The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
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.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Tuna auctions are a tourist spectacle in Tokyo. Outside the city's most famous fish market, long queues of visitors hoping for a glimpse of the action begin to form at 5 a.m. The attraction is so popular that last October the Tsukiji fish market, in operation since 1935, moved out from the city center to the district of Toyosu to cope with the crowds.
gmnicholas / E+ / Getty Images
Kristan Porter grew up in a fishing family in the fishing community of Cutler, Maine, where he says all roads lead to one career path: fishing. (Porter's father was the family's lone exception. He suffered from terrible seasickness, and so became a carpenter.) The 49-year-old, who has been working on boats since he was a kid and fishing on his own since 1991, says that the recent warming of Maine's cool coastal waters has yielded unprecedented lobster landings.
"The temperature of the Gulf of Maine is creating the right conditions for lobster, so it's helped our industry—and it's been a big boost for the Maine economy," Porter, the current president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, said. "But you never know what lies ahead. If it continues to warm, it may end up going the other way."
The Gulf of Maine is setting frequent temperature records and warming faster overall than 99 percent of the world's oceans, due in large part to climate change. Meanwhile, its lobster population skyrocketed by 515 percent between 1984 and 2014. In 1990, for example, lobster landings in Maine totaled 28 million pounds. Ten years later that figure was up to 57 million pounds. And in every year since 2011, the take has exceeded 100 million pounds, peaking at 132.6 million pounds in 2016 and turning lobster into a half-billion-dollar industry for the state.
Fishermen like Porter have been reaping the benefits of the boom, but he's right — as the Gulf of Maine's waters inevitably continue to warm, lobster populations will almost certainly decrease. The crustaceans thrive at temperatures between 61 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the water hits 70 degrees, its oxygen levels plummet, to the detriment of a host of marine plants and animals, lobsters included. According to a 2018 study, the gulf's lobster population could fall by 40 to 62 percent over the next 30 years, returning the industry — the nation's most valuable fishery — to early-2000s numbers.
"Temperature is a big part of the story here," said Andrew Pershing, chief scientific officer at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) and a coauthor of the study. "Lobster is likely to decline, and that's obviously more worrisome in the North, where it has been booming."
Maine lobsters are normally brown, but about one in every two million is blue.
Richard Wood / Flickr
Marine scientist Susie Arnold of the Rockland, Maine–based Island Institute notes that rising temperatures have also contributed to a decline in other fisheries like shrimp, cod and scallops, leaving fishermen in Maine precariously dependent on the thriving lobster populations. "A lot of fishermen in coastal communities in Maine are relying on just one fishery, and as we're seeing the impacts of climate change, that definitely gets people worried," she said. In response, Arnold and her colleagues are encouraging fishermen to think about diversification opportunities like aquaculture. "We're trying to help coastal communities maintain their cultural heritage, and a large part of that has to do with making a living off a healthy marine ecosystem."
State lawmakers, too, are taking note of the warming trend and rising up in support of climate action. Maine Governor Janet Mills cited concerns about climate change impacting the lobster industry in her February announcement that the state would join the U.S. Climate Alliance. She has also linked the recent creation of a Maine Climate Council and ambitious statewide renewable energy goals to the health of local fisheries. (Mills recently signed several climate bills into law that will help the state transition to 80 percent renewable energy by 2030 and reduce emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.)
Such a head-on response to the impacts of climate change facing Maine offers a much-needed boost to the future of both lobsters and the coastal communities that rely on the fishery. Meanwhile, the iconic sea creatures have already benefited from generations of conservation efforts, as noted by Pershing and his fellow researchers. In addition to heeding minimum and maximum catch size limits, fishers must refrain from taking any egg-bearing female lobsters. Instead, when they catch these breeders, they clip their tails with a "V notch,"—a mark that will stay with a lobster through several molts—then release them. (The clipped tail signals to other fisherman who may encounter the same lobsters that they are off-limits.)
Porter and other fisherman liken this investment in the future of the industry to putting money in the bank. And marine scientists, including NRDC's Lisa Suatoni, call it smart climate policy. "Leaving these large, fecund females in the water is a really good idea in the context of a rapidly changing environment," Suatoni said. "It isn't just fixated on how to get maximum sustainable yield but also expanding our objective to also get increased ecological or evolutionary resilience."
The decline of the lobster industry in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, where waters are warmer and regulations less stringent than in Maine, serves as a cautionary tale for their northern neighbor. Landings in southern New England shrank by as much as 70 percent from 1997 to 2007, but the industry has resisted many conservation measures, and again rejected fishing restrictions brought to the table by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in 2017.
The proposed restrictions would have changed the legal harvesting size and reduced the number of traps allowed per fisherman, among other regulation changes. Had Maine followed the same lax approach, Pershing and his colleagues estimate that lobster populations in the Gulf of Maine would have increased by less than half as much as it did during their 30-year study period.
While Pershing praises Maine's forward-looking approach for boosting the resilience of its lobster industry in the face of the growing climate crisis, "there's a limit to how much we can adapt and how much we can manage around it," he said. "When you look beyond 2050 in a high-CO2 world, it's a scenario where fisheries are really challenged no matter where you look in the country. We have to figure out how to avoid that because everything gets so much more difficult in that world—and we can make that case in a really concrete way with some of the fishery models."
Pershing says that climate change is having impacts up and down the food chain in the Gulf of Maine. For example, a sharp decline in a species of tiny copepod — a shrimp-like creature that is a favorite food of herring, seabirds and endangered right whales — is putting further stress on these creatures.
"These aren't just faraway changes that are happening in the ocean where nobody really sees them," Pershing said. "There are real consequences for the Gulf of Maine and the communities that live on the coast."
Nicole Greenfield is a writer at NRDC whose articles on religion, the environment, popular culture and social justice have appeared in many publications.
The climate crisis is getting costly. Some of the world's largest companies expect to take over one trillion in losses due to climate change. Insurers are increasingly jittery and the world's largest firm has warned that the cost of premiums may soon be unaffordable for most people. Historic flooding has wiped out farmers in the Midwest.
Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.
'We Should Be Retreating Already From the Coastline,' Scientist Suggests After Finding Warm Waters Below Greenland
By Johnny Wood
The Ganges is a lifeline for the people of India, spiritually and economically. On its journey from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, it supports fishermen, farmers and an abundance of wildlife.
The river and its tributaries touch the lives of roughly 500 million people. But having flowed for millennia, today it is reaching its capacity for human and industrial waste, while simultaneously being drained for agriculture and municipal use.
Here are some of the challenges the river faces.
By Jake Johnson
As a growing number of states move to pass laws that would criminalize pipeline protests and hit demonstrators with years in prison, an audio recording obtained by The Intercept showed a representative of a powerful oil and gas lobbying group bragging about the industry's success in crafting anti-protest legislation behind closed doors.
Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.
AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.
"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."
Big Oil is now using its political power to try and criminalize protests of oil & gas infrastructure.— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) August 19, 2019
"This legislation has potential to punish public participation and mischaracterize advocacy protected by the First Amendment."https://t.co/bmiHjONEhy
The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.
"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.
As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."
"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."
Many of the state bills restricting the right to protest have been "drafted by companies and passed through groups like ALEC, the secretive group of corporate lobbyists trying to rewrite state laws to benefit corporations over people." @greenpeaceusa https://t.co/ZxpTjWdrwT— Stand Up To ALEC (@StandUpToALEC) May 6, 2019
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.