Since I started Skinny Mom’s Kitchen, you have heard me talk relentlessly about counting calories to lose weight. That is how I lost weight and I feel it is the easiest, least painful and most natural way for a busy mom to fit healthy eating into her routine.
Regardless of what the diet industry wants us to believe, losing weight comes down to one basic formula: you must consume less calories than you burn in a day. This is also called a calorie deficit. To do this you have to either, eat less, work out more or, for maximum effect, do both. The ultimate goal is to integrate healthy eating and exercise into your lifestyle. Right now however, let’s just focus on food and getting your calories under control.
Here are 4 simple steps that will help get you started with counting calories.
Step 1 – Determine your daily caloric intake for weight loss. The magic number that we have always heard when it comes to daily caloric intake is 2000. Nearly every food label states “This is recommended as part of a 2000 calorie diet.” The problem with that is everyone is different and that may or may not be the caloric intake number you need to start losing weight. To determine the number of calories you can consume and still lose weight, use an online tool such as My Fitness Pal. There are many free weight loss tools available on the internet but this is the one I use. Once you sign up, you enter your weight, height, age, activity level, target weight, and other information which will be used to calculate the amount of calories you should be eating everyday. Then, to lose weight, you to stay as close to that number as possible on a daily basis. There are no shortcuts!
Step 2 – Keep a food journal. After you determine how many calories you should consume daily to reach your target weight but before you actually jump into counting calories, you need to determine the number of calories you have been consuming on a daily basis. This is a very important step. For me, this was a sobering experience. I discovered that I was eating close to 3000 calories a day! 500 of those calories came from coffee drinks alone.
Before you start on your calorie counting crusade take a day or two and eat as you normally would but, this time, track everything. Be completely honest with yourself too. That pack of Doritos you found leftover in your desk drawer and then ate immediately, count as calories. Don’t pretend you didn’t eat them! Remember when I talked about the mom moments that made me fat? Those moments were filled with mindless calories I did not account for.
You can use pen and paper, online calorie trackers, or download a calorie tracker to your smart phone. Whatever tool fits into your life and works easiest for you. The nutritional information for numerous foods can be found right in the online calorie tracker or food journal. If you do not have a smart phone or do not have regular computer access purchase a calorie counter book. At the end of the day, look over the food you consumed and see where the calories are coming from. This way, when you start creating a plan, you know where you need to make changes.
As you start making changes and creating a plan for yourself, keep journaling. Your food journal will become your most important tool because it holds you accountable and keeps you on track throughout the day.
Step 3 – Dust off the measuring spoons and cups and purchase a food scale. Before I started counting calories I only used my measuring utensils for baking or if I was attempting a new recipe and I did not even own a food scale Now I use them to ensure that I am always eating or drinking accurate portions. It’s easy for calories to get out of control when you don’t know the amount you are in eating. For example, a serving of cereal is 1 cup and about 200 calories depending on the brand. If you just dump it into your bowl straight from the box you can easily consume 2-3 servings without even thinking, and thus bringing you up to 600 calories. Measuring and weighing your food let’s you have control over the calories you are putting into your body. Some may think this is tedious and too time consuming but once you work it into your daily routine, it just becomes a habit that does the body good!
Step 4 – Plan and prepare menus ahead of time. It will be so much easier to stick to your daily calories if you plan and prepare all your meals ahead of time. You can do this through menu planning, freezer cooking, and preparing healthy snacks in advance. Make healthy food easy to obtain in your house.
The good thing with counting calories is there are no special foods, shakes, or weird recipes. You can eat what you want as long as you stay within your calories. Keep in mind however, becoming healthy is more than just losing weight, the quality of the food going into your body is just as important. You want your body to be nourished. Choose foods and recipes that are low in calories and also nutrient dense. You can get many food and recipe ideas here.
I really believe in the simple, yet powerful, habit of counting calories. It may not be fun or sexy, as some fad diets out there, but it works. Counting calories brings a strong sense of personal responsibility to one’s own eating. There’s no diet to blame when a person counting calories fails to lose weight. The awareness that comes with knowing exactly how many calories are in our foods is empowering. Success with counting calories also brings with it a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. Just think, how good would you feel knowing that you were the one solely responsible for your own weight loss? These 4 steps are what I used to get started and I hope it helps you as well.
What are your thoughts and/or questions on counting calories? Have you had success with it? What are the challenges you faced?