Nutrition can be a very confusing world. But the key to physical and internal change will derive from this essential component. In fact, most people when asked how much they eat wouldn’t be able to give you an exact answer. Some might reply “I eat healthy”, but what does that even mean? Is it healthy because media tells you its “fat free” , “gluten free” or “low carb”? Is it because the foods you are eating are high in fiber and high in minerals? But the true dilemma is actually the quantity of food. Constantly I hear “I’m eating healthy but not losing weight, whats the problem?” The problem is when asked the exact quantities of food, many don’t even know what that means. So let’s break down how counting calories can help you and if it’s a sustainable way for you and your lifestyle.
Let’s begin with simple nutrition. All foods (except alcohol) can be broken down into macronutrients. These 3 macronutrients [or macros for short] are proteins, carbs and fats. All carbs and proteins have 4 calories per gram and all fats have 9 calories per gram. Whenever you eat anything, it will have then an energy unit attached to it. For example. 7oz of lean chicken will roughly be 42g of protein which is about 168 kcal. Do you need to know these numbers? No. Either utilizing an app or having a nutritionist works well as they can create programs with these numbers for you.
Now let’s get a bit more technical. When you eat for example a dish of chicken, rice and beans, you are now consuming ‘X’ amount of carbs, proteins and fats. If you don’t know how much chicken, rice and beans you are consuming and are eating these daily several times a day you are now venturing into the world of “I’m eating but I don’t know how much”. Here is when measuring your food quantities comes in handy. Knowing exactly how much chicken, how much rice and beans you are consuming so that you can attach a number to these meals. If you are eating 5oz of chicken, 1 cup of rice and ½ cup of beans now you are roughly [depending on the rice and bean type] consuming 45g of protein, 65g carbs and 6g of fat. This equates to 495 calories. Why is this important? Because if you are trying to lose weight and your program tells you that you cannot consume over 2,200 calories per day, you now have an idea of what’s left for the rest of the day to eat.
Let’s get now a bit even more in depth. If your nutritionist or program requires you to eat 2,200 daily calories and then on top of that those calories are broken into 150g of protein, 160g of carbs and 105g of fat which equates to the 2,200 calories, you have the exact number you need to reach daily. This is your formula for success. This is the bank giving you $2,200 daily and if you go over you’ll be in debt. Except over time this “debt” can accumulate in your system as body-fat. Just an analogy there for you to better understand all of this. You don’t want to go over and you cannot change the designated numbers for now. You see now how “eating healthy’ doesn’t tell me anything unless I know exactly what numbers someone has? It's likes stating you make a lot of money. What's a lot? 1 million? 100k? You must know your numbers.
So, what does all of this have to do with counting calories? Easy. Remember what I said up top? all foods have a number of macros and calories associated with them? Using a tracking app like MyNetDiary, Fitness Pal or anything other, you can now start weighing down your food and keeping a log of how many calories you have left for your day. This will ensure you will not pass them. The apps will spit the numbers so you don't need to know how many macros or calories each meal has, your only responsibility is tracking and not going above those numbers.
However, counting calories does have it’s down sides. What are they? First of all if you have never done this priorly, it can be a bit stressful, but don’t give up! Your first mission is to buy a food scale. This will enable you to measure everything you are eating. Secondly, after you’ve measured all you are eating you have to input those numbers to your app. Thirdly, you must be consistent with everything you are eating. So if you add a sauce to your lunch, you must track it, if you have some chips, you have to add it. I remember myself not inputting all these small matters and when I did, I realized how easy sauces, dips and small snacks would add up to the daily equation. The good thing of this is it makes you realize how much you are actually eating. The other good thing is you don’t have to stick to the exact meals day in and day out. You can eat things you enjoy in small quantities, but you need to ensure that you’re not just going over the calories and the independent macros as well. You will easily see that if you have a candy bar how fast the carbs and fats go up and leaving you with less throughout the day. So being smart about how you spread what you should be eating and your pleasures is key!
So how do we create a sustainable way of tracking calories and should you be doing it? Truth is everyone should start tracking their calories if they don’t know how much they are eating. However, tracking calories can become obsessive and OCD with many. So, to ensure you don’t become obsessed with this method, ensure that over time you learn what’s in your foods so you don’t have to track everything. Use it as an initial tool to allow you to know where you are so you learn to know how to eat. Also, the more you count calories, the less you will be paying attention to the food that you are eating. You can feel like you are looking at a spreadsheet on a plate. All you see is numbers. Finally, the last thing you want to do, is not eat as much of what you should be eating so you have room to eat junk food daily. That goes against everything that eating healthy stands for. Telling yourself “I will eat less of this [which may be good for you] and eating more of ‘this’ [ which may not be good for your health] isn’t a good use for tracking your calories. It’s crucial to focus on rich dense foods, higher in fiber which may have higher phytonutrient and minerals/vitamins and then once in a while allow yourself to eat something you please.
Instead of counting calories, a nice solution is also to get in the habit of eating smaller portions if you are looking to lose weight. You can use tracking for a while to learn and visualize food portions but then afterwards learn from this and apply it without tracking.
You must be responsible weighing down or scanning everything [including sauces and dips]
Can get old to scan everything daily
Tracking restaurant meals can be a challenge
Tracking complex meals can be tricky
When done correctly, more food choices
When done correctly, more freedom on the long run
Allows you to learn what's in food for better choices on the long run
If you own a FitBit or Apple Watch, these can be connected to several apps like the ones I mentioned earlier to see your energy output. This can help you as well knowing how many calories you are burning daily.