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How to Count Calories

Updated on May 13, 2022
Written by
Kelly Jamrozy
1 sources cited
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A dietary calorie is a unit for measuring food energy. The number of calories in food is the amount of energy it provides your body.

The nutrients and organic compounds in food release energy when they interact with oxygen in the body’s cells. This is known as food energy.

Calories can be derived from:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Fats
  • Proteins
  • Fibers
  • Ethanol
  • Polyols

The average person should eat between 1200 and 1800 calories per day to lose weight. This includes the calories you consume from foods and drinks.

Your daily calorie limit depends on your sex, age, activity level, weight, and ratio of body fat to muscle. Eating more calories than your body needs results in weight gain. A sedentary life does the same. 

Even if you eat the right amount of food for your body, a lack of physical activity can still cause weight gain due to the excess calories.

Exactly How Many Calories Do You Need to Lose Weight?

The key to weight loss is creating a caloric deficit. You can achieve this by eating less calories than you burn with exercise, or spending more energy than your calorie consumption.

You can also lose weight by counting the number of calories you consume in a day. This is known as calorie counting.

Changing Your Diet

If you eat fewer calories each day, it can lead to a calorie deficit. Calorie deficiency doesn’t mean eating less foods by volume. It’s about choosing the right foods.

Eating more low calorie-dense foods (like vegetables) can reduce your total calories and make you feel full.

Exercise

Physical activity is another important step to losing weight. Most people benefit from about 30 to 45 minutes of moderate physical activity. You can do this at least three to five days per week

You’ll want to talk to your doctor before exercising. This is especially true if you’ve had a sedentary lifestyle or have a medical condition that prevents you from doing strenuous activities. 

Calorie Counting

Just remember that when you’re trying to lose weight, every calorie counts. This includes the calories you consume and burn. To count calories, you simply have to be mindful of your food and activity levels.

Tip: A food label usually indicates the total calories and calorie content per serving.

How to Count Your Calories in 3 Easy Steps

Counting calories is one of the best ways to achieve weight loss. 

Distilling your dieting efforts to a numbers game helps you gain control over what you eat. From there, you can tweak what you’re doing to achieve your weight loss goals.

Successful calorie counting can be done in three simple steps: 

1. Find out how many calories you need in a day

The first step is to determine how many calories you need each day to maintain a healthy and normal body weight. 

The human body uses about 2/3 of consumed calories to perform automatic functions. This includes things you do without thinking, like breathing and your heartbeat.

The remaining calories give you the energy for activities. This includes everything you choose to do each day, from walking to working to sleeping.

In most cases, the average daily calorie limit for weight loss is:

  • 1200 to 1500 calories for women
  • 1600 to 1800 calories for men

This is just a general guideline. Everyone is different, and things like level of activity, age, sex, current body weight, pregnancy, and more affect your daily calorie allowance.

Tip: The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases offers a calorie calculator to help you determine your ideal caloric intake.

2. Count the number of calories you consume

Once you know how many calories your body needs to perform basic functions, you can calculate the appropriate calorie intake for weight loss. 

You should monitor the number of calories you consume each day for at least one to two weeks. Different types of health apps can help you do this, including:

These apps are great for seeing what adjustments are needed regarding food choices.

3. Portion your meals and snacks

Calculate how many calories are in a serving of food and then determine how many servings you’ll have in a portion.

Low-calorie foods like whole grains can be eaten in larger food portions. It’s because they contain fewer calories per serving.

Some people find it helpful to set their food portion size in advance. This way you don’t need to worry about overeating when you’re too hungry or stressed to judge the amount of food you’re eating.

Tip: The best weight loss apps can help plan your meals and do the calorie counting for you.

More Calorie Counting Tips for Losing Weight

Once you understand your caloric needs, you can establish more healthy habits to achieve caloric deficiency. 

Here are some calorie counting tips to get you started:

  • Change your diet — Pair your apps with the best weight loss diets so you can lose weight faster.
  • Be prepared — Create meal plans so you aren’t tempted to make unhealthy food choices. This helps you avoid impulsive food decisions that sabotage your weight loss efforts. 
  • Read nutrition labels — Many people underestimate how many calories they consume. So make sure you know what the serving size is before you eat. This is especially important when eating packaged foods.
  • Eat foods that are healthy and low calorie Some foods (like olive oil) are healthy but have more calories. Others are healthy but still low on calories. Use the nutritional information to choose foods that have low calorie density. This makes tracking calories easier.
  • Eliminate temptation at home — Keeping processed foods in your home makes you more likely to eat them. Instead, keep healthy snacks on hand so you aren’t tempted by high-calorie foods.
  • Avoid eating out  — Stay away from fast food chains which serve large food portions. Restaurant meals should also be avoided, as these foods have more calories.
  • Aim for healthy weight loss — Slow and steady weight loss is more sustainable than a sudden drop in weight through drastic measures. 
  • Exercise — The most successful weight loss plans include a combination of diet and exercise. Make sure you’re consuming enough calories so you have the energy to work out.

Resources

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  1. 2015-2020 Dietary Guideline for Americans.” Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
Kelly Jamrozy
Kelly Jamrozy
Content Contributor
Kelly has experience working with clients in a variety of industries, including legal, medical, marketing, and travel. Her goal is to share important information that people can use to make decisions about their health and the health of their loved ones. From choosing the best treatment programs to improving dental and vision health to finding the best method for helping anyone who is struggling with health issues, she hopes to share what she learns through informative content.
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