your TDEE.
Set a goal to work towards in terms of weight loss. How much do you want to lose and by when? Put it up on the wall, add it to your calendar, tell your cat or dog (or fish?). You want a solid number in mind so you can track your progress and celebrate your achievements.
Download a calorie-tracking app to your phone. I recommend MyFitnessPal since it’s free and has a huge database of commonly eaten foods including those at most major restaurant chains. As you go through your day, log everything you eat on your app. This will let you see how many calories you’re consuming (you can also track your macros: protein, fat, and carbs) to make sure you are staying under the goal you set in Step #2. Pro Tip: you can scan most food bar codes into the app and it will autopopulate on your app.
Buy a food scale. Here’s the one that I use at home. A decent food scale costs $20 or less. For something so useful in the long-run, this is a small price to pay. Use the scale to accurately weigh out your portion sizes. You’ll notice that most snacks will list the amount of grams next to the serving size on their nutritional label. Now you can weight it out instead of eyeballing it (this is really important for calorie dense foods like nuts). Scales are also useful for accurately splitting up large batches of cooked meals into individual servings.
Get into the habit of meal prepping. Click here for some easy recipes to get you started. When you cook, use a spreadsheet to calculate the number of calories and macros in your recipe. You can break these down by serving and add them into your calorie tracking app so you know exactly what you are consuming. Here is a template spreadsheet that I use for calculating the calories in my home-made meals. Similarly, you can add custom meals and recipes to MyFitnessPal to pull from. Here is a video that shows you how to log your recipes.
If you must go out to eat, make smart choices that don’t blow out your calorie budget (the average restaurant meal contains 1,200 calories - that’s more than half of most people’s entire daily caloric needs!). Check out our blog post on how to make better choices when eating out.
Clear your house of tempting snacks that don’t fit into your plan. Sometimes the easiest choice is to have no choice at all. Check out our Low Carb Shopping List for ideas on the types of food to keep at home. If you want to keep some sweets on hand, consider stocking up our no sugar, low-carb desserts: Shop ChipMonk Products. In general, stay away from things you know that you’ll binge on. Seek out foods that are filling and nutritious like nuts, fruits, and vegetables.
Get a digital scale and track your weekly progress. Most calorie tracking mobile apps also let you track your weight as well. DO NOT PANIC if your weight fluctuates up or down day-to-day. This is perfectly normal as water weight can often cause unexpected weight changes. What’s important is that you see longer-term trends of your weight decreasing. Aim for 0.5 - 2 pounds of lost weight a week.
Plan to cheat. It’s totally okay to have a cheat meal once or twice a week. Just make sure you budget for it when you’re tracking your calories. If you want to have a big pizza for dinner, then fast during the first part of the day so you don’t lose the weight loss progress you’ve seen so far. If you want to have a party day, then eat fewer calories the day before and/or after to give you a budget surplus to “spend” on some fun. Intermittent fasting can be a useful tool for this type of “budgeting” mindset. We’ve got a whole article breaking down the art of fasting here: Intermittent Fasting.
Make it a lifestyle. Make it a habit to track calories or to at least be mindful of them as you eat throughout the day. The longer you do it, the easier it will become. You’ll start to feel empowered as you take control over the food you choose to eat. With calorie tracking, you can leave yourself room for indulgences and cheat meals all while staying on track towards your weight goals. At the end of the day, the key to long-term success with weight control is to make it a lifelong habit. Make it second nature and the struggle will nearly evaporate.
Now you understand the basics of calorie counting and can add it to your tool belt for making changes to your body weight! If you found this article useful or have any questions or comments, please share, leave a comment, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on our contact page. See you next time!