Calories In, Calories Out: How to Count Calories to Lose Weight
To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn. In theory, this sound simple. However, managing your food intake in the modern food environment can be tricky.
Calorie counting is one way to tackle this problem and is commonly used for weight loss.
This is a detailed guide about counting calories, explaining everything you need to know.
What Are Calories?
Calories are a measure of energy, normally used to measure the energy content of foods and beverages.
Technically speaking, a dietary calorie is defined as the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree Celsius.
You use the calories that you eat and drink for essential functions such as breathing and thinking, as well as day-to-day activities such as walking, talking and eating.
Any excess calories you eat will be stored as fat and consistently eating more than you burn will cause weight gain over time.
Bottom Line: A calorie is a measure of energy. In science, it's defined as the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree Celsius.
Why Calories Count
It's quite common to hear that calories don't matter and calorie counting is a waste of time.
However, when it comes to your weight, calories do count.
This is a fact that has been proven time and time again in scientific experiments called overfeeding studies.
These studies ask people to deliberately overeat and subsequently measure the impact on their weight and health.
This simple fact means that counting calories and limiting your intake can be effective to prevent weight gain or lose weight, as long as you manage to stick to it.
One review found that weight loss programs that included calorie counting led to an average of around 7 lbs (3.3 kg) more weight loss than those that didn't (9).
Bottom Line: When you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight. Counting calories can help you eat fewer calories and lose weight.
How Many Calories Should You Eat?
How many calories you need depends on factors like gender, age, weight and activity level.
For example, a 25-year-old male athlete will need more calories than a 70-year-old woman who doesn't exercise.
If you are trying to lose weight, you will need to create a calorie deficit by eating less than your body burns off.
Use this calculator (opens in new tab) to determine how many calories you should eat per day.
Bottom Line: The exact amount of calories you need will depend on a number of different factors, including your gender, age, weight and activity levels. Use the calculator above to work out your daily requirement.
The Best Apps to Help You Count Calories
Due to advances in technology, putting calorie counting into practice can be relatively effortless these days.
Lots of apps and websites are available to simplify the process by providing quick and easy ways to log the food you eat.
Here's a list of some of the most popular free calorie-counting apps/websites:
For more details, read this: The 5 Best Calorie Counter Websites and Apps.
Bottom Line: Using an app or online tool to record your meals and track your food intake is a very easy way to count calories.
How to Weigh and Measure Your Portions
Portion sizes have increased and in some restaurants a single meal can provide double or triple what the average person needs in a sitting.
Calorie counting can help you combat overeating by giving you a better understanding of how much you are really consuming.
However, for it to work, you need to record food portions correctly. Here are a few common ways to measure portion sizes:
- Scales: The most accurate way to determine how much you're eating is to weigh your food. However, this can be time-consuming and isn't always practical.
- Measuring cups: Standard volume measures are slightly quicker and easier to use than a scale, but can still be time-consuming and awkward at times.
- Comparisons: Using comparisons to common items is quick and easy, especially if you're away from home. However, it's also much less accurate.
Here are some common serving sizes compared to household items that may help you estimate your portion sizes:
- 1 serving of rice or pasta (1/2 a cup): a computer mouse or rounded handful.
- 1 serving of meat (3 oz): a deck of cards.
- 1 serving of fish (3 oz): a check book.
- 1 serving of cheese (1.5 oz): a lipstick or the size of your thumb.
- 1 serving of fresh fruit (1/2 cup): a tennis ball.
- 1 serving of green leafy vegetables (1 cup): a baseball.
- 1 serving of vegetables (1/2 a cup): a computer mouse.
- 1 teaspoon of olive oil: 1 fingertip.
- 2 tablespoons of peanut butter: a ping pong ball.
Calorie counting isn't an exact science, even when you weigh and measure portions.
However, it's not necessary to be absolutely spot-on with your measurements. Just make sure to record your intake as accurately as you can.
You should be most careful about recording items that are high in fat and/or sugar, such as pizza, ice cream and oils. Under-recording these foods can cause a big difference between your recorded and actual intake.
To improve your estimations, you can try using scales in the beginning to give you a better idea of what a portion looks like. This should help you be more accurate, even after you stop using them (21).
Bottom Line: You can use scales, cups and measures or portion-size estimates to determine how much you're eating. Scales are the most accurate.
The Quality of Your Diet Still Matters
Calories are useful for tracking how much you eat, but they don't tell you much about the quality of your diet (22).
