Best Calorie Counting Tips: 5 tips to get you Started

Diving straight into calorie counting might not work for everyone. While some people do well with a drastic habit change, others might need to warm up to it. Or take some time experimenting before trusting that it will get you where you want to be. Here are the best calorie counting tips that can help you get started with your goals.

Count your current eating habits

You could try counting your current habits for awhile. This will accomplish two things:

  • Get you started with creating the habit of calorie counting even if you aren’t cutting back
  • Make you aware of how many calories you are eating right now

By getting used to counting calories without changing your eating habits, you can learn the ropes without also worrying about eating differently. It will introduce you into the habit of thinking carefully about what goes into the meal you are eating. How much of each ingredient are you using? How big of a portion you are taking?

As well it can be incredibly helpful to understand what your current eating habits look like. You might have falsely assumed that you were eating the right amount of food for your daily energy habits. One potential outcome of calorie counting is re-balancing your “hunger” scale. We think our bodies know how much food we need to eat to be full. But the reality is portion sizes are often incredibly off. Especially if you eat out a lot. We eat too much without realizing it (or snack mindlessly). Our brains get used to this volume of food, making it tricky to take a step back and question whether you would actually be hungry if you ate less.

Plan your meals the night before

If saying big statements like “this week I will make better food decisions” doesn’t work for you then this suggestion might work for you.

If you plan (or even log) your meals the night before then it eliminates the need to make a choices in the moment. Especially if you are hungry in the moment it is hard to make a rational decision about what (or how much) food to eat. It can also be tempting to reach for an afternoon snack even though you aren’t technically hungry yet. By removing the need to make many many food decisions throughout the day, it might be easier to stick to your calorie goals.

Planning your meals the night before (or even that morning) can also help make sure you are spacing your eating out over the day. There is nothing worse than accidentally ending up at dinnertime with too few calories left to eat something adequate.

This technique also allows you to compensate for times when you know you will need to “splurge”. Restaurant meals tend to be higher calorie (and more difficult to track) than homemade meals. If you know you are eating out for dinner, you can intentionally plan to eat a little less during the daytime in order to enjoy your dinner guilt-free.

Slowly decrease your calorie intake

Gradually decreasing your calorie intake can also be really helpful. For example if you are used to eating 2100 calories per day and your goal is to get down to 1300 calories then try decreasing to 1900 calories for the first week. Then down to 1700. You can make slower changes to your eating habits and gradually introduce different options that help get you to your goal calorie intake.

For example if you are used to drinking sugary beverages every day you could first work on eliminating those. Or if your breakfast is too heavy you could just focus on making your breakfast lighter and practice that for a week before moving on to lunch.

It can be overwhelming to overhaul your diet entirely. By only worrying about cutting out a small amount of calories you can make a small change to one habit at a time. Eventually you will have layered on many small, gradual changes and it will be easier to handle.

Rethink your definition of ‘healthy’

One classic diet tip that is very hard to follow is the blanket statement “Just eat healthy foods and you won’t ever have to worry about your weight”. While we should absolutely all strive to eat “healthy” and “clean” there are a few problems with this goal.

“Healthy” can have SO MANY different definitions. What is healthy to one person might not be healthy to another. As well, just because something is healthy it doesn’t mean we should/can eat it. If a food has nutrients or any properties that are positive but so many calories that it would mean you are overeating – is it still healthy?

A popular “healthy” food that is so easily abused are nuts. Nuts are SO HEALTHY right? Good, healthy fats so you shouldn’t hesitate to grab a handful or casually sprinkle them on your salad. That handful or casual sprinkle can pack 100-200 (or more) if you aren’t careful.

So while nuts indeed can be branded as “healthy”.. Are they healthy for you if they take you over your calorie allowance for the day? This is why calories are such an important consideration for a healthy day. The macro/micro properties of a food item just don’t tell the entire story.

One diet “rule” suggests eating healthy 80% of the time and allowing yourself to splurge 20%. But this goes back to the previous point – what is healthy? What is unhealthy? Is ‘healthy’ the only qualification that matters about the food we eat? What about eating TOO MUCH ‘healthy’ foods? What about the foods that are branded as ‘healthy’ but are actually so many calories that it would be an entire day’s worth of food (i’m looking at you salads). The only way you have a hope of following a rule like 80/20 is if you are also calorie counting. You can validate if a meal is healthy FOR YOU and also validate that you are eating the right amount of it.

Plan for mistakes

A mistake only turns into a failure if you make it over and over again. And it isn’t realistic that you are going to be perfect 100% of the time. So don’t assume perfection and allow yourself to make a mistake. Just don’t let that mistake turn into a failure. Life gets in the way, we have a craving that just won’t get out of our mind or it’s your birthday.

The great thing about calorie counting is that you can log all your foods and if you have a bad day you can acknowledge it and move on. The next day you get to start all over again with a clean slate.

And remember: ~3500 calories are in a pound. Which means you’d have to overeat your TDEE (not even your cutting calorie amount!) by 3500 calories to gain even one pound of fat. You might have slowed down your weight loss progress, but you probably didn’t actually take anyway backwards steps. Just leave it behind you & jump back on the wagon tomorrow!