Updated: Mar 18
Calorie Counting - Simply Explained
80cals in 100ml of Red Wine
The Nitty Gritty Of Calorie Counting
I have previously written articles on diet and exercise and whether exercise is essential to lose weight and some tips on how to increase the likelihood of success with your new years resolution to be healthier. This time, I want to explain more about calorie counting as a tool to weight loss and why it works so well for me.
I yo-yo dieted for years before finally knuckling down and getting on with it. I tried Weight Watchers and Slimming World also but found they just didn’t suit my needs. Basically, I love to eat crap. I’ll happily grab a sandwich from a garage or a protein bar for lunch and I love eating a decent amount of chocolate in the evenings. I hate eating salad unless it accompanies a pizza and I despise fruit unless I have sugar coated strawberries with cream. I admit at times my diet isn’t particularly healthy. I try and get vegetables in and would love to say I do this most days, but that would be a lie. I can’t be bothered preparing things in advance and would much rather have a bowl of Frosties or Oat So Simple golden syrup flavour porridge than make overnights oats. I can gag just thinking about the texture of overnight oats. For these reasons, Weight Watchers and Slimming World just doesn’t work for me. Following these plans would mean I would likely use my ‘syns’ or ‘points’ up by mid-morning most likely and I hate being shammed for my food choices.
Life is a bit hectic this end. I have been working on a cruise ship for the past four months, and before that was working in various A&E departments around the South West. I don’t have time to meal prep in-between working, mumming, golfing and wife-ing. I have been maintaining my nearly 4 stone weight loss (25kg) for around 3 years now. Since April I have been trying to eat sensibly without having to calorie count and it was going well until I joined the ship in August. I presumed that after 3 years I would be strong enough to resist a buffet when necessary and refuse a glass of Baileys but unfortunately the change of food, routine and increased social occasions has caused some weight gain. I am trying to shift my extra pounds before I head back on the ships by the end of January and have vowed to resist the alcohol and buffet as much as possible the next time round. I am still trying to do this without calorie counting as I know I won’t be able to do it when I’m away from home, but it is so much harder.
If this method of losing weight sounds good to you, I will try and pass on some tips to get started.
- First and foremost, you need to work out how many calories you can eat a day to lose weight. I recommend using an online free TDEE calculator and being honest when inputting your details. You may think running around after the kids and walking the dog means your active, but sadly it doesn’t.
- Once you’ve worked out your daily maintenance calories (the calories you can eat a day to keep your weight the same as now), subtract roughly 500 calories off this daily total. This will mean your body is now in a calorie deficit and you should lose between 1-2lb a week.
- Download a tracking app. I personally used MyFitnessPal and have never tried any of the others so can’t comment on those. MyFitnessPal is free and allows you to build recipes so you can continue to eat your homecooked favourites knowing the calories per gram serving. I have even written instructions on how to do this using the MyFitnessPal Recipe Builder tool.
- Don't overly stress about macros. Protein, carbs, fats - a calorie is a calorie and for weight loss it doesn't matter where it comes from. Protein will keep you fuller for longer, carbs fuel your workouts and provide essential energy, and fats are essential and help with the absorption of essential vitamins.
- Buy a set of digital food scales. These do not need to be expensive and will be the only financial outlay required if you do not have a set already. Weighing your food is absolutely essential to calorie counting. Even after 3 years I am completely unable to estimate with any kind of accuracy (hence my downfall with buffets).
- Weigh yourself. I personally like to do this daily and take a weekly average. Everyone is very unique in their preferences here, so just do what works for you. If I am being 100% honest with my calories then I personally never see these numbers go up.
- Drink plenty but not excessively. When reducing my intake and calorie counting, I am prone to constipation which is most likely exacerbated by my poor choices in food most of the time. Drinking plenty of water will help prevent this.
- Don’t pick at food. A huge downfall for mums particularly is sneaking a couple of uneaten kids chips off their plate and this will absolutely add up during the course of the day. If you eat it, track it!!
Prepare For Challenges
If you are anything like me, you have probably tried and failed to lose weight countless times in the past. Think about what caused you to fail last time.
- Unsupportive spouses. This is a huge problem for many people. Some people seem to be able to eat a ton of crap and never gain a pound. If one of these people is your other half, I honestly feel for you. Sit your partner down and explain how important losing weight is to you. Discuss your reasons for doing it and explain that you are going to need their support. There is no reason you can not eat out, or have an occasional takeaway, but you’re obviously going to have to change some habits.
- Alcohol, is an absolutely bugger for calories. There is 164 calories in 50ml of baileys. 50ml is teeny tiny. There is 85 calories in 100ml of red wine. You can absolutely still have a drink in the evenings if that is your thing, I eat around 300 calories (or more) of chocolate most nights, but just be mindful of the calories and track them.
- Crap. Love eating nutritionally deficient happy foods? Me too! You still can. Weigh out your chocolate and put it in the fridge. Instead of eating an entire tub of Ben and Jerrys most nights, I would choose a low calorie and high protein version instead (Aldi and Lidl ones are actually really good). Instead of my family sized bar of Cadburys Fruit and Nut, I would weigh and put smarties or chocolate buttons in the fridge and suck on them whilst watching a film.
- Saving up calories. If you know you’re going to have a takeaway every Friday (me!) I would eat less during the week to minimise the damage from the takeaway. I personally eat 1500 calories a day and every Friday night will dump kebab meat on top of a 9inch Hawaiian pizza followed by a tub of white chocolate magnum ice-cream. I have no idea of the calories in that greasy combo, but I can eat it and still lose.
- When it comes to Exercise, I advise to do it if you want to. If you exercise you will lose more weight or eat slightly more food. I love a sports watch and wear my Garmin religiously but take any burnt calories with a pinch of salt. Sport Watches grossly over estimate calories burnt, but I know after going for a 45min run I can safely eat a couple hundred more calories, or don’t eat them for a better loss that week.
- Just try and move more. If you’re not a big fan of actually heading outside or to the gym, just try and step more around the house. On the spot is still steps and burns more calories than sitting on your bum!
- Eat out sometimes. Don’t be afraid of eating out. Many restaurants, particularly chains provide calories on their menus/websites. McDonalds is bloody brilliant for providing low calorie alternatives. Harvester has a delicious rotisserie chicken and I swap the fries for mash potato (because I like it more to be honest, but it is lower in calories also). Wetherspoons do a delicious pizza which I can fit into my daily allowance if I eat a protein bar for lunch.
- Eat as late as you want, wake up and eat dinner at 2am if you want to. The time of day does not make any difference to weight loss. Its only about calories.
- Carbs are not the devil. Whether you are eating a calorie of fat, protein or carbs, a calorie is still a calorie. Want to go low carb? Fine, do it if you want to! I personally bloody love sugar so not a chance! See this post regarding Keto for further info on a carb free diet.
- Fasting. Want to fast? Fine, do it. Don’t want to? Don’t bother. The thought of not regularly shoving food in my mouth personally fills me with horror, but whatever works for you.
- Stick pictures on your fridge. I found a nice pre-kid picture in a bikini and stuck it up there for motivation.
- Reward yourself. Losing weight is most likely going to save you a ton of money. When I think how much we must have saved on takeaways alone I feel less guilty of my boob-job reward.
- Eat foods you love. Treat yourself occasionally, don’t radically overhaul your diet, just use portion control (which is what calorie counting ultimately is). If you go off plan and have an utter binge for a few days, don’t beat yourself up about it. Which person doesn’t indulge occasionally? It isn’t the end of the world, just get back on it.
What Worked For Me?
Evenings have always been my downfall, so as I mentioned, I always ensure I have calories left for evening snacks. I am also lucky enough to have discovered that I enjoy exercising, but this is not totally necessary for weight-loss, indeed I had lost a decent amount before I bothered doing any.
Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day, but I am not too fussy what I eat. If I skip breakfast, I am pretty unbearable to know. I usually have around 300 calories of cereal (coco-pops are a fav) or some Oat So Simple as it really keeps me full. I often buy a plain one, and change the flavour using calorie free drops.
Protein bars are amazing for me. I eat one most days. I buy these really cheap from B&M or Homebargains and they are a little over 200cal with 20g protein. These keep me full until dinner and is less effort than making scrambled egg on toast (another fav).
Finally, meals from the Pinch of Nom books are fantastic for fairly low calorie meals. You can double the portions and freeze some for meals at work for example. They tend to be fairly high in protein which is great for keeping me full. I was bought one as a gift and now have three.
To reward myself when changing dress sizes, I would have a little shopping spree on Shein. They have some great items on here, just read the reviews to check what comes is similar to pictures.
There is so much debate right now over whether a diet under 1200 calories is unhealthy, and the following is just my opinion from my own experience. I personally do not see a problem in people eating less than 1200 calories a day. I know if I am extremely inactive and laze around the house day after day I do not need to eat 1200 calories as my body will not be burning as many. When I started out I was on 1200 calories a day, but on the days when I was very sedentary would eat under 1000 at times. I soon found out this was not necessary for me, and I could eat approximately 1500 a day and lose around 2lb a week – but for some very sedentary people, I don’t think it would be a problem. I also do not personally believe that your body will hold onto fat or go into starvation mode.
However, for anyone starting out, despite what the TDEE calculator says, I would not go under 1200 calories unless you are tracking 100% correctly and not losing weight.
Also, please bear in mind, you can not target fat loss. Doing 10,000 sit ups a day will absolutely burn a mega amount of calories, but it will not burn the fat from your abdomen alone. Sadly, there is no specific way to lose fat from a particular part of your body, but you can absolutely build muscle and tone these areas with exercise.
I am sure I have made it sound a lot easier than it is and I don’t want to paint a picture of chocolate eating joy. The fact is, you are restricting calories to lose weight and it is therefore going to be hard. Whatever diet you do is going to be hard. There is no possible way to lose weight without having to say no to amazing food and work hard.
Been counting calories but not losing weight? Unsure why? I've written about this too!
Please feel free to get in touch via my forum for any help, support or questions.
I tried to set up a weight loss group..
Apparently calling it the 'Big Fat Losers Club' is not acceptable.