Counting Calories

I’ve read it on many occasions from dieting experts: don’t count calories. I totally disagree. I have lost weight counting calories. Losing weight (metabolism aside) is essentially a math problem. If you consume more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight; consume fewer you lose; consume the same, you stay the same. So, it’s helpful to know, especially when you’re trying to lose weight, the specifics of your diet. This is especially true because we can consume so many hidden calories or can be misled about what foods are helping us put on weight. A good friend of mine lost a bunch of weight, but before this, when he tried and failed to lose, he ate a lot of pretzels because pretzels were better than other snacks. True. However, he would sometimes eat nearly a whole bag. Counting calories would tell you that a 10 oz. bag would give you around 1100 calories, or over half of your daily calories.

Calorie counting (and keeping track of calories burned) in my life has been beneficial for several reasons:

1. It has revealed hidden calories- Those “little” snacks that I ate throughout the day added up to not so little numbers at the end. In addition, meals that didn’t seem so bad really were. For example, who would’ve guessed that a cup of that broccoli, bacon, cheese, and mayo salad that I loved could have over 400 calories a cup!

2. It allowed me to accurately gauge loss, gain, and maintaining weight- This was important especially as I moved towards maintenance in my diet. I needed to know if my calories were realistically coming close to my exercise output.

3. It gave me a mental sense of accomplishment- I could look at the trends in my calorie counting and see how I’d done over a long period of time. This gave me a sense of accomplishment and also allowed me to make adjustments where necessary (e.g. cutting out foods that brought lots of calories but few nutrients)

4. It created structure- This is probably the hardest to explain, but putting in my calories and fitness output was (and is) an important part of my day. It helps keep me focused and structured in my plans and also as a check on tendancies towards getting back to previous poor routines.

How should you count calories? If the thought of pen and paper scares you, it should! You don’t have to be an accountant or statistician to count calories these days; computers do it for you. I recommend the program Fitday. They have a free online version at, but I recommend the software. It allows you to keep track of all your calories and fortunately has a huge, if somewhat outdated, database of foods. It not only keeps track of calories, but also a host of other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. If your food is not there, you can create custom foods. You can also write down your activities and the calories burned. There are tons of prelisted activities and you can create custom activities. The software also includes options for measurements, mood, weight, etc. The best part is that you can run reports to see various trends, such as how your weight has fluctuated over 6 months or if you’ve gotten enough Vitamin C for the week. I also like Calorie King and Nutrition Data as resources.

So, it may go against what you’ve heard in the past, but if you want to lose weight and get fit, start counting!