The prospect of counting calories to lose weight can seem like a daunting one, and rightly so. It isn’t an easy thing to start doing; if it was, everyone would do it. But in today’s health-conscious world it has, ironically, become more difficult to find healthier foods in some cases. Food companies and restaurants mislead customers by making wild claims about how healthy their food is and muddy the waters. But counting calories doesn’t have to be mysterious or frustrating.
There are simpler ways of counting calories that can be effective without making you learn how to do algorithms or calculus. By finding the right foods and debunking some common misconceptions, you can find out how much you need to take in to lose weight and the best way to meet that goal.
What you eat is just as important as how much you eat, so let’s take a look at some of the best ways to count calories and food options you can take to hot those targets. We’ll also go over some diets that rely on counting calories and answer some frequently asked questions. Let’s get counting!
How Many Calories Must I Count to Lose Weight?
Let’s start with the basics. Counting calories is meant to do one thing: reduce the amount of energy you take into your body so that it is below the amount of energy your body uses. Simply put, you should be spending more calories than you receive. Kind of like the opposite way to run a business; in this case fat is money, and you want to get rid of it as fast as possible by getting it out the door and stopping too much from coming in.
As simple as this may sound, people are much more complicated. You can’t just point to a number and say, “That’s how many calories people need to ingest to be healthy.” Body size, age, occupation, genes, level of physical activity and even mental disposition change our calorie requirements drastically. You have to find your unique sweet spot of caloric intake.
Can’t I Just Pick a Low Number to Lose Weight Fast?
Short answer, no. That is a bad idea for a couple of reasons. First of all, your body still needs calories to perform all of its daily functions like digesting, pumping blood and the like. Too low of calorie intake and it can’t get enough energy or nutrients to perform, causing health problems.
Second, it will lower your metabolism, meaning your body will produce less energy. By not eating enough, your body will mistakenly believe that you are starving. It will do its best to keep you alive longer by reducing the amount of energy you produce, thereby preserving your body fat. No energy means no exercise which can hurt your weight loss potential.
So, What’s My Number?
Specific calorie amounts tailored to your unique physiology you can get from a dietician. However, here are some guidelines to give you a rough estimate, which is good enough in most cases; a few calories off here or there won’t affect too much.
The following guidelines are for women. Refer to the paragraph after the list for variances based on sex or age.
- Very Active (2500 calories): If you work at a physically demanding job or workout intensely for more than an hour a day, then you fall into this calorie category.
- Active (2000 calories): If you work out 30 to 60 minutes a day, regardless of profession you fall into this calorie category.
- Somewhat Active (1800 calories): If you do not work out, but walk 5,000 or more steps per day, you fall into this calorie category.
- Sedentary (1600 calories): If you do not work out or walk at least 5,000 steps per day, you fall into this calorie category.
If you are a man, increase these numbers by 500 calories. If you are older than 50, reduce these numbers by 200 calories. Unfortunately, it is impossible to list all the possible factors that affect your caloric needs.
However, some of the more obvious include height and body fat content. The taller you are, the more calories you need. Similarly, the more muscle mass you possess, the more calories you will need to feed those muscles. Increase or decrease your target as you see fit based on these factors, but don’t get hung up on specifics. You won’t get to exactly your goal every day and trying may be detrimental to your will to continue.
Where Can I Learn How to Count Calories?
Luckily for new counters, there are a lot of services out there to help you with this, some of them are even free. Sure, you can keep a journal of all the calories you eat in a day, but that can get tedious. If you are fortunate enough to own a smartphone, you can download an app that will count the calories for you. Just type in what you ate, and the app will do its best to estimate the number of calories you ingest it and keep track of it next to all the other things you have eaten.
Finding out how many calories you ate can be just hard if not harder than counting them up. Always check the nutrition facts of the food items you eat. For restaurants you can often request nutritional information or go to the company website; it is often posted there.
If you are still stumped, many calorie counting apps and services are programmed with average calorie amounts for popular food items to help you get in the ballpark. For example, if you want to know how many calories are in olives but don’t know, you can search the calorie counting app’s database, and it will likely have the calorie information for an average serving of olives.
What Are The Best Foods to Fill Up My Calorie Quota?
While getting below your calorie threshold is the primary goal of counting calories, it’s not the only thing to think about. Not all foods are created equal when it comes to providing you with nutrients and energy. You’ll want to avoid calorically dense food that isn’t filling, as tempting as it is. Opt for foods that have relatively fewer calories that will fill you up and still provide the nutrients you need. Some of the best foods that fit that description are, of course, vegetables.
What Are the Best Vegetables for Weight Loss?
Counting calories to lose weight is made much easier the more vegetables you eat. You probably know that they are high in nutritional content, but they are also great for your energy levels. They are high in dietary fiber and low in calories, meaning you will feel fuller after eating them so you won’t want to eat more.
Compare that to foods with a lot of oil, sugar and saturated fat. The amount of those foods you can eat while staying under your calorie allowance is minimal, meaning more hunger pangs and cravings.
Here are some of the best vegetables for weight loss:
- Carrots: Tons of nutrients and perfect for dipping, just take it easy on the sauces.
- Cucumber: They are mostly water but will still fill you up without fat or carbs.
- Green Leafy Vegetables: The darker, the better. Veggies like spinach, kale, rocket and lettuce are great sources of fiber and other nutrients.
- Mushrooms: OK, not technically vegetables, but they are still great. Mushrooms are versatile and healthy without fats or sugars. They even help fight depression!
- Cauliflower: Or its cousins broccoli and Brussel sprouts. These veggies are relatively high in protein (for veggies) and fiber. Two essential things your body needs without the calories.
What About Carbs and Protein?
Counting calories to lose weight doesn’t mean just chowing on exclusively vegetables. Your body needs proteins and carbohydrates as well, and you can’t always get enough of these from vegetables. It’s possible, just difficult. Of course, high levels of carbohydrates should be avoided, as they are very calorically dense. Here are some low carb low-calorie foods you can try.
- Fruit: Berries and white flesh fruit (apples, pears) provide nutrients without being too dense.
- Fish: High in protein with a smattering of carbs. Crab is similar in nutrition.
- Greek Yogurt: The plain, nonfat kind.
- Seeds and Nuts: Sunflower seeds and cashew nuts are great high protein and low carb snacks.
What Diets Pair Well with Calorie Counting?
Calorie counting goes well with planned out diets, so you don’t have to do the guesswork. They work well with low carb low-calorie diets. Carbs are some of the most calorically dense nutrients there are, so a diet that avoids them is helpful. Diets like the 20 30 diet promote higher fiber intake and less fat consumption so it goes perfect with calorie counting, as you’ll want those filling foods
Get Into a Routine
Counting calories can get tedious, but that’s mostly mental. Think of counting calories to lose weight as a challenge. Work to get down to that number and load up on filling yet nutritious foods to meet your goals.