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After struggling for years, the one thing that finally worked to help me lose 70lbs was a calorie deficient diet! The best part? I could still eat anything I wanted.
In this post I’m going to show you exactly how to count your own calories to lose weight using the exact calorie counting method I used to drop 70 lbs.
*Update! (9/21/2020) I’m currently doing this diet again to lose the baby weight after having my 3rd son! The goal is to lose 45 lbs, so far I’ve got 28 to go! Follow me on Instagram here @CassScroggins to follow along and see what I’m eating each day!
What is a Calorie
A dietary calorie is a unit used to measure the amount of “energy” inside foods and drinks.
Scientifically, “a calorie is defined as the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water from 0 to 1 degree Celsius.”Source.
Our bodies use calories from foods and drinks as energy to function. However when there is an excess of calories, our bodies store this energy as fat.
How I Lost 70lbs Counting Calories!
Last year, I lost 70lbs going from 207lbs to 137lbs by doing a tiered calorie deficient diet.
Based on my BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate), I started at consuming 2,000 calories a day, then dropped to 1,800 cal/day, then 1,500 cal/day, and finally 1,200 cal/day.
This method of starting at a higher calorie restriction and slowly dropping made it so much easier to stick to my diet and stay motivated to lose all the weight! It was literally the reason why I was able to lose weight when I couldn’t before.
I wrote an entire post on exactly how to start this specific method of a calorie deficient diet and how to navigate it (when to drop/adjust calories) here. It’s the only weight loss method that actually worked for me! Read the post here.
But for this post, I want to show you exactly how to count your calories so you can be successful losing weight!
How many calories do you have to burn to lose weight?
Every second, everyday, our bodies are continuously using or “burning” calories so that it can function.
Even basic things like breathing, sitting, and sleeping burns calories which is why we have to feed our bodies (replenish calories) daily.
When you consume more calories than you burn in a day, your body stores the extra calories as fat. Constantly eating more calories than you burn, will result in weight gain.
However, when you burn more calories than you consume, your body uses the calories stored as fat for energy. Continually eating less calories in a day than you burn (also called being calorie deficit) will result in weight loss.
So how many calories do you have to burn to lose weight?
3,500 calories makes up one pound of fat. So to lose one pound, you have to burn 3,500 more calories than you consume.
How many calories to eat in a day to lose weight.
The amount of calories someone should eat in a day to lose weight is different for everyone and varies greatly depending on gender, age, weight, height, and activity level.
To lose weight, you simply have to eat less calories than the amount of calories you burn in a day.
So to know how many calories you should eat in a day to lose weight, you have to know how many calories your body burns in a day and consume less calories than that.
How to calculate how many calories your body burns a day.
Step 1: Use your gender, weight, age, and height to calculate your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate).
Your BMR is the amount of calories your body burns a day while at rest. It’s the minimum amount of calories your body uses just to keep it functioning.
So if you were essentially in a coma sleeping all day, (not eating, not sitting, not even walking to the bathroom) the calories that it would take just to keep you breathing and your organs functioning is your BMR.
**Tip: The older, shorter, and less you weigh, the less calories your body burns each day. Males also burn slightly more calories than females.
Step 2: Add in your activity level.
After you calculate your BMR, use the activity level chart to calculate how many calories your body burns in a day just doing regular daily activities.
Remember your BMR is just the minimum amount of calories your body uses to function. You actually burn more calories in a day than your BMR just being awake and doing regular things like eating, sitting, walking around the house, etc.
People who regularly work out burn more calories in a day even when they aren’t working out. The regular activity helps keep their metabolic rate up, increasing the amount of calories their body burns in a day which is why you need to add in your activity level to get a true look at how many calories your body burns in a day.
To do this, calculate your BMR then use the activity level chart to see how many calories your body really burns a day.
**Tip: When in doubt, just use the ‘Sedentary: little or no exercise’ calorie count.
That is how many calories your body burns in a day. So to lose weight, you just have to eat less calories than that each day.
So from the example above of a 24 year old, 5’9” 150lbs female who doesn’t work out regularly burns 2,060 calories each day. So to lose about a pound a week, she would need to limit her calories to 1,560 a day.
How to Read a food label to count calories.
Let’s look at this food label for spaghetti noodles as an example.
When counting calories, the only part of the food label you need to pay attention to is:
- The servings per container
- Serving size
- And calories per serving
Using the label above it says that one serving of these spaghetti noodles is 230 calories. And one serving of spaghetti noodles is ⅔ cup or 55 grams. So 55 grams of spahetti noodles is 230 calories.
It also says that there are 8 servings per container. So in the entire package of spaghetti noodles there are 1840 calories (230 cal per serving X 8 servings = 1840 calories).
*Also keep in mind that different brands of the same foods can all have different calories. So one food label for spaghetti noodles will not be the same amount of calories/serving size for all spaghetti noodles.
How to Count Calories to Lose Weight.
What you need:
- A food scale – I use this one.
- And a calorie counter app – I use Calorie Counter by FatSecret. (Android version here).
Once you know how many calories your body burns a day and how to read a food label, to lose weight you just have to eat less calories than you burn. But to do this, you have to know how to accurately count calories!
There are a few methods of calorie counting.
- Using a scale to weigh portions
- Using measuring cups/spoons
- and estimating.
The most accurate way to count calories is to use a scale and weigh your foods.
The problem with using measuring cups/spoons and estimating is that there are a lot of variables. Certain foods don’t fit well into the measuring cups/spoons and when you eyeball portion sizes you never really know how much you are actually eating.
However, every package includes the calories for portion size in grams making weighing your food the most accurate and simple way to count calories. That is why I count my calories by weight.
Step 1: Set your food scale to grams.
All food labels have their serving sizes listed in grams making weighing your food in grams the easiest and most accurate way to count your calories.
To set your scale to grams, power it on and press the unit button until it displays grams represented by a ‘g’.
Step 2: Set a plate/bowl/cup on the scale and zero it out.
You can weigh your food directly on the scale, but if your food needs a plate, bowl, or cup to contain it, you don’t want to count the weight of the plate/bowl/cup with the weight of your food. To do this, you need to zero out the weight of the plate/bowl/cup.
Simply place the plate/bowl/cup on your scale, then click the ‘tare’ button which will return your scale back to 0g subtracting the weight of the plate/bowl/cup from the total weight.
This will make sure when you add your food to the plate/bowl/cup your scale is only measuring the weight of the food.
Step 3: Weigh your food in grams.
Add the food or drink you want to weigh onto the scale and record the weight in grams.
If you are measuring a liquid. The serving size will likely be in milliliters (ml), however it is the same weight as grams so you can change the units of your scale to ml or just keep it at grams, it doesn’t matter they are the same.
Step 4: Use the food label or calorie app to calculate the calories.
Once you know the weight of your food in grams, you can use the food’s label or your calorie counter app to record how many calories it is.
If you weighed out exactly one serving size according to the food label, then the amount of calories is already listed on the package.
For example: using the food label below of spaghetti noodles, if you weighed out exactly one serving of noodles which is 55g. Then you know that your spaghetti noodles on your plate is 230 calories.
What if you served yourself more or less grams of than the exact portion size? How do you calculate that?
The serving size for these spaghetti noodles is 55grams but what if you put 60grams of noodles on your plate?
Using the calorie counter app:
One way is by using the calorie counter app. Take a picture of the barcode, change the portion size to grams and change the grams to 60. The app will automatically calculate how many calories 60g of spaghetti noodles is.
Here’s a video example I did with peanut butter:
You can also calculate it manually by using this formula and a calculator.
[(Amount of calories per serving ÷ grams per serving) x the weight of the food on your scale in grams = the total calories of the food on the scale.]
So for this example you’d do (230 ÷ 55) x 60. When you divide the calories per serving by the grams per serving (230cal ÷ 55g) you get the total calories per gram (230cal ÷ 55g = 4.18181818 cal per gram).
You then take the calories per gram number (4.18181818) and times it by the amount of grams you have on your plate (4.18181818 x 60 = 250.909091 calories) and I always round to the nearest calorie (251 calories).
What if there is no food label like with fruits and vegetables?
To calculate the calories for fruits and vegetables, weigh it exactly the same as any other food (in grams) and then use the calorie counter app to find out the calories.
So if you want to find the calories for 100 grams of strawberries, weigh out 100g of strawberries then head to the app search strawberries and use the top result (or just the most basic result), change the serving size to grams and enter 100 calories.
The app will then tell you how many calories are in 100 grams of strawberries.
Step 5: Track what you eat in the calorie counter app to count how many calories you eat each day!
Record each food, drink, and snack you have in the day in the calorie counter app.
Use the camera to scan the barcode on the package for specific foods and adjust the grams to the amount you ate. Or simply search the app for the foods you eat and add them in.
The app will automatically add up your total calories for the day!
How to count calories for a homemade meal.
How do you count calories when you are making a recipe with multiple ingredients? I made a whole video on how to count calories when making a meal from home with multiple ingredients!
To do this you have to count the calories for each ingredient, add them all together then figure out the calories per gram for the entire dish. That way you can calculate how many calories are in each serving that you serve yourself.
Watch the video below to see how to count calories for a homemade dish!
How to count calories when eating out.
My husband and I go on a date every Friday and that always mean eating out. So last year, when I was counting calories to lose 70 lbs, being able to count calories while eating out was super important.
Here’s the deal.
Lots of restaurants and fast food joints post their nutrition information including calories, but also lots don’t. And if its a local mom n pop place, 9 times out of ten you’ll be out of luck in the nutrition information department.
Run a Google Search
The easiest thing to do is run a Google search for ” ‘name of restaurant’ nutrition”.
So if you’re going to eat at McDonalds searching “McDonalds Nutrition” will result in Mcdonalds PDF or webpage of their nutrition info for their items.
If you’re lucky you’ll find that restaurant’s nutrition calculator where you can add and subtract items to see how much calories your meal is with specific customizations.
A few Restaurants with Nutrition Calculators:
- Cafe Rio
- Papa John’s Pizza
- Blaze Pizza
- Taco Bell
- Jason’s Deli
What Kinds of Restaurants Post their nutrition information?
Usually any bigger chain restaurant will have it’s nutritional information posted. It’s the local and small family owned restaurants that usually won’t.
So if a restaurant has locations in multiple states, you’ll most likely be able to find nutrition information.
I see My Fitness Pal (or other calorie counting app) results but not any information from the actual restaurant website, should I trust it?
The calorie counts found in calorie counter apps are added by users and by scanning barcodes on food packages.
So if there isn’t nutrition information posted directly from the restaurant, the information inside those apps are just estimations.
For me, If the restaurant doesn’t have it’s nutrition information posted, I don’t ever trust what the calorie counter apps say. In fact, lots of the information inside those apps can be very off from what calories actually are.
Which is why it is best to rely on information on packaging and information posted directly from restaurants and fast food chains.
You do you, but for me, if I couldn’t find the nutritional information going out to eat, we just wouldn’t eat there. There are plenty of food places that post their calories so for me it was worth it to just go somewhere that had it.
Counting calories is the one thing that worked for me to lose 70 lbs last year and 45lbs again this year. It’s the way I could eat whatever I wanted and still lose weight, nothing was cut out.
It was the one thing I could stick to after tying every other fad diet in the book. And I know it can work for you too.
Check out my full post on my tiered calorie restriction method I used to lose 70lbs without feeling hungry or depriving myself here!
***Update! Follow me on Instagram to see how I count calories to lose weight after baby number 3! @CassScroggins