Is counting calories the only way to lose weight?

Logging every bite of food and sip of drink you take can be a tedious chore, but for many people, counting calories is the key to weight loss.

Why do you count calories? Because each calorie you consume is a unit of energy. Don’t use the energy and you gain weight. Burn more energy than you consume and you lose. It’s simple math but not always easy to keep track of.

While calories are a big factor in weight control, how much do you need to obsess about them? Read on to find out what you should know about counting calories.

It’s Successful

These days, smartphone apps and websites make counting calories much easier than in years past. There’s no more guesswork involved. Rather, you just log the food you ate and the app or website does the work of tallying the numbers. It’s that simple.

People who track their calories tend to lose more weight and keep it off longer than those who don’t. Why is this so? Knowing you have to record your calories makes you think twice about second helpings. Also, learning how many calories are in that piece of chocolate cake helps you make smart diet choices.

A few popular calorie-counting apps include My Fitness Pal, Fat Secret, SparkPeople, and Lose It! Download one today and watch your eating habits change in the near future.

After a lifetime of losing and gaining weight, I get it. No matter how you slice it, weight loss comes down to the simple formula of calories in, calories out. – Valerie Bertinelli

Requires Accuracy

In order for calorie counting to help you lose weight, you must be able to recognize or accurately measure portion sizes. A serving size of salad dressing may be two tablespoons, but do you really know how two tablespoons look on your salad? What you thought was only 80 calories could easily add up to 200 in a matter of bites.

Weighing your food is the best way to know how much you’re eating. However, using a scale isn’t always practical or feasible. If you’re unable to weigh your food, the next best method is measuring your food and drinks using measuring spoons or cups. Since it’s difficult to measure a piece of chicken, comparisons are your next best bet. While often inaccurate, comparisons give you a rough estimate for portion sizes.

A few examples of comparisons to remember are a properly sized serving of meat is about as large as a deck of cards, a serving of pasta or rice is a rounded handful, a serving of fruit is the size of a tennis ball, and a serving of vegetables is equal to the size of a computer mouse.

Food Quality Matters

A calorie is a calorie, but most people find they have to eat a lot more unhealthy calories to feel satisfied. As a result, eating 100 calories of chips won’t fill you up like 100 calories of carrots. Dieting is hard enough without feeling hungry all the time. Fill up on calories that are high in fiber and protein to lose weight and feel full. Minimally processed fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein are full of quality calories that lead to weight loss and health benefits.

Other Options

While counting calories is a straightforward way to lose weight, it may not fit your personality or lifestyle. There are other tried-and-true methods to achieve your goal weight. Start consuming fewer calories by eating smaller portions. Serve yourself smaller amounts of food, listen to your body for signs of fullness, and stop eating when you’re full.

Rather than worrying about calories, just choose healthy foods. Keep junk food out of your house and focus on nutrient-dense whole foods.

Instead of counting calories you can lose weight by eating foods that use more calories to digest and metabolize. Eating a bagel made with refined, white flour requires a lot less energy to digest compared to eating a slice of whole-grain bread—so choose accordingly.

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