Counting calories is one of the best ways to get your health and diet on the right track. Jotting down the food you’re eating on a daily basis in a dedicated journal or app will make you aware of everything you’re consuming, allow you to plan your meals accordingly, keep track of your calories, and force you to realize just how bad certain foods are for you. When your eyes are opened to how unhealthy something is for you, you’ll be more willing to alter your diet and lifestyle to something more health-conscious.
A Brief History of Calorie Counting
As you may have guessed, people haven’t been keeping track of their calories forever — though sometimes it might seem that way. The practice first became popular in the 20th century, after noted scientist Wilbur Atwater invented a system to measure the amount of calories and “energy” present in food. Shortly after, people began to count calories and the “energy” in their daily food intake.
Counting Calories — the Right Way
According to dietitian Betsy Klein, RD, LD, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about counting calories — for one, you need to focus on doing more than simply counting and keeping track of the food you eat. Figuring out which foods are fiber-dense and nutrient-dense and then consuming as many of them as you can will not only act as a natural energy and metabolism booster, but it’ll help you stay full longer — which is a critical part of losing weight. Essentially, the longer you stay full, the less you will be tempted to eat unhealthy food.
As such, the first step to counting calories is finding food that is both nutrient-dense and fiber-dense. When searching for food, use an app (or a website) that is tailored to showing the full nutrition facts of an item, and choose only foods you enjoy, as this will help you stay on track. Make sure you add protein-dense food into your diet as well, as protein is another important factor to the equation; food with a lot of protein will also help you stay full longer. Be aware, though, that protein-dense food will typically have more calories, so plan accordingly.
Planning Your Meals
The next step is to plan your meals around the food that you’ve discovered. When planning your meals, it’s important to research every single ingredient that goes into the dish — including the ingredients in the sauce, dressing, stock, and so forth. Dressings and sauces in particular can have a lot of hidden calories. It’s also important to understand that alcohol is also calorie-dense; pure alcohol has 7 calories per gram, and that doesn’t include the extra calories that go into the rest of the beverage.
Here are some more nutrition facts you’ll want to be aware of when counting calories:
- Carbohydrates and protein both contain 4 calories per gram
- Fats contain around double the calories per gram as carbs and protein at 9 calories per gram
Dietitian Betsy Klein notes that choosing breakfast foods that are packed with carbs and protein isn’t terrible for you, but to limit the amount of eggs, bread, cheese, and bacon you eat for breakfast. All of these food items are packed with carbs and fat, so if you eat enough of them, you can easily consume more than half of your allotted calories in just one meal. It’s important that you space your calories out across the entire day so you can stay full after every meal, easily ignoring the urge to reach for unhealthy foods.
Quick Tips for Breakfast
When planning your breakfast meals, choose low-fat cheese, rye or flaxseed bread, just one egg, and try to stuff your omelets and other breakfast items with as much nutrient-dense foods as you can, such as onions, mushrooms, and green or red peppers.
Quick Tips for Lunch
When planning for lunch, salads can be a life-saver. Pack a ton of veggies in there, and remember that iceberg lettuce has almost no nutritional value. Spinach, romaine, and kale lettuce are proven to be the three best types of lettuce as far as nutrition goes.
Quick Tips for Dinner
The best tip for dinner is to make sure you’re consuming enough calories to keep you full for the rest of the night while still staying within your allotted calories. Midnight snacks can destroy all of the hard work and progress you’ve made throughout the day.
When counting calories, using an app will make your life easier. There are a lot of apps that can show you the calories and nutritional data of individual items with the tap of a finger or click of a mouse, and all of your meals will be saved for quick viewing.
Try the free calorie calculator below: