Creating a calorie deficit is the key to losing weight (1). For this, you need to know your maintenance calories and ensure you are eating at least 500 calories less each day. Keep in mind that it’s not a good idea to cut your calories drastically as this can cause your metabolism to slow down and pause your weight loss achievements.
Don’t worry, counting calories is not that complicated. It can easily be done at home with your favorite home-cooked meals. Meal delivery services also offer meal kits where most of the food prep is already done for you, using the freshest ingredients.
» Check out our top picks for the best meal delivery services.
1. Watch Your Portion Sizes
The standard serving sizes in the US are quite large. Even when you know how many calories there are in a serving, loading up your plate with large servings will cause you to overload on calories unintentionally.
Rather than the serving sizes, focus on the portions of food that you are actually consuming at each meal. Initially, you will need to measure the food in grams or ounces, but eventually, you will learn what the recommended half cup of rice or 4 ounces of fish looks like when served on your plate.
2. Invest in a Digital Kitchen Scale
The calorie count on labels is for specific serving sizes, which are usually given in grams or ounces. Rather than guessing how much this could be, weigh the food item and measure the portions accurately. Otherwise, you'll probably consume more or less than the given serving sizes.
If you know how many grams are there in your portion, you can easily calculate the correct number of calories you are eating.
» Looking for meal delivery service that meets your needs? Check out our top picks for the best weight loss meal delivery programs, from Nutrisystem to Diet-to-Go.
3. Focus on Quality of Calories
Rather than focus on staying under your calorie allowance with any kind of food, focus on the quality of your calories. Reduce processed foods and eat fresh, natural produce. The majority of your calories should come from high-quality protein and fat sources, along with some starchy carbs.
Make sure to add plenty of vegetables and some fruits, especially low-calorie ones like berries. Most vegetables are quite low in calories and offer you loads of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
4. Learn to Read Labels
Many of your ingredients, such as sauces, dips, and salad dressings, have calories and nutritional details listed on their labels. Don’t be fooled by the low-calorie or calorie-free labels. Low calorie means there are less than 40 calories in a serving size, while calorie-free has less than five calories in the serving (2).
Light/Lite versions contain one-third to half the calories compared to the regular version and may contain other undesirable additives to enhance the taste. Always check the label to see where your calories are coming from.
5. Keep a Food Journal
Rather than complicated calorie counting, simply jot down what you eat all day. When you correctly journal everything you eat, you can take a detailed look at what you have been eating. You will then be able to weed out the unwanted processed foods, sodas, and hidden sugars.
Even if your food choices are healthy, you may be overshooting your daily calorie limit due to too many nuts, fruits, or bulletproof coffees.
6. Track Your Calories as Soon as Possible
Streamlining your calorie counting process to ensure you get an accurate account each day is vital. Relying on memory to recall what you ate in the morning or even the day before leaves room for errors.
When your food journal is incomplete or contains the wrong serving sizes or portions, your calorie counting system will fail. Make sure you have your tracking system handy before you have the meal or record it immediately afterward.
7. Take Advantage of Tracking Tools
Find a calorie tracking system that works for you and is easy to maintain. Some people prefer to keep a food journal, while others prefer their smartphones or laptop to take notes.
Use a simple notepad that you can carry in a pocket or your purse or a calorie-counting app. There are numerous apps available for you to choose from, such as MyFitnessPal, LoseIt, MyNet Diary, and so on.
8. Pay Attention to When You Eat
Considering that you are counting calories for weight loss, you should also track when you eat your meals. Reserve your higher-calorie meals for earlier in the day and reduce your portion sizes later in the day.
Have a light dinner in the early evening. Large meals at night hinder your sleep quality and make it much harder to lose those unwanted pounds.
9. Don’t Obsess
Don’t obsess over every tiny little detail in your meal. While a teaspoon of butter will definitely add extra calories, a few drops of ketchup on your burger is not going to make any significant addition to your total calorie intake.
You also do not need to track your calories every single day. Even if you do it for a few days, you will still learn a great deal about the quantity and quality of your dietary intake.
10. Choose Calorie-Tracked Recipes
The easiest way to calculate the calories of meals cooked at home is to simply choose recipes that are already calorie tracked. Many recipe books or recipes online already mention the calories from different ingredients or the total calorie per serving, which means all the hard work is already done for you.
Simply follow the recipe correctly and keep track of what you add, especially fats such as butter or cheese. You just need to calculate and add these to the total calories of the recipe.
» Looking for low-calorie desserts? Try our favorite dessert recipes for weight loss.
It’s pretty easy to count calories when you're eating home-cooked meals. You just need to maintain a calorie deficit to promote weight loss. It doesn't matter what diet you follow, just make sure it's a healthy one that meets your nutritional requirements.