One of the most important "secrets" to reaching any diet or exercise goal is counting calories. Whenever I tell people to count their calories, I hear complaints about how tedious it is. Some people insist they accurately estimate their calorie intake and don't need to count. Others don't understand the implications of ignoring calorie intake. When done properly, counting calories is one of the most important steps in creating a healthy lifestyle, permanently controlling weight and by extension, looking great.
The Importance of Calorie Intake
Here's the secret: the relationship between how many calories you eat and how many calories you burn is the ONLY way to control weight. There is NO other way to lose, gain or maintain weight. There are no special foods to eat (cabbage diet) , ingredients to avoid (low carb diets) or exercises allowing you to get around the calories eaten vs. calories burned relationship.
When you eat a lot (relative to the amount you burn) you gain weight. When you eat a little (relative to the amount you burn), you lose weight. When you eat just the right amount (relative to the amount you burn), you maintain your current weight. Read more about calorie balance.
How to Count Calories
Counting calories isn't as tedious as it once was. There are plenty of smartphone apps that do almost all the work for you. Here are the two of the most popular, free apps:
There are plenty of others but they all pretty much work the same (and some of them aren't free). With most of these apps, all you need to do is scan a bar code and enter the serving size. The app takes care of the rest.
Effects of Counting Calories
Counting calories lets you see how much you're eating. Alone, this won't do much, but when paired to a goal such as losing or gaining weight, the ability to properly count calories means everything. When you know how many calories you burn each day, eating the proper amount to lose or gain weight is a lot easier. Here are a few of the benefits of counting calories:
- get abs
- gain muscle
- burn fat
- never have to worry about weight problems again
- stay within a healthy/normal weight range
Good vs. Bad Counting
There's a huge difference between counting calories the right and wrong way. Doing it the right way is the only way to guarantee success. The right way means careful accounting for every calorie you eat. Wrong-way calorie counting means eating handfuls of chips or stacks of cookies while only counting one serving. This leads to a gross underestimation of calorie intake and complaints such as, "I have no idea why I'm not losing weight." You're not losing weight because the 2,500 calories you think you're eating is actually closer to 3,500 calories.
The right way to count calories means measuring food. Using tools such as measuring cups, spoons and food scales greatly increases precision. Good precision means you know exactly how much energy is going in. Yes, it makes counting calories harder, but worthwhile habits are almost never easy.
The Bottom Line
Sorry, counting calories isn't an easy solution and it's not always convenient. When you eat crappy foods and calorie intake spikes, you feel bad. The bad feeling means you're doing something wrong. Seeing the numbers and how they affect you is a great way to force yourself to change.