How to Count Calories Correctly

If you're serious about losing weight, some experts believe that correct calorie counting is an important step in reaching your weight loss goals. While the process may seem very simple, there are a number of common mistakes that people make. Unfortunately, these blunders can delay or even stop your dieting progress. Use this list of calorie counting dos and don'ts to make sure you end up with the right numbers to create weight loss success.

 The Basics

If you're not sure how to count calories, the best place to begin is with your daily energy needs. That is the number of calories you should eat each day. There are different ways to get the number, but many people choose to use an online calculator. Give it a try!

Once you know how many calories you need to maintain your weight, you decrease the number to slim down. If you want to lose one pound each week, decrease your daily calorie needs by 500 calories each day. If you want to lose two pounds per week, then decrease your calorie needs by 1000 calories per day. 

Most women end up with a number around 1,200 calories per day to lose weight. Men often end up with a number close to 1,800 calories per day to lose weight.

Most experts agree that you should not consume fewer than 1000 calories per day unless you are under the care of a physician.

Once you know how many calories you need, you simply count the number of calories in every food you consume. Use the Nutrition Facts label to get the number or use a food or diet app instead.

Dos and Don'ts

  • Don't rely on memory. Whether you are on a diet or not, it is hard to remember everything that you eat during the day. Even if you can recall what you ate, it is nearly impossible to remember how much you ate with any accuracy. You're not likely to get a precise calorie number if your food journal is incomplete or if serving sizes are wrong.
  • Do get a portable calorie-tracking device. You are more likely to get an accurate recording if you jot down the calories in your meal before you sit down to eat. To do this you'll want to have a calorie tracking method that goes wherever you go. This might be a small notebook that you throw in your purse or it might be a downloadable app for your smartphone.
  • Don't use guesswork to determine portion sizes. People tend to underestimate their food portions. And there are certain foods that we tend to overeat. Cereal is a perfect example. People often pour too much cereal into their bowl and then have to refill the bowl repeatedly.
  • Do invest in a kitchen scale. If you want to know how to count calories with more precision, a digital kitchen scale will do the trick. A scale will help you see exactly how big a serving size really is. You don't have to use the kitchen scale at every meal, but each time you eat a new food, weigh a portion of food so that you know exactly how much to eat. If you consume more or less than the serving size indicated on the nutrition facts label, you'll be able to get the correct calorie count if you know exactly how many grams were in your serving.
  • Don't forget to record snacks or nibbles. A common mistake made by calorie counters is to ignore small snacks or nibbles. For example, you might visit a restaurant with a friend and choose to skip dessert in an effort to keep your calorie and fat intake low. But if you grab a fork and eat a few bites of your dining partner's dessert, those calories count.
  • Do make a habit of writing down everything. If it goes in your mouth, it gets written down. Make this habit your rule for calorie counting. You might be surprised how the small indulgences throughout your day add up to a big change in your weight loss results.
  • Don't break the bank buying expensive tools. The best calorie tracking tool for you isn't necessarily the most expensive one. You'll find different gadgets and tools at every price point. The one that works is the one you actually use. You don't have to spend hundreds of dollars to get a tool that is effective.
  • Do find a tool that fits your lifestyle. Online tools might work for people who are in front of a computer all day. Other people who are on the go all day might prefer to have a diet app for their smartphone or mobile device. And for people who like using the traditional pen and paper method, a small notepad works well. Make sure that the notebook you choose is small enough to carry with you in a pocket or purse.
  • Don't limit yourself to just tracking calories. Your total calorie intake for each day is important for weight loss. For example, eating the right amount of protein is good for people who want to gain lean muscle mass. And depending on the tool you use, you can track specific things like calcium and sodium intake. You can also make sure you are getting the right amount of exercise for weight loss.
  • Do at least break down the major nutrients. In addition to recording your total calories, consider tracking macronutrients such as protein, carbohydrate, and fat grams. This can be especially important if you are trying to eat a lower carbohydrate or lower fat diet. Trans fat and fiber content are also good things to know. Eating adequate amounts of fiber and limiting trans fat can improve your health.
    If you use a food app, these numbers will automatically be recorded for you when you input your food.

A Word From Verywell

It doesn't matter how you count calories, whether you use high tech apps or a simple pen or paper method. Try to be as consistent as possible. An accurate number will help you get the health or weight loss results you want.

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  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition.