Calorie counting is one of the most effective ways to lose weight. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it requires time, attention to detail, honesty, and accountability. And that’s not as easy.
During your calorie-counting journey, you may feel overwhelmed when you’re logging those not-so-straightforward foods, or you might have an off day that makes you want to stop tracking altogether. To help, here are some tips that will hopefully make calorie counting work for you in a way that won’t drive you crazy:
Set A Realistic Calorie Goal
Rule number 1: If you’re counting calories to lose weight, don’t cut calories too low. In order to make calorie counting a sustainable habit, you must give yourself enough of a calorie budget to enjoy nourishing foods that fuel your body and leave you feeling satisfied between meals and snacks.
Go too low and your body and brain will fight back even harder, most noticeably by increasing hunger and desire for food, and reducing calorie expenditure. In addition to that, you’ll feel terrible and lack the energy and drive to exercise, another important component of losing weight and keeping it off.
As you set your calorie goal, consider starting with a modest deficit of 250 calories per day, and tweak as needed if you don’t see any results within a couple of weeks. Ultimately, determining what calorie goal is best for you boils down to what is most sustainable. Aim for one you can realistically stick to, within reason.
Give Yourself Some Wiggle Room
In the world of clinical nutrition, dietitians commonly prescribe their clients a target calorie range. This allows for a bit more flexibility because, after all, not every day is the same. Some days you’ll feel hungrier or want dessert; others you may crush your step goal and burn an extra 150 calories just by running errands.
If you find it difficult to live by one number, try giving yourself a range, maybe plus or minus 100 calories of your goal. Over the span of a week, your daily average should fall within that range. If you find you’re on the higher end of your range more than a few days each week, see if you can fit in a little more physical activity or make some simple food swaps to balance things out a bit. The goal of a calorie range is to add flexibility to each day while also keeping you on track over time.
Embrace The Educated Guess
Somewhere along your tracking journey, you’ll probably come to the realization that you can’t log calories with 100% certainty all of the time. Several factors come into play here. First, the healthiest foods don’t come with bar codes or Nutrition Facts labels, and (thankfully) most of us don’t walk around with food scales in our back pockets to weigh every gram of food that enters our mouths.
Second, the numbers on Nutrition Facts labels in the U.S. can vary by up to 20% from what’s printed, so even if you do have a food with a label, there’s no guarantee it’s accurate. Third, not all restaurants or food vendors are required to provide nutrition information. As frustrating as these things may be, especially for us detail-oriented Type A folks who strive for perfection, it’s important to realize that counting calories will never be an exact science, but it also doesn’t need to be. Most likely, whatever you select is closer to what you actually ate than logging nothing at all.