I would argue that counting calories is the easiest way to alter your diet. It’s not the only way! It’s not even necessarily the best way, though I’ve not found a better. I’d like to share some information with you, and some tips for how to try out calorie counting if you never have. I’m currently using Calorie Count to help me with my weight loss goals.
Counting calories, in and of itself, is not going to help you lose weight or eat healthy. If you start counting without a goal, you will see how many calories you’re eating every day, but that won’t do you much good. What you need is a limit, a target, or a goal to shoot for in your daily calorie intake. There are many websites that can provide a calculator to determine this number for you, but you can also choose for yourself, using some trial-and-error. Here are some guidelines:
1. Don’t go too low. Those in the medical field generally agree that no woman – not even the skinniest – should go below 1200 calories per day. The bigger you are and the more active you are, the more calories you need. If you eat too few calories, not only do you risk malnutrition, but you also risk putting your body into starvation mode, meaning that more fat is stored (rather than burned)! For men, I think the number not to go below is 1400 per day.
2. Take off a few hundred calories. If you know that you usually eat 2400 calories every day, try cutting back only a few hundred, to about 1900-2100 per day, and see where that gets you. Try it for a week or two before deciding to lower it any more.
3. There is another way to get a daily calorie deficit. Your body burns calories all day long (metabolism!), and your goal with counting calories is to eat approximately the same number of calories as you burn to maintain your weight or to eat fewer calories than you burn to lose weight. However, to achieve this weight-loss deficit, rather than eating less, you can also try exercising more. Eating the same amount while adding exercise to your routine will increase how many calories you burn throughout the day as well as increasing your calorie deficit.
Reaching But Not Exceeding
The tricky part of calorie counting comes in trying to reach your target without going over. If you’re limiting yourself to 1400 calories a day, for instance, you will soon see that you have to put some careful planning into play. This is the secret; this is how calorie-counting leads to healthy eating. You simply cannot pig out on unhealthy, high-calorie foods every day or you will starve!
Let’s see, I could go to McDonalds and have a medium chocolate shake for 580 calories, medium fries for 380 plus of course 50 for ketchup, and a double cheeseburger for 440. Crap. I’ve now had 1450 calories (I went over my daily limit), and I can’t eat anything else today at all.
Sure, this might work out for a day or so, but pretty soon you’re going to be feeling very hungry!!
1. Choose one meal a day to be the biggest meal. While nutritionists usually suggest this should be breakfast, most of us find it to be more realistic to say that dinner or supper will be our big meal of the day. When my husband is home, I know that we’ll be eating a full meal for dinner, so I try to “save” several hundred calories for that meal.
2. Eat tiny portions slowly. Eating slowly isn’t just a mental trick to feeling like you’ve eaten more. It actually gives your stomach time to tell your brain that you’re fuller than you thought! It takes a lot of patience, but try it out! Also, drink water to help fill your tummy when it feels like you haven’t had enough. And remember, snack time is only an hour or so away!
3. Find healthy snacks. If you only have one egg and one piece of toast for breakfast, you’ll probably find yourself hungry before lunch time. And this is okay! Many people highly recommend switching from 3 meals a day to 5 or more, and you can do this in part by snacking. If you’re a fruit or veggie person, those both make great munchie foods. You can also try individual yogurt cups, nuts, milk, and low-calorie crackers.
4. Give yourself time to get used to the change. When you’re cutting calories, it’s expected that you’ll feel hungry at first. Make sure this isn’t a sign that you’re starving yourself, first of all, but after that just give yourself some time to adjust. You’ll find your body getting used to it within a week or two, I’d say.
5. Finally, remember not to deprive yourself! Make sure you’re eating enough, and make sure you allow yourself to enjoy some high-calorie foods sometimes. As you know, I’m not one to recommend cutting things out of your diet completely. As long as you’re willing to accept the fact that the milkshake is going to fill you up a lot less than 500 calories of something else, it’s fine to indulge sometimes!
If you decide to track other nutrition information, such as fat and sodium, I say more power to you. But even without that, setting and meeting a calorie goal can help you a lot in learning to make healthier food choices. Success comes not just from losing weight. It comes from becoming more healthy.
Have you ever tried counting calories? What were your goals? Did you reach them? Or do you have a better method you’d like to share?