When it comes to foods and the human body, a calorie is not necessarily a calorie.
For example, 100 calories of broccoli will affect your health differently than 100 calories of french fries.
High-quality foods not only provide health benefits, but they also make it a lot easier to consume fewer calories in the long run.
Bottom Line: Basing your diet on minimally processed foods is beneficial for long-term health and weight loss.
5 More Tips to Succeed With Calorie Counting
Here are 5 more tips to count calories:
- Be prepared: Before you start, get a calorie counting app or online tool, decide how you will measure or estimate portions and make a meal plan.
- Read food labels: Food labels contain lots of useful information for calorie counting. Make sure you check the portion size recommended on the package.
- Remove temptation: Get rid of the junk food in your house. This will help you choose healthier snacks and make it easier to hit your targets.
- Aim for slow, steady weight loss: Don't cut calories too low. Although you'll lose weight faster, you may feel bad and be less likely to stick to your plan.
- Fuel your exercise: The most successful weight loss programs include both diet and exercise. Make sure to eat enough to still have energy to exercise.
Bottom Line: Aim for slow and steady weight loss and make sure you have a plan. Reading food labels and keeping less junk food in the house can also be helpful for success.
Should You Count Calories?
“Calories in, calories out" certainly isn't the only thing that matters for optimal health.
However, when it comes to weight loss, calories do count.
Although it doesn't suit everyone, you may find that counting calories is an effective way to lose weight and keep it off.
This article was reposted from our media associate Authority Nutrition.
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By Sara Lindberg
Whether you've hit a workout plateau or you're just ready to turn things up a notch, adding more strenuous exercise — also known as high-intensity exercise — to your overall fitness routine is one way to increase your calorie burn, improve your heart health, and boost your metabolism.
However, to do it safely and effectively, there are some guidelines you should follow. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of vigorous exercise and how to safely dial up the intensity of your workouts.
What Is Considered Strenuous Exercise?<p>When it comes to exercise, the intensity of how hard you work out is just as important as the duration of your exercise session. In general, exercise intensity is divided into three categories:</p><ul><li>low</li><li>moderate</li><li>vigorous or strenuous</li></ul><p>For an activity to be vigorous, you need to work at 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate, according to the<a href="https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/target-heart-rates" target="_blank"> American Heart Association</a>. Examples of vigorous exercise include:</p><ul><li>running</li><li>cycling at 10 mph or faster</li><li>walking briskly uphill with a heavy backpack</li><li>jumping rope</li></ul><p>Low to moderate exercise is easier to sustain for longer periods since you work below 70 percent of your maximum heart rate and, sometimes, well below that level.</p><p>To reap health benefits, the <a href="https://www.hhs.gov/fitness/be-active/physical-activity-guidelines-for-americans/index.html" target="_blank">Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans</a> recommends that people age 18 and older get one of the following:</p><ul><li><strong>150 minutes</strong> of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week</li><li><strong>75 minutes</strong> of vigorous aerobic activity per week</li><li><strong>combination of both types</strong> of activity spread throughout the week</li></ul>
Strenuous Exercise Vs. Moderate Exercise<p>Increasing your exercise intensity is fairly simple to do. You can still participate in your favorite activities — just at a more vigorous pace.</p><p>One of the benefits of more strenuous exercise is that you can reap the same rewards as moderate-intensity exercise but in less time. So, if time is of the essence, doing a more strenuous 20-minute workout can be just as beneficial as doing a slower 40-minute workout session.</p><p>Here are some examples of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/physical/pdf/pa_intensity_table_2_1.pdf" target="_blank">strenuous vs. moderate exercise<span></span></a>.</p><table><tbody><tr><th>Moderate intensity</th><th>Strenuous intensity</th></tr><tr><td>bicycling at less than 10 mph</td><td>bicycling at more than 10 mph</td></tr><tr><td>walking briskly</td><td>running, or hiking uphill at a steady pace</td></tr><tr><td>jog-walk intervals</td><td>water jogging/running</td></tr><tr><td>shooting baskets in basketball</td><td>playing a basketball game</td></tr><tr><td>playing doubles tennis</td><td>playing singles tennis</td></tr><tr><td>raking leaves or mowing the lawn</td><td>shoveling more than 10 lbs. per minute, digging ditches</td></tr><tr><td>walking stairs</td><td>running stairs</td></tr></tbody></table>
