Counting Calories for Weight Loss, and How to Do It.

People eating healthy and exercising regularly

There has been some debate if counting calories for weight loss is a healthy approach. Some will agree that counting calories for weight loss is an effective way to monitor your calorie intake and lose weight. While some would say it can lead to food restrictions beyond what’s healthy. There are no best ways to lose weight, but monitoring calorie intake seems to be the most effective approach

To lose weight, it’s recommended to consume fewer calories than the calories your body burns. While if you intend to gain weight, you are to consume more calories than you burn. If you want to maintain a healthy weight, you have to balance your calorie intake with the calories your body consumes.

What Are Calories?

Calories are a unit of energy. Calories refer to the energy we get from the food and drink we consume. The body has a constant demand for energy and the calories gotten from foods and drinks are used to keep the body functioning. Calories gotten from nutrients like carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are the main energy sources for the body. Irrespective of their source, calories that are eaten are converted to physical energy or stored in the body as fat. During the digestion of food, your body breaks it down into smaller units. These smaller units are used to build tissues in the body or to supply the body with energy for its immediate activities.

The number of calories gotten from food is recorded as kcals. You can find it in the nutritional facts of food items.

Vector illustration of meal time: breakfast, lunch, dinner. Clock and food.

Is Counting Calories Effective?

Calorie counting is one of the best strategies if you want to achieve healthy body weight. It does require a change in habits and lifestyle, but it’s not difficult. It is not suitable for everyone. Counting calories for weight loss does work if you’re doing it well. So, when cutting calories, you should also balance your meal with the needed nutrients. Having an unbalanced diet would lead to serious health problems. So, you should also aim to balance the consumption of macronutrients too. It’s best advice to eat healthy food that contains the appropriate number of macronutrients that your body needs. When you cut around 500-1000 calories from your diet daily, you could end up losing about 1 pound of your weight on a weekly basis.

How to Count Calories

The first step when counting calories for weight loss is to find the exact number of calories your body needs daily. When you have figured it out, you may want to create a calorie deficit to meet your weight loss goal. There may also be some questions about this as your body needs much more nutrients in one day more than another depending on your daily activities.

It’s easy to find out the calories amount in a packaged food. You could find it in the nutrition label or facts and then write down the number of calories. The servings are also to be considered. If you are taking 2 or 3 servings, you’ll have to double or triple the calorie count that’s on the label.

But first, there are some ways you can keep track of your records which are;

1.      Calorie calculator app

This is one of the easiest and most popular ways people keep track of their calories. We can find lots of them online. It’s simple to use and you just have to enter anything you would be consuming into the app. It will do the calculation for you and you are set to go. Some of them would also suggest the number of calories you should consume from carbs, proteins, and fats to help you achieve your goal. They may be premium apps that could also supply you with macronutrient information. But you don’t have to break your bank to buy an expensive tool.

I would recommend you try MyFitnessPal.

2.      Counting with a food journal.

This is another way people use to keep track of what they eat and drink. It won’t be like the calorie calculator as this is done manually. You have to be observant and honest in your entries. You could also pick this up as a habit. Here, you should be honest about your food portions and not approximate. It must be exact as this is one of the problems people have.

Save calories by cutting meals or items with high calories, and low nutritional contents. You could skip a meal or high-calorie item which you usually take. If you may have a craving for it, then you should try a low-calorie intake as a substitute.

Reducing your portion size: While cutting you calorie intake, you should want to start by eating less. The size of the portion affects how many calories you will be getting. If you eat half the amount of portion, it means you’ll get half of the calories. There are some tips you could try when reducing your portion, and then still not feel hungry. Take less than what you feel you could eat. After eating and if you still don’t feel ok, then it would be best to add vegetables. Vegetables are known to have a lot of filling water and fiber with few calories.

 Eat more protein. Proteins are very important nutrients when it comes to weight loss. Increasing your intake of protein will keep you full and curb your appetite. Research has also shown that they can reduce or prevent weight regain, and can also maintain weight mass. Eating protein-rich foods like eggs, meat, poultry nuts, seeds, and legumes are vital for weight loss.

Limit your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas, fruit juices, chocolate milk, and other drinks with added sugar. They are empty calories as they are high in calories and yet don’t have any nutrients vital to the body. Sugar rich foods or drinks don’t only affect weight gain but are only associated with other health issues such as heart diseases

Drink more water. Ensure to get hydrated to improve brain health and weight management and as well as produce kidney stones. Drinking water before meals helps to reduce hunger and makes you eat fewer calories. You can also try some beverages like coffee and tea to meet your hydration needs.

 Plan your meal well ahead of time for better choices that you could stick to. Find one or two days to your meal plans and figure out the right food to be consumed for a certain period. You should prepare a calorie deficit that is required for weight loss and yet, still meet up with your nutritional needs.

Do some exercises as they can reduce your muscle loss and help to minimize metabolic changes through long-term calorie restriction.

Avoid ultra-processed foods and refined carbs as they lack fiber and don’t support weight loss since they can be less filling and increase appetite, making you consume more calories. Ensure to replace refined carbs with some nutrient-dense fiber-rich capsules like nuts seeds vegetables and whole grains.

Ensure you stock up healthy diets at home. It can be challenging to follow a healthy diet when your home is filled with processed foods that have high calories.

Check food labels for the nutrition facts and the number of calories you will be getting from the meal. This will help you not to consume high-calories unknowingly.

Use a smaller plate when eating. This can help you reduce the portion of food you are to consume.

Join support focus groups or communities with people with the same goals as you. Whenever you join communities like that, you tend to communicate with people with the same goals and get to share ideas and get more tips. You could also see their stories and that could motivate you to go further and learn them.

How Many Calories Should You Be Consuming?

The amount of energy that your body gets from the subunits of food depends on the type of macronutrients.

For example,

In carbs, the body gets 4 calories per gram

For protein, the body gets 4 calories per gram

In fats, the body gets 9 calories per gram

While alcohol, the body gets 7 calories per gram

The amounts of calories you should consume are determined by some factors like age, sex, size, and the activities you engage yourself in.

Here is an estimated daily calorie intake. 

For Women

Age        Daily calorie requirements

Age 19–30          2,000–2,400 calories

Age 31–59          1,800–2,200 calories

Age 60 and above           1,600–2,000 calories

These figures don’t necessarily apply to women who are breastfeeding or pregnant. They will need to consume more calories.

For Men

Age        Daily calorie requirements

Age 19–30          2,400–3,000 calories

Age 31–59          2,200–3,000 calories

Age 60 and above           2,000–2,600 calories

Men who have health conditions and who engage themselves in more muscular activities would need more calories.

For Children

Age        Daily calorie requirements

Age 2–4              Male: 1,000–1,600 calories Female: 1,000–1,400 calories

Age 5–8              Male: 1,200–2,000 calories Female: 1,200–1,800 calories

Age 9–13            Male: 1,600–2,600 calories Female: 1,400–2,200 calories

Age 14–18          Male: 2,000–3,200 calories Female: 1,800–2,400 calories

There is no need to cut the calorie intake of a child as this can cause nutrient deficiencies and slow the growth process of a child. It is best to practice healthy eating and encourage them to do more physical activities

Pros and Cons of Counting Calories for Weight Loss

Pros

When you keep track of your calorie intake and make better decisions. You can learn how many calories you can consume. Keeping track of your calorie intake can also give you the guarantee that the diet you are consuming has all the right macronutrients

Counting calories for weight loss is free to start. There’s no need to join an expensive weight loss program. You just have to monitor your food portions and keep track of your progress.

Your chances of reaching your goal are higher when you make plans for it.  Research found out that 74% of the people that were successful at losing their weight tracked their calorie intake daily. There’s an awareness of how much you’re eating and could predict if you’re on the right track or not.

Cons

It can have a negative impact on your diet and mood. Sometimes you may need some food for your mental health. It’s best to be healthy and happy. There may be some food that you like, which tends to make you feel happy. Studies have shown that most people who focus on calorie counting and monitoring tend to remove some foods from their meals. Some people will feel so uncomfortable trying it.

If you are too strict on the number of calories you consume you won’t realize when your body needs food. It’s best to pay attention to how your body feels and not the quantity of food you must eat. Some people can get filled on a higher portion intake compared to others. It is best not to cut down on calories too much as this can have side effects on the body, and slow the metabolism

Calories do not tell the quality of the diet. A meal that has about 100 calories could be different from another meal of the same 100 calories as the macronutrients may differ. One meal may contain protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals while the other may contain empty calories such as high added sugar.

Counting calories could also become an obsession for some people especially when they take it too strictly. They could also miss out on some nutrients. Sometimes the body may need many more calories on some days than others.

It is actually your decision to make if you intend to count calories or not. Counting calories is long known to be effective in weight management but it doesn’t mean it’s good overall. If you’re not sure, you could always meet your doctor and dietitian to seek consultation before you make changes in your diet.

Calculating calories can help you identify unhealthy foods and help you avoid them. It is one of the best strategies to use if you want to achieve healthy body weight. It does require a change in habits and lifestyle, but it’s not difficult. Counting calories for weight loss does work if you’re doing it well. Having an unbalanced diet would lead to serious health problems. So, you should also aim to balance the consumption of healthy foods with the right macronutrients too. You should also be careful when using a calorie tracking app as some of the results there may be estimates.

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