One tip people often hear when trying to lose weight is to count your calories. But how do you figure out the specific number of calories you're supposed to eat in a day, and how do you translate all your meals and snacks into that number? It can feel a little daunting, but Stephanie Ferrari, a registered dietitian with Fresh Communications, tells POPSUGAR, "There are a few tricks of the trade that you can use to make calorie counting less tedious."
"The first step is to calculate your individual caloric needs," she said. "Caloric needs are based on numerous factors, but the most important ones for a healthy individual include gender, age, weight, height, and activity level." Many years ago, you used to have to "bust out the pen and paper and do the math using an equation, but thanks to the internet, there are countless online calorie calculators to figure it out for you! Stephanie says, "I like the one that HealthLine offers."
Stephanie says even though you want to lose weight fast, be careful about cutting out too many calories in the beginning. It will leave you feeling hangry and deprived, which will just cause overeating.
This is a common reason many people who want to lose weight end up being unsuccessful. Stephanie reminds you to think of losing weight as a long-term goal. She adds, "It doesn't happen overnight or even over one month. My advice is to pick a healthy, attainable time frame for losing weight and cutting calories."
For example, let's say you want to lose 10 pounds. Stephanie says, "Doing so over five months is an appropriate goal and will require a two-pound weight loss per month (or half a pound per week). One pound is equal to 3,500 calories, so for this goal, you'll need a caloric deficit of 7,000 per month, or 1,750 per week, or 250 per day." That seems doable, right?
"Take your daily caloric needs, subtract it by 250, and you'll have your goal caloric intake for a 10-pound weight loss over five months," she says. Here's an example: an average healthy woman has a daily caloric need of 2,000 calories. In order to lose 10 pounds in five months, she'll need to eat 1,750 calories per day.
Obviously your activity level needs to be taken into account and how fast you want to lose the weight, so use a calorie calculator to figure out the exact number for you. Once you do, here are few tips for counting calories.
Stephanie suggests, "Decide how you want to spread your calories over the course of the day. Budget calories for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks. For example, if you have 1,750 calories to eat per day, you may choose to eat 480 calories per meal and have each snack be 150 calories."
Use Sunday as your day to meal plan. Create a list of meals for each day of the week that fits those caloric budgets. "For breakfast, for example, you might eat two hard-boiled eggs, one medium slice of whole wheat bread, a tablespoon of peanut butter, a cup of blueberries, one small apple, and a cup of black coffee (484 calories)." Eating the same few meals for breakfast and lunch (such as mason jar salads) will save time since you only have to figure it out once!
The bonus with planning ahead is that it allows for more variety, and you're also more likely to stick to your daily calorie goals. At first it may be time-consuming, but with time, you'll get better at eyeballing servings and calories.
Use a Calorie Counting App
Apps like MyFitnessPal and Calorific take the guesswork out of counting calories. You can easily search their database for the foods you eat, and some apps allow you to track calories of recipes, too. Stephanie says, "My only caution with using these apps is to not let them replace meal planning. It's never fun to log your calories after an unplanned day to find that you ate way more than you expected to without even noticing!"
After planning out your meals, use an app to track your caloric intake as well as your daily activity level to get the whole picture of how many calories you're consuming and burning. Seeing all your stats will motivate you to make healthy choices and stay on track.
Go For Accuracy
Everything that goes into your mouth counts, so be sure to log every single bite you take to ensure complete accuracy when counting calories. Use measuring cups, nutrition labels on packages, and take photos of your meals and snacks so you can figure out the most precise number.
Find a Buddy
When it comes to losing weight, accountability is everything! Stephanie suggests finding a buddy who's around the same weight as you, who shares the same weight-loss goals. If you're both eating the same number of calories per day, then you can bounce meal ideas and recipes off each other. There are services out there for this, like Weight Loss Buddy.
Consider Working Backwards
If you're a creature of habit, eating the same things from week to week, cutting calories can be really simple. Just look at what you're already eating each day, then eliminate the extra calories you need to lose weight. In the example above, for instance, you'd simply cut 250 calories from your daily diet. Here are some simple ways to cut calories.