Benefits of Vigorous Exercise<p>Besides being more efficient, turning up the heat on your fitness sessions can benefit your health in a variety of ways. Let's take a closer look at some of the evidence-based benefits of a higher intensity workout.</p><ul><li><strong>Higher calorie burn.</strong> According to the <a href="https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/5008/7-things-to-know-about-excess-post-exercise-oxygen-consumption-epoc/?utm_source=Rakuten&utm_medium=10&ranMID=42334&ranEAID=TnL5HPStwNw&ranSiteID=TnL5HPStwNw-hYlKnAcfzfixAUsvnO6Ubw" target="_blank">American Council on Exercise</a>, working out at a higher intensity requires more oxygen, which burns more calories. It also contributes to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) or the "afterburn effect" that allows you to continue burning calories even after you finish working out. This means your metabolism will stay elevated for longer after a vigorous exercise session.</li><li><strong>More weight loss.</strong> A <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/interval-workouts-will-help-you-lose-weight-more-quickly" target="_blank">higher calorie burn</a> and an elevated metabolism will help you lose weight more quickly than doing low- or moderate-intensity exercise.</li><li><strong>Improved heart health.</strong> According to a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16377300" target="_blank">2012 study</a>, high- and moderate-intensity exercise appears to offer low chance of cardiovascular events, even in those with heart disease. Cardiovascular benefits may include improvements in:<ul><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/diastole-vs-systole" target="_blank">diastolic blood pressure</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/15-ways-to-lower-blood-sugar#TOC_TITLE_HDR_1" target="_blank">blood sugar control</a></li><li>aerobic capacity</li></ul></li><li><strong>Improved mood.</strong> High-intensity exercise may also boost your mood. According to a large <a href="https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/jpts/27/4/27_jpts-2014-736/_article" target="_blank">2015 study</a> that analyzed the data of more than 12,000 participants, researchers found a significant link between strenuous exercise and fewer depressive symptoms.</li><li><strong>Lower risk of mortality.</strong> According to a 2015 <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25844882" target="_blank">study</a>, researchers found that vigorous activity may be key to avoiding an early death. The study, which followed 204,542 people for more than 6 years, reported a 9 to 13 percent decrease in mortality for those who increased the intensity of their exercise sessions.</li></ul>
How to Measure Exercise Intensity<p>So, how do you know for sure that you're exercising at a strenuous level? Let's look at three ways to measure the intensity of your physical activity.</p><h3>1. Your heart rate</h3><p>Monitoring your heart rate is one of the most reliable methods for measuring exercise intensity. Exercising at 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate qualifies as vigorous exercise intensity.</p><blockquote><strong><strong>WHAT IS YOUR MAXIMUM HEART RATE?</strong></strong>Your maximum heart rate is the fastest your heart can safely beat. To find out what your maximum heart rate is you need to subtract your age from 220. For example, for a 40-year-old person: <ul><li>220 bpm (beats per minute) minus age</li><li>220 – 40 = 180 bpm</li></ul>To work out at a vigorous pace, you'll want to exercise within 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. For example: <ul><li>180 x 0.70 (70 percent) = 126</li><li>180 x 0.85 (85 percent) = 153</li></ul>For a 40-year-old person, a vigorous training range is 126 to 153 bpm.<br></blockquote><p>You can check your heart rate while you're working out by wearing a heart rate monitor or <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">taking your pulse</a>.</p>
How to Add Vigorous Activity to Your Workout<p>Adding strenuous activity to your weekly workout routine requires some careful planning. Fortunately, many of the activities that you do at a moderate level can easily be performed at a higher intensity.</p><p>One way of incorporating vigorous aerobic activity into your routine is to do a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workout. This type of workout combines short bursts of intense activity — typically performed at 80 to 95 percent of your maximum heart rate — with recovery periods at 40 to 50 percent maximum heart rate.</p><p>To sustain this level of training, consider following a 2:1 work to rest ratio. For example, a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/treadmill-weight-loss#hiit" target="_blank">treadmill workout </a>or outdoor running session could include:</p><ul><li>running at 9 to 10 mph for 30 seconds</li><li>followed by walking at 3 to 4 mph for 60 seconds</li><li>alternating this work-to-rest ratio for 20 to 30 minutes</li></ul><p>Playing a fast-paced sport like soccer, basketball, or racquetball is another effective way to add strenuous activity to your fitness routine. Participating in <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-a-spin-class" target="_blank">cycling classes</a> or swimming laps are other ways to build more strenuous exercise into your workouts.</p>
