How to Count Calories
Whether it is that post-holiday time of year, the end of a pregnancy, or just the result of a sedentary lifestyle, somehow the extra pounds got there, and something has to change to lose the weight. Determining how many calories you should consume daily and track your calorie intake throughout the day is an effective way to try to lose weight. Counting calories is not a diet, but it does help you eat the right number of calories for your height, weight, and level of physical activity.
Determining Your BMR and Daily Caloric Intake
Seek approval from a health care professional before starting a weight-loss or exercise plan.It is not worth jeopardizing your health with a crash diet. For most people, a healthy amount of weight to lose is 1 to 2 pounds per week.
Use free online BMR calculators to take the mystery out of weight loss.BMR stands for basal metabolic rate, is the amount of calories consumed while you're at rest, not doing anything.
- The Mayo Clinic and many other health-related websites have calorie calculators that determine how many calories you should eat per day to maintain your current weight. Enter variables such as weight, height, age, gender and frequency of exercise, and the calculator determines the right number of daily calories for you.
If you don't want to use online BMR converters, do the math yourself.Here's how you calculate your BMR. It's different for men and women:
- For women:
- 655 + (4.3 x Weight in pounds) + (4.2 x Height in inches) - (4.7 x Age in years)
- For men:
- 66 + (6.3 x Weight in pounds) + (12.9 x Height in inches) - (5.8 x Age in years)
- You'll come up with a number. What does this number mean? This is a number of calories that you'd burn if you stayed in bed all day and did absolutely nothing.
- For women:
Factor in your level of daily exercise to your BMR.Do this to see how many calories you can consume during a day to maintain your weight. Take your BMR, multiply it by the appropriate number below, and add that to your BMR to see how many calories you can eat during the day tostay the same weight. This is called your suggested daily calorie intake.
- For no activity, multiply your BMR by 20% (this means BMR x .20, not 20!)
- For little or light activity, multiply your BMR by 30%
- For moderate activity, multiply your BMR by 40%
- For strong activity, multiply your BMR by 50%
- For intense activity, multiply your BMR by 60%
Understand how weight loss and weight gain work.Any calories you consume above your suggested daily calorie intake will cause you to gain weight, while consuming fewer calories than your suggested daily calorie intake will cause you to lose weight. A pound is measured by 3,500 calories. So if you consume 3,500 more calories than you burn during a day, you'll gain a pound; if you burn 3,500 more calories than you consume during a day, you'll lose a pound.
- For example, say that your BMR is 1,790. Let's also say that you're moderately active, meaning you exercise three times a week. 1,790 x .40 = 716. Add 716 to 1,790 to get 2,506. That's what you need to stay under in order to lose weight. Any calories consumed above 2,506 means you're gaining weight.
Cut 500 calories a day to lose 1 pound per week.One pound equals 3,500 calories, so cutting 500 calories a day will add up to a pound a week. Having a target goal for daily calories makes it easier to decide what to eat.
- If your suggested daily calorie intake is about 2,500, then shoot for 2,000. This will help you along with your goal of losing one pound every week.
Learning How to Count Calories
Plan meals that have the right number of calories.Life is busy; it’s easy to eat whatever is in the house or to head for the nearest drive-through and order something that sounds good. Instead, resisting the urge to eat junk food, plan what you will eat each day. To keep yourself on track, buy the necessary groceries to get you through a few days or a week.
- In the beginning, this exercise will be harder because you won't be very good at estimating which foods have which calories. After a few weeks of being strict with yourself, you should be a pro at estimating how caloric certain foods are.
Choose healthy foods.Healthy foods may not taste the greatest, but they usually have far fewer calories in them, meaning that you can eat more of it. On the flip side, unhealthy foods usually have more calories; a large cola at McDonald's weighs in at over 300 calories, about the same as a McDonald's cheeseburger.That's a lot of calories for a drink. When looking for foods, generally choose:
- Lean, white protein (chicken breast, fish, tofu) instead ofdark, fatty meat
- Colorful, fresh fruits and vegetables instead ofdried fruits and vegetables
- Whole wheat grains (brown rice, whole grain bread) instead ofprocessed grains (white rice, white bread)
- Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats instead ofsaturated and trans fats
- Omega-3 fatty acids, such as flaxseed, cod liver oil, and salmon
- Nuts, seeds, and grains instead ofsweets and candies
Drink plenty of water, especially before a meal.Water is essential for the health of your body's organs. It also takes up space in your stomach, suppressing your appetite. Best of all, water contains absolutely no calories. That's like stealing calories each time you drink. (Your body spends calories digesting food and water.) If you're serious about losing weight, drink water and stay away from any sweetened drinks like "energy" drinks, sodas, or fruit juices. Unsweetened green tea is acceptable to drink.
