Track Calories To Lose Weight
The overconsumption of calories is one of the main reasons for the obesity epidemic. Granted, a lack of sleep, community, and movement have played its part. But for the sake of the article, we will focus on solving the issue of overeating. To solve this issue, we must talk about portion control. When you have a poor understanding of the calories in a meal, you tend to overeat without even realizing it. But it isn't your fault; no one has ever taught you how to portion your meals and track calories. For some reason, schools taught algebra and physics but never taught how to eat correctly. Today is the day we fix that and teach you how to control your portions through calorie tracking.
Step 1: Calculate YOUR Calorie Needs
Throughout my career as a personal trainer, I have been continuously asked, “How do I lose weight ?” I tell my clients three things: “Lift weights, eat an adequate amount of protein, and put yourself in a calorie deficit.” A calorie deficit occurs when you consume less energy than your body needs. When this occurs the body is forced to pull energy from other cells and weight loss is the result (1). In order to lose body fat and not muscle mass, it is essential that you perform resistance training and consume enough protein (2). Generally speaking, .7 grams to 1 gram of protein per pound is enough to maintain and build muscle mass in a calorie deficit (2,3). To find your ideal calorie amount, Harvard Health recommends taking your current body weight and multiplying it by 15.
Weight (175 lbs) x 15 = 2625 calories per day
Adhere to this total for a week and check your weight every morning after going to the bathroom. An ideal weight loss would be .5-2 pounds per week. If you don’t achieve this type of weight loss then reduce your calories by 200 per day and re-test for another week.
Step 2: Download Myfitnesspal
To get started, download Myfitnesspal from your app store and buy the premium version for four dollars a month. By having the premium feature it will allow you to customize your macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat) to your goals. To make the diet easier to adhere to you should set up your calories to reflect your food preferences. Plus, research has proven that a high carb and a low carb diet can be effective for weight loss (4). So, if you enjoy carbohydrates then you should follow a higher carb diet versus a lower carb diet. And if you prefer fattier foods you should follow a higher fat diet. Here are two examples that I recommend using:
High Carb Macronutrient Estimate
High Fat Macronutrient Estimate
How Do I Use Myfitnesspal?
The video tutorial below will show you how to set up your macronutrients into the app.
Step 3: Select The Number Of Meals
In a previous blog post, I wrote about how increasing your meal frequency will not increase metabolism enough for weight loss (read more). The total amount of calories you consume is responsible for metabolism. Therefore, you should select an amount of meals that you are comfortable eating. An effective way at limiting over eating and hitting your calorie goal is to divide your macronutrient total by the number of meals. Take a look at my macronutrient breakdown below:
185 grams of protein / 4 meals= 46g per meal
250 grams of carbs / 4 meals= 62g per meal
80 grams of fat / 4 meals= 20g per meal
615 cals per meal
Generally speaking, each meal should consist of a protein, vegetable, and carbohydrate source. I recommend starting at four meals per day then adjusting from there. If you feel bloated or overly stuffed after each meal then decrease your calories per meal. And if you are hungry in between meals I recommend snacking on fruit, nuts or a protein shake. I have found these three foods to be highly effective at reducing hunger.
Step 4: Buy A Scale And Weigh Your Food
Weighing your food on a regular basis will teach you the correct portion size for each food. When you have the correct serving size, you will consume less calories. Usually, people underestimate the amount of calories in there meals or snacks. For example, seven whole walnuts (30 grams) contain 200 calories. In the picture to the right, you can see how small the amount is and how easy it would be to eat more calories than you think.
To prevent this from happening, you should weight your food for six to twelve months. Throughout this time period you should estimate the number of servings with your hand before weighing it. After you use your hand as a serving size guide, you should weigh the food to see if you were correct. Overtime, this will allow you to ditch the scale and only use your hand to predict serving sizes. The infographic below will give you some pointers on how to do this.
What about restaurants?
Myfitnesspal does have a calorie tracking feature for restaurants (read more). But if your meal can’t be found on the tracker, then use the infographic above to estimate the serving sizes of each individual food item from your meal. Restaurants tend to add more calories in the form of fat and sugar to increase the flavor. So I recommend limiting your eating out two to three times a week. On the days you go out to eat, you should consume more protein throughout the day and limit your calories. If you struggle to prepare your own food, then I recommend using a meal service like *Cateredfit that has the calorie amount for each meal.
*Use code: trainwitherik to save $20 off your first meal
Step 5: Be Patient & Strive For Progress
Tracking your calories is a skill, one that takes time and patience. So you are bound to make mistakes along the way. There will be days where you eat way too much, and days where you don’t eat enough. Ultimately, the goal should be to come in (+-) 50 calories of your calorie total each day. If you consume too many calories on one day, give yourself a break and focus on the next day. One day isn’t going to make or break your weight loss journey. There is no timetable on this process, it could take anywhere from a month to a year. You should strive for progress, not perfection.
Hill, J. O., Wyatt, H. R., & Peters, J. C. (2012). Energy Balance and Obesity. Circulation, 126(1), 126–132. http://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.111.087213
Thomas M Longland, Sara Y Oikawa, Cameron J Mitchell, Michaela C Devries, Stuart M Phillips; Higher compared with lower dietary protein during an energy deficit combined with intense exercise promotes greater lean mass gain and fat mass loss: a randomized trial, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 103, Issue 3, 1 March 2016, Pages 738–746, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.115.119339
Heather J Leidy, Peter M Clifton, Arne Astrup, Thomas P Wycherley, Margriet S Westerterp-Plantenga, Natalie D Luscombe-Marsh, Stephen C Woods, Richard D Mattes; The role of protein in weight loss and maintenance, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 101, Issue 6, 1 June 2015, Pages 1320S–1329S, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.114.084038
Gardner CD, Trepanowski JF, Del Gobbo LC, Hauser ME, Rigdon J, Ioannidis JPA, Desai M, King AC. Effect of Low-Fat vs Low-Carbohydrate Diet on 12-Month Weight Loss in Overweight Adults and the Association With Genotype Pattern or Insulin Secretion: The DIETFITS Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2018 Feb 20;319(7):667-679. doi: 10.1001/jama.2018.0245. Erratum in: JAMA. 2018 Apr 3;319(13):1386. JAMA. 2018 Apr 24;319(16):1728. PubMed PMID: 29466592; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5839290.