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The concept of calories and weight loss is very simple. You’ll lose weight if you ingest fewer calories than you expend or if you expend more calories than you ingest.

Having the ability to control your calorie input and output can help you control your weight.

The concept is simple, but in practice, it can be tricky to manage your calorie intake, with so much diversity in the modern diet.

Calorie counting can help you do this, and people have practiced calorie counting to lose weight for many decades now.

This article explains calories and how to count calories to help you lose weight.

Calories – What Are They?

counting calories

A calorie is a measure of energy. It refers to the amount of energy found in a food item.

In technical terms, one calorie refers to the amount of energy needed to cause a 1°C temperature rise in a kilogram of water.

The calories we get from foods are used to provide energy for almost every single function in our bodies. Functions such as talking, thinking, breathing, and eating require energy. Your body continues to use calories even while you sleep.

However, the body only uses what it needs so if you overeat, the body stores the excess calories as energy reserves in the form of fats. Over time, this leads to weight gain and belly fat build up.

Conclusion: Calories are a measurement of the energy in foods. The body uses the calories we eat to supply energy for almost all processes.

Why Do Calories Count?

If you’ve been researching calories and weight loss, you’ll often come across comments that calories don’t count and that it is a waste of effort and time to practice calorie counting.

However, this is a misconception. Calories are very important when it comes to weight control. Yes, it is possible to lose weight without counting calories, but several studies show that calorie counting can also help you lose weight.

There have been several studies on the impact of overeating on weight and general health.

In these studies, researchers discovered that people tend to gain weight when they ingest more calories than they burn (a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h).

What these studies show is that calories do count. If you can count calories and limit your consumption, it can help you lose weight or prevent weight gain.

According to a review study, people who include calorie counting in their weight loss efforts tend to lose an average of about 7.7 pounds (3.5 kilograms) more than people who ignore it (i).

Conclusion: Studies show that you can lose weight by eating fewer calories than you burn, which proves that calories do count when it comes to weight management.

How Many calories a day to lose weight?

With covered this extensively in our article about the number of calories to eat per day to lose weight.

However, I’m going to touch on it briefly.

Many factors determine the number of calories you need to lose weight. These factors include age, gender, current weight and how active you are.

For instance, a 20-year-old female athlete can eat a lot of calories and not gain weight, but a 40-year-old man with a sedentary lifestyle may gain plenty of weight if they eat the same number of calories.

You need to control your calorie intake by eating fewer calories than you expend if you want to lose weight. This is the practice known as calorie counting.

It is a practice which requires you to know the calorie content of everything you eat and make the right adjustments to achieve a calorie deficit.

You can use our calorie calculator (new tab) to find out how many calories you need a day to help you lose weight.

The calculator was developed using the Mifflin-St Jeor equation, which is a formula that accurately estimates your calorie needs (j, k).

You can then track the calories in the foods you eat using one of the calorie counting apps below.

Conclusion: Many factors, such as age, gender, how active you are, and your current weight, play a role in determining the number of calories you need per day. The calorie calculator above can help you estimate your daily calorie needs.

The 5 Best Calorie Counting Apps

It used to be very difficult to count calories, but powers of smartphones and apps have made it very easy to calorie count.

Many online and mobile calorie counting apps make calorie counting a straightforward and quick process. They enable you to keep a log of all the foods you eat, so you know exactly where to make changes.

Some even allow you to simply take a picture of the food item or scan a barcode to give you the calorie and nutritional content.

It might be difficult to log every single food you eat, but studies show that you can lose more weight and prevent weight gain even if you only track your calorie intake occasionally than if you don’t at all (l, m).

We have reviewed the 5 best calorie-counting apps and websites. You can visit that page for a detailed review of each app but here is a list of the apps we reviewed.

Conclusion: Calorie counters make calorie counting a very simple and quick process. They help you log all the foods you eat and tell you the calorie and nutrient content. They also help you keep track of your weight loss progress.

Ways to Measure and Weight Portions

The size of our portions has been on the rise in the past few decades. Today, a plate of food in a restaurant can provide two to four times the calories we need.

We’ve become used to large portion sizes because we don’t even realize how large they are. This is because most people use big plates to serve food these days. The large plates make the portion size seem small to us even though it is large. This is known as “portion distortion” (n, o, p).

Studies show that we are just not that good at guessing the right portion size for us (q, r, s, t).

This is where calorie counting helps. It will help you determine the right portion size to prevent overeating.

But, even calorie counting only works if you know how to measure and weigh the foods you eat accurately.

Use the tips below to help you measure the right portion sizes recommended by calorie counting:

  • Use a food scale – Using a food scale to weigh your ingredients is the most accurate way to measure portion sizes. However, you can’t weight every type of food or drink in practice.
  • Use a measuring cup – measuring cups allow you to measure portions of liquid and some solid foods accurately. It is a slightly faster and easier way to measure portions compared to scales.
  • Make Comparisons – You can also compare your food items to other items, especially when you are away from a scale or measuring cups. However, this is a less accurate way to measure portion sizes when counting calories.

Tips For Comparing

If you need to use a comparison to determine portion sizes, here are servings of some foods and how they compare to common household items.

  • A three-ounce serving of meat is approximately the same size as a deck of playing cards.
  • A half-cup serving of rice or pasta is the equivalent of a handful or a computer mouse.
  • Three ounces of fish is equivalent of your checkbook
  • A half-cup of freshly chopped fruits is the equivalent of a tennis ball
  • A teaspoon of cooking oil is the equivalent of your fingertip.
  • 1.5 ounces of cheese is the equivalent of your thumb
  • A cup of green vegetables is the equivalent of a baseball.
  • Two tablespoons of peanut butter is the equivalent of a table tennis ball.

Counting calories should not be seen as an exact science, even with measurements.

The trick is to make accurate recordings of the foods you eat to help you make the right adjustments. This is why you need to measure and record what you eat.

It is imperative to accurately record high-calorie and high-fat foods like oils, cakes, and pizza. Making the wrong measurements of such foods can create a big difference between what you’ve recorded and what you actually eat.

When you begin counting calories, it’s best to measure your foods with a scale and measuring cups for a while. This gives you an idea of what portion sizes look like. After measuring for about two weeks, you can easily estimate what a cup of rice looks like without measuring (u).

Conclusion: When counting calories, the best way to accurately measure and weigh portion sizes is to use a food scale or measuring cup. It then becomes possible for you to practice calorie counting and portion control without using a scale.

Counting Calories Does Not Mean You Should Eat Whatever You Like

Calorie counting still requires that you eat a high-quality diet for it to work. This practice allows you to control your calorie intake but does not take the quality of your meals into consideration (v).

It’s not only about the number of calories, but also the source of the calories you eat can play a big role in weight management.

To put it simply, not all calories are created equal.

For example, 80 calories of fish will have a different impact on your health and weight than 80 calories of French fries.

Which is why you need to consider the quality of food when it comes to weight and your overall health (w, x, y).

In addition, different foods have different effects on hunger and the hormones that control appetite. Some foods also have an impact on how your body metabolizes food. Some foods make your body store fat while others make the body burn fats.

So, just because you practice counting calories does not give you the license to eat anything you want.

You should base your diets on quality plant and animal foods that have not been highly-processed. It’s best to eat whole, single-ingredient foods to avoid calories from foods that damage your metabolic health.

Eating high-quality foods can help reduce your calorie intake in the long-term without counting calories. It can also help improve your overall health, which can contribute to weight loss.

Conclusion: You still need to eat high-quality foods even when you practice calorie counting because not all calories are equal. Calories from different food sources will have different impacts on health and weight loss.

Tips to Help You Win With Calorie Counting

Use the tips below to help you practice calorie counting successfully:

  • Always read ingredient lists – Food manufacturers are often required to list the nutrients and ingredient in their foods on the labels. These food labels can be a treasure trove of information, which may include the number of calories per serving.
  • Always plan – If you are unprepared, you can find it difficult to practice calorie counting. Having a food scale, measuring cups and calorie counting apps ready will make it much easier to practice.
  • Get rid of junk foods – Remove all the junk foods you have at home. These types of foods are just temptations and are very high in calories. You’ll end up eating plenty of them as long as they are around because they are easy to eat. Replace them with healthier snacks like fruit pieces, boiled eggs or dark chocolate.
  • Be patient – Weight loss is not a sprint, but a marathon. You did not put on the weight overnight, and counting calories won’t make you lose weight overnight as well. Don’t make a drastic cut in calories because it will make you abandon your efforts very quickly. Start small and increase the number of calories you limit as time goes on.
  • You need energy to exercise – Studies show that a combination of diet and exercise is the most effective way to lose weight. But you can’t exercise if you don’t have energy so remember to eat high-calorie foods to provide fuel for your workouts.

Conclusion: Counting calories isn’t going to make too much of a difference on its own. You need to make a few lifestyle changes to make it successful.

Is Calorie Counting For You?

The concept is simple, eat fewer calories than you burn. However, this is not the most important thing in achieving optimal health.

However, this concept is very important if your goal is to lose weight. Calories count in weight loss.

Not everybody needs to calorie count, but people who need to lose weight but have a sedentary lifestyle will significantly benefit from counting calories.

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