If you’ve ever embarked on a weight loss journey, you know that calories play a crucial role in achieving your goals. Understanding and tracking your calorie intake can be a game-changer if you’re looking to shed a few pounds or make a significant lifestyle change.  

In this guide, I’ll walk you through the basics of calorie tracking, its importance in weight loss, and how to get started on the right track. 

It can be a bit tricky at first to adjust to the routine of tracking calories, but if you follow the tips covered and stick to it for long enough, you will surely get the hang of it.   

So, let’s dive in and unlock the power of calorie tracking for your weight loss success.

What are calories, and why should you track them?

Calories, also known as Cals, are simply the energy value of the things we consume. 

Pretty much everything we consume has a calorie count. It is fascinating when you come to understand how to identify and estimate the calorie count of each food item you consume and how to properly fit them into your diet. 

The way you consume calories will affect your body; fewer calories can lead to weight loss, and too many can lead you to gain weight. 

To lose weight effectively and precisely, counting calories is a sure-fire approach to use.

When it comes to weight loss, tracking calories can be essential as it gives you a visual representation of what you eat and how much you eat, which helps hold you accountable to cut calories, a virtue that has been shown to result in weight loss time and time again. 

Does Calorie Tracking Work for Weight Loss?

Calorie tracking can work for you as long as you use it properly and without lying to yourself. I stand by tracking calories because it helped me lose 10kg in less than 3 months. 

The fundamental principle of tracking calories ensures that you become aware of the calorie count in everything you eat and outline and compare those values to your daily recommended calorie intake, a system that will surely lead to predictive weight loss.  

How to calculate calorie deficit, maintenance, and surplus 

Daily calorie intake, either maintenance, deficit, or surplus, can vary based on factors such as age, gender, activity level, and overall health goals. Use this calculator to determine your calorie intake.

You can also use some calculations to get your value using the following steps: It will take you less than a minute. 

Step 1: On a scale of 7–20, with 7-9 being extreme weight loss, 10–12 being safe weight loss, 13–15 being maintenance, 16–18 being weight gain, and 19–21 being extreme weight gain, pick a number; this will determine your weight loss pace. A sweet spot to start from is 12. 

Step 2: Get your weight in pounds (lbs) and multiply by your selected number. 

Let’s take an example: 

 I weigh 172 lbs and I want to lose weight at a good pace, so I choose 12.  

172 lbs X 12 = 2064 cals 

 This value will be my target daily calorie intake for weight loss.  

Guide to Tracking Calories 

If you want to start tracking calories precisely, you will need the following:

  1. A food tracking app—I suggest MyFitnessPal.

  2. A food weighing scale.

Step-by-step guide

  1. Place your plate on the scale, then turn the scale on.

  2. It’ll be reading zero. Now pour an amount of food onto your plate until you reach your desired weight. It could be 300g of rice or 200g of steak. 

  3. Now go through the food tracking app and search for the specific food you just weighed. Make sure you specify if it’s boiled, fried, grilled, or raw, then select the matching option and adjust the weight section to the weight of your food. 

  4. Repeat the same process for all the foods you choose that will add up to not exceeding your calorie intake.

  5. By the end of the day, the total value should add up to your calculated calorie intake, if done correctly. 

This process gets easier the more you do it, as you will start to have a solid idea of the weight of different foods you regularly consume and a history of previously logged foods to choose from. This reduces the stress of having to search for the exact food type every time.  

5 Benefits of Tracking Calories for Weight Loss

Tracking calories for weight loss can offer several benefits, such as:

1. Increased awareness 

Calorie tracking helps you become more mindful of your food choices and portion sizes. 

It brings awareness to the number of calories you consume and enables you to make more informed decisions about your diet.

2. Portion control 

By tracking calories, you can better understand appropriate portion sizes and the number of calories per serving for weight loss. 

This helps reduce overeating and ensures you are consuming the right number of calories to achieve your desired body weight. 

3. Accountability

Counting calories can help hold you accountable for your food choices. 

It provides a clear picture of the types of foods you eat and their impact on your total calorie intake, and it helps you stay on track with your weight loss plan. 

4. Goal setting 

Tracking calories allows you to set realistic and achievable weight-loss goals. 

By monitoring the number of calories you consume, you can make adjustments as needed to ensure you’re consistently working towards your desired outcome.

5