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The Right Way to Count Calories

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Experts still debate whether counting calories is an effective way to lose weight. 100 calories of vegetables, for example, is not equivalent to 100 calories from potato chips and research research has proven this idea that all calories are not created equal. Still, counting calories does offer some advantages as it allows you to gauge how much food you’re consuming each day. If you’re on a fitness program and exercising regularly, you’ll need to make sure you’re getting enough food to sustain your body and keep your metabolism working properly. If you do decide to count calories to help you lose weight, make sure you do it the right way, as accurate records are the only way to know for sure if you’re reaching your caloric goal for the day.

Write Down Everything You Eat and Drink

Many people make the mistake of assuming they’ll remember to write down the lunch they ate dining out with friends when they get home. If you try to remember now what you had for lunch yesterday, you’ll probably realize how difficult it is to recall a past meal. It’s even more difficult to accurately assess portion sizes after the fact. If you’re dining out at a restaurant, just a receipt or a piece of paper from your pocket to record what you ate and the serving size so you can record it properly when you get home.

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Try a Calorie Counting App

If you have a smart phone, try downloading an app to count calories so you always have it with you. This way you’re sure to get an accurate number as most calorie tracking apps have a massive database of foods, including fast food, restaurants and home-made meals.

Don’t Underestimate Portion Sizes

According to a study published in Nature in 2006, both overweight and normal-weight adults tend to underestimate their calorie intake because they underestimate the portion sizes of the food they eat. This happens for many reasons, including being served a double portion of a meal at a restaurant, eating with large bowls and plates at home or simply lacking a good comparison. Here’s an easy way to visually compare portion sizes to household items:

  • One serving or 1/2 cup of vegetables = the size of a regular light bulb
  • 1 serving of fruit =  a tennis ball
  • 1 cup of pasta = a tennis ball
  • 2 ounces of cheese = 3 dominoes or a tube of lipstick
  • 3 ounce serving of meat, fish or chicken = a deck of cards
  • One serving or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter = a golf ball

Use a Kitchen Scale at Home

A digital scale in the kitchen is an easy way to determine portion sizes. It can be used to prepare foods or weigh a portion of food if you aren’t sure how much you should eat.

Record Everything — Even Drinks and Snacks

Get in the habit of writing down everything you eat or drink, including water, diet soda and snacks, even if you only take a few bites of a chocolate cake. Many people are surprised to learn how much they eat when they write it down.

Try to Record Nutrients

Instead of just writing down the total calories of your food, remember how important it is to keep track of the fat, carbohydrates, fiber and protein you eat to reach your goals. Fiber can aid in weight loss and helps you feel full for longer, while protein is necessary to build lean muscle. Because not all calories are equal, this can be an effective way to help you look for holes in your diet and determine when you need to get more of the most important nutrients in your food.

Remember Calorie Counting Isn’t Everything

Finally, keep in mind calorie counting alone shouldn’t be used to help you lose weight. It can be a good tool to help you identify problem areas if you’re having trouble losing weight or to track specific information like daily sodium intake, although a healthy, balanced diet combined with regular exercise are necessary to help you reach your weight loss goals.

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