Safety Tips<p>Before you turn up the intensity on your workouts, it's important to keep the following safety tips in mind.</p><h3>Check with your doctor</h3><p>If you have a health condition or you haven't been active in a while, make sure you talk to your doctor before you start a high-intensity exercise routine. Your doctor can advise you on a safe level of exercise or how to become more active in the safest way possible.</p><h3>Build up the intensity slowly</h3><p>Going from low- or moderate-intensity workouts to vigorous exercise requires time and patience. While you may be ready to jump in with both feet, the safest way to add more vigorous exercise is to do it in bite-size increments. Pushing yourself too quickly can result in injuries and burnout.</p><p>For example:</p><ul><li><strong>Week 1:</strong> Swap out one moderate-paced cardio session for a HIIT workout.</li><li><strong>Week 2:</strong> Swap one moderate-paced session with a HIIT workout, and also add a circuit strength training session to your weekly routine.</li><li><strong>Week 3 and 4: </strong>Repeat weeks 1 and 2 before you start adding more high-intensity exercise to your weekly routine.</li></ul><p>It's also a good idea to space out your vigorous workouts throughout the week. Try not to do two strenuous sessions back-to-back.</p><h3>Don't forget the recovery time</h3><p>Your body requires more time to recover from a vigorous workout compared to a low- or moderate-intensity session.</p><p>To help your body recover, make sure to always include a cooldown and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/static-stretching" target="_blank">stretch routine</a> after strenuous physical activity.</p><h3>Stay hydrated</h3><p><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-health-benefits-of-water" target="_blank">Staying hydrated</a> is especially important when you're exercising hard. Not drinking enough fluids can affect the quality of your workout and make you feel tired, lethargic, or dizzy. It may even lead to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/dehydration-headache" target="_blank">headaches</a> and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/pain-relief/how-to-stop-leg-muscle-cramps" target="_blank">cramps</a>.</p>
The Bottom Line<p>Turning up the intensity of your workout sessions can be an effective way of boosting your overall health and fitness. It's also an easy way to save time when trying to fit a workout into your day.</p><p>To play it safe, always start slow and pay attention to how your body feels.</p><p>While vigorous exercise offers many health benefits, it's not appropriate for everyone. If you have a health condition or you haven't been active in a while, make sure to talk with your doctor before working out at a more strenuous level.</p>
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In January 2015, food sales at restaurants overtook those at grocery stores for the first time. Most thought this marked a permanent shift in the American meal.
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When Natural Was Nasty<p>Today, food that's simple, pure and natural is <a href="https://theconversation.com/how-was-french-cuisine-toppled-as-the-king-of-fine-dining-66667" target="_blank">all the craze</a>, while <a href="https://apnews.com/c06a1200807c4b82a03452d08d480692" target="_blank">disdain for processed foods</a> is practically a credo among sophisticated consumers.</p><p>But when Kraft's different forms of processed cheese came out, they found widespread acceptance despite their strange textures. The fact that it wasn't natural didn't seem to bother consumers at all. In fact, as international food historian Rachel Laudan <a href="https://online.ucpress.edu/gastronomica/article/1/1/36/93394/A-Plea-for-Culinary-Modernism-Why-We-Should-Love" target="_blank">has noted</a>, back then, "natural was something quite nasty." She describes fresh milk as warm and "unmistakably a bodily secretion." Throughout the history of cookery, most recipes aimed to transform an unappetizing raw product into something delightful and delectable.</p><p>So for most consumers, processed foods were a godsend. They kept well, tended to be easily digestible and, most importantly, they tasted good. Many of them could be easily prepared, freeing women from spending entire days cooking and giving them more time to pursue professions and avocations.</p><p>In some ways, processed foods were also healthier. They could be fortified with vitamins and minerals, and, in an era before everyone had access to mechanical refrigeration, the fact that they kept well meant consumers were less likely to contract diseases from spoiled, rotten foods. Pasteurization of dairy products virtually <a href="https://www.the-scientist.com/foundations/rethinking-raw-milk--1918-65126" target="_blank">eliminated diseases like undulant fever</a>, while foods processed and canned in large factories were less likely to harbor food-borne illnesses that could crop up due to faulty or improperly sanitized equipment used by home canners.</p>
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