Check the calorie content of every food item before you buy it.Whether it’s bread, snacks or packaged frozen foods, check the product’s number of calories per serving and choose the one with the lowest reading.
- If you're younger, go with your parents when they go grocery shopping. It'll be a bonding experience, and you'll get to pick out healthy, nutritional foods for yourself, with dietary information that you can understand.
- Pay attention to serving sizes. If a nutritional label says the entire package has about 4 servings, then divide the entire contents of the package into 4 even groups. One group is equal to one serving.
Look up calories on nutritional websites.Not all foods have packaging that shows the number of calories, but there are many websites that tell you the calories of nearly any food. Just make sure that after you check the calories for a 4-oz. piece of fish, for example, you eat only that much.
Get out the measuring spoons and cups to keep serving sizes exact.This way, you will know you really are putting exactly a tablespoon of creamer in the coffee or ¼ cup of cheese in scrambled eggs.
Write down everything you eat and drink, and record the number of calories per item.You can use a computer spreadsheet program to make this easier. Record what you eat (even on a scrap of paper), and plug the information into your spreadsheet at the end of the day. Then, total up the calories. Not only does writing it down help you to stay motivated and on track, it is also helpful to look back and see the calories of certain foods you eat regularly.
- One plus of having a food journal is that it will help you remember healthy dishes that you really liked. Put it down in your journal and you're less likely to forget that grilled asparagus with quinoa is actually pretty darn good.
Expect it to get easier.In the beginning, when you don’t know the number of calories of any food item, counting calories requires quite a bit of time and research, which can be frustrating. But once you automatically know an apple is 70 calories or a favorite granola bar is 90 calories, it becomes much easier.
Get a tally counter.You can find them for less than apiece on most auction sites. Increase the count every time you eat something (it's most practical to make one click per 10 calories consumed).
- Alternatively, many smartphones have apps available that will look up caloric values for you, as well as calculate how many calories you should consume per day if you want to lose weight.
Be patient.Don't expect your weight loss program to happen overnight. Too often, people with really good intentions get discouraged right before they start to see real results. Had they just kept with it for a little bit longer, they would have started reaping the rewards. So stick with your program, believe in it, and be patient. You owe it to yourself.
Printable Food Diary
QuestionWhat if there is no information about how many calories are in an item?Community AnswerYou can usually search Google for "how many calories in [name of food]".Thanks!
QuestionHow do I calculate the % of macronutrient daily intake from a food diary?Top AnswererThe best app for this is called MyFitnessPal. It details every macro and micronutrient that goes into your body for free. It calculates the percentages for you.Thanks!
QuestionIf I know the number of calories in one item, how do I figure out the number of calories in multiple items?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou would take the number you already know and multiply it by how many you are going to eat. For instance, if a cookie had 100 calories and you were going to eat 3, multiply 100X3 for 300 calories.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if I eat at a restaurant or have a school lunch?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerGoogle whatever you're eating with the word "calories," i.e., "chicken fingers calories" and you should be able to get a rough estimate. Just make smart choices. If you know you're eating something with a lot of calories, get a half portion, choose a salad or side of vegetables instead of fries, etc. If you're eating at a chain restaurant, they usually have nutritional information available on their website, and sometimes even right there on the menu.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I calculate the calories of an energy bar?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIf it's a packaged energy bar, the nutritional information should be somewhere on the wrapper. If you can't find it, try googling "calories in [brand and flavor of your energy bar]."Thanks!
- If you are making a recipe that does not show how many calories the dish will have, you can estimate the calories by looking at the packaging of each ingredient.
- Find low-calorie recipes online and look up nutritional information at favorite restaurants so you know what to order when you get there.
- Don’t overlook the calories in beverages. Drink water or low-calorie beverages so you don’t waste precious calories on something that won’t fill you up.
- When comparing calories on the packaging of two brands, make sure the serving sizes are the same.
Sources and Citations
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