How to Count Your Calories

Some people opine that counting calories is not an efficient way to lose your weight. The ‘experts’ suggest that it is more efficient to control the type of foods that you eat, as compared to the counting of calories. They say that there are certain types of food that actually clog your system and create some hormonal imbalances that will lead to an increase in your weight, rather than decreasing it. They also suggest that there are other types of foods which will clear your system and help you lose your weight. Of course, people that have tried and failed the calorie counting methods, will agree to that and so will such people who do not want to track, plan or count their calorie intake. There may actually be some other reasons for their failed attempts and since they were unable to figure that out, they thought that the method is ineffective. This article addresses the issue of counting your calories to reduce weight and also explains a great and surefire way to reduce your weight by counting your calories. Before counting the calories, it is important to learn the definition of calorie and what calorie is. This article explains in detail how can counting calories help you shed your weight.

Read the complete article to learn how to lose weight using calorie counting method!



First Thing’s First: What is a Calorie?

Ironically, most people that have told me “calorie counting doesn’t” work couldn’t actually define the word. All they knew is counting them didn’t help them lose weight.

Well, to really understand why calorie counting is still the simplest way to lose weight, and how to do it correctly, you need to know a lot more than that. But let’s start with the simple:

A calorie (also known as a kilocalorie or large calorie) is the amount of energy required to heat up one kilogram of water one degree Celsius.

Calories are nothing more than measurements of stored (potential) energy.

The “calorie counts” of various foods is simply letting you know how much potential energy the foods contain, and some foods are more energy dense than others. For instance, a tablespoon of olive oil has about 100 calories’ worth of energy, whereas a tablespoon of protein powder has about 30 calories’ worth of energy.

In case you’re wondering, the calories contained in food are measured with devices known as calorimeters. There are quite a few varieties of calorimeters, but they all operate on the laws of thermodynamics and involve measuring various heat-related properties of food.

The important thing for you to know is that the calorie isn’t some abstract symbol that may or may not have something to do with weight loss–it’s the objective measurement of a very real, scientifically verifiable reality (food contains energy).


What Your Body Does with Calories?

After asking people that swear calorie counting doesn’t work what a calorie actually is (and hear their…interesting…definitions), I usually follow that up with another question: What do you think your body does with calories?

Most people just say they don’t know or think it “stores them as fat.” Well, ironically, “it stores them as fat” is actually kind of correct. But there’s a lot more to it than that.

You see, your body requires a certain amount of energy to stay alive. Every cell in your body needs a steady supply of fuel to do its job, and it must ultimately obtain this fuel from the food we eat.

The 24-hour measurement of how much energy your body uses to perform all basic functions related to staying alive (excluding any and all physical activity) is known as your “basal metabolic rate,” or “BMR.”

(Basal means “forming a base; fundamental,” metabolic means related to the metabolism, which is “the physical and chemical processes in an organism by which it produces, maintains, and destroys material substances, and by which it makes energy available.”)

For instance, I’m 29 years old, 6’2, 189 pounds, and about 7% body fat. Per the Katch McArdle formula, my BMR should be about 2,100 calories per day. That’s how much energy my body should burn every day, excluding any physical activity.


What Calories Have to Do with Weight Loss and Gain?

As you’ve probably guessed by now, by regulating the amount of energy we give our bodies with food, we can induce weight loss and gain.

If we regularly feed our body more energy than it burns, we will gain weight in the form of body fat (the larger the surplus, the more fat we’ll gain and the quicker we’ll gain it). This is known as creating a “calorie surplus.”

On the flip side, if we regularly feed the body less energy than it burns, we will lose fat (the larger the deficit, the more weight we’ll lose and the faster we’ll lose it, but don’t think that severe calorie restriction is a good idea).  This is known is creating a “calorie deficit,” and it’s the key to weight loss.

It doesn’t matter if you count your calories or even where those calories come from (professor Mark Haub lost 27 pounds on a diet of protein shakes, Twinkies, Doritos, Oreos, and Little Debbie snacks. If you keep your body in a negative energy balance over time, your total fat mass will go down. Period.

What is actually happening is the amount of fat your body stores from your daily meals is less than the amount of fat it burns when it doesn’t have food energy to live on. This is all weight loss is: fat stored < fat burned, over time.

I say “should be” because even if your body composition remains the same, BMR isn’t an absolute–the amount of energy your body uses while at rest can increase or decrease based on long-term dietary and exercise patterns (this is known as “metabolic adaptation,” and is a fascinating subject unto itself).


Why Counting Calories Doesn’t (Seem to) Work for Everyone?

I’ve helped thousands of people build muscle and lose fat, and here are the simple reasons why some people struggle with counting calories or think it doesn’t work:

They hate the idea of having to plan and track what they eat.

These people usually see meal planning or tracking intake with something like My Fitness Pal a psychological burden or have a lifestyle that involves a lot of unplanned meals prepared by others, which are basically impossible to measure in terms of calories.

On the other hand, these people quickly change their minds when they see how effortless weight loss is when you use calorie counting properly (which we’ll get to in a moment)–no hunger, no cravings, and no crossing your fingers, hoping that this is the diet that finally works.

They hate the idea of having to restrict their eating in any way.

Some people just have a strange relationship with food and want to eat what they want when they want and don’t want to feel like a “slave” to the oppressive calorie count.

In my experience, these people are harder to change. They will try anything before finally submitting to the master of energy balance–fad diets, cleanses, weight loss pills, etc.–and often choose the stay fat and wait for the next “metabolic miracle” than count a calorie.

They don’t stick to the plan and regularly overeat.

This is, of course, all too common. They have a few extra bites at breakfast. A double portion of dressing at lunch. A little unplanned dessert at dinner.

All these “little” portions of extra calories add up and can easily negate the moderate calorie deficit you’re trying to maintain on a daily basis.

The solution is simple: every single thing that goes into your mouth every day is planned or tracked.

How to Count Calories Correctly for Effortless Weight Loss

We’ve covered a lot in this article, so I’m going to keep this section short and to the point. Here’s how you count calories correctly for easy and enjoyable weight loss:

  1. Commit to exercising at least 3 times per week. 

Ideally you would do both resistance training and cardio (high-intensity interval cardio is my favorite for weight loss purposes) as a part of your program.

  1. Determine your TDEE properly.

As discussed earlier, this is your BMR times the appropriate activity multiplier.

  1. Create a meal plan that you actually enjoy.

One of the worst things about most mainstream diet methodologies is the amount of restrictions placed on what you can eat and when. And the irony is all those rules are bogus and unnecessary.

So long as your daily caloric intake is set correctly, and your macronutrient ratios are right, WHAT you eat isn’t all that important. Dieting is much more a quantitative game (numbers) than a qualitative one (what you eat).

Yes, I do recommend sticking to healthy, nutritious foods, but you can eat plenty of carbs every day, including some sugar (gasp!) if you want, and do just fine.

Check out my article on meal planning to learn exactly how to do this step correctly.

  1. Stick to the plan and adjust as needed.

This is where the rubber meets the road. All the previous steps don’t matter unless you actually stick to your meal plan exactly.

You probably will have to resist some temptations.

  • You should never feel starved, but you might be hungry here and there
  • You might have to turn down the dessert because you don’t have the calories for it
  • You might have to eat a bit less of a certain type of food than you’re used to
  • You might have to push yourself to do your workout even though you’re tired

You get the idea. Weight loss shouldn’t be grueling, but it does take discipline and persistence. But it’s very straightforward. Take the right actions every day, and you will reach your goal.

And in terms of adjusting either activity or food up or down, you play it by ear.

  • If you’re not any leaner after 7 to 10 days, something is wrong. Intake is too high or activity is too low.
  • If you’re getting leaner but you’re feeling lethargic and weak in the gym, you’re probably eating too little or moving too much (this can happen easily if you do too much cardio while dieting).

The important thing to know is there’s no reason to panic. It’s not that calorie counting “isn’t working,” it’s just that something is off in terms of energy intake vs. output, and it can be easily fixed.


Author: Michael Matthews

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