Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Nitty Gritty on Calorie Counting

Counting calories can be an enlightening experience whether you are trying to lose weight, maintain, or if you just want to know your daily intake.  Even though I have done it before and have a general idea of serving sizes and how many calories different foods contain, I still found myself surprised at how many I could consume before dinner time.  It is this knowledge with a little addition and subtraction that has kept me on track these last 2 weeks.

Here's my little testimony before I get started.  I started watching my calories Friday, May 13.  I downloaded the MyNetDiary app on my iphone (you can also use it online) and began keeping track of what I ate and what I burned.  I answered several questions about myself, my current weight, my height, etc.  I also said I'd like to lose 4 pounds by August.  I was more interested in maintaining, but this gave me something reasonable to work toward.

As of this morning, I have lost 2 lbs in 13 days.  It doesn't sound like much, but it is 50% of my goal, and if I was trying to lose more...say 20 lbs, at this rate it would take me about 4 months give or take some days.  That means by September you could be 20 lbs lighter and that is only if you are losing weight at my moderate rate.  So let's take a look.

Getting Started*

Find a program such as MyNetDiary or something comparable and figure out a desired weight loss amount and a time frame for losing that weight.  Make it reasonable, otherwise you'll be hungry all the time and it will be easier to quit.  This should give you a daily calorie amount to stick to in order to reach your goal.  I would caution you against accepting any goal below 2000 calories a day.  If you do, as a woman, do not go below 1200.  Men, do not go below 1500. You can't get all of your nutrients if you go below that. Just remember, the harder it is to follow, the easier it will be to quit.  Be sensible or you won't last.

Once you have your daily allotted calorie amount, use your iphone app, a website, or purchase a calorie book from the bookstore.  This will help you keep track of what you are eating.  Do not get discouraged.  It is a little challenging at first, especially if you have not been paying attention to this, but you will figure it out in time.  I will include examples of my daily meals to give you some ideas, as well.

Losing weight will be MUCH easier if you exercise daily.  You know my exercise of choice is running, but there is so much more out there if that is not for you.  Find something you LIKE to do.  Give yourself something to look forward to.  A simple daily walk will suffice, especially if you were getting no exercise before.  Find a friend to join you.  Fill an ipod with your favorite kick-butt songs.  Walk with the kids to the park.  Buy some rollerblades.  Mow the yard.  Find what you love and do that. 

Your program, website or book will tell you how many calories certain activities burn.  Input your duration of the activity and there is you calorie loss.  This increases the amount of calories you can have, BUT if you want the weight to come off a little faster, try to maintain the original calorie amount when you can.  The more vigorously you exercise, however, the more calories (energy) you will need.  So monitor how you feel above everything else.

Write it all down.  Whether you are using a website, an iphone app, or a journal, track your daily progress.  Weigh each morning (once a day max - don't get carried away because weight fluctuates - even day to day so once a week might be better), and write that down.  Keep track of total calories eaten and total calories burned.  You can keep track of other things such as water and vitamins, but that is not necessary if record keeping is not your thing.  MyNetDiary produces a handy little chart and to me, it is encouraging to see the line begin to drop with weight loss.

That is all I will say for today.  Tomorrow I will include examples of what I am eating every day, my own calorie allotment, and exercise to show you what this looks like on a day to day basis.   E-mail me if you have any questions and I will be glad to answer as best I can!  Good luck getting started!

*I am not a doctor or any sort of health professional (unfortunately) for that matter, so please approach anything I say with caution, taking into consideration your own health and any conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.  Talk to your doctor if necessary before starting something like this.  Be smart.  This approach is not meant to be an extreme one-week quick fix, but a gradual healthy lifestyle change. 

Related posts: The Taste of Skinny and A Culture of Calories.


  1. Jane-I'm so glad you are writing on this topic! It is something I have been working on (off and on) for awhile. It has been a little more off than on lately. Once again, you inspire me! Thank you! Looking forward to reading more!

  2. One you lose weight, your baseline calorie requirements also go down. So, to continue to lose weight at the same rate, you would also have to gradually reduce your daily calories. Also, as we become stronger our bodies become more efficient so I don't burn as many calories running a 10 minute mile now as I did when I ran it a year ago when I was a brand new runner. This is why so many people get frustrated when they are trying to lose weight-they think they will continue to lose at the same rate by eating the same amount and doing the same amount of exercise. ( adjusts calorie goals every time you plug in a new weight.) AND there's a balance in there I need to find between losing weight but still having enough fuel for my workouts so I don't bonk like I did yesterday in the pool!!

  3. Yeah, I think this plan would be hard if you are currently training/exercising at a high level. My level of physical activity has dropped off some, which allows me to drop calories. Actually, that is the reason I started watching them in the first place. Now, my activity is beginning to rev up again, so I'm having to adjust some. That is the good thing about MyNetDiary (and it sounds like too), it adjusts my daily allowed amount according to what I have done. So I CAN get those extra calories if I burned a large amount.

    As for gradually reducing calories as you lose weight, I'd definitely wait on that for people who are brand new. Watching calories in the first place is going to be challenging if you've never done it before. Losing weight in the first 2 weeks will be exciting, but reducing those calories so early may discourage those who are struggling.

    And the idea is to eventually get to a healthy weight and maintain. That would allow for more calories than a weight loss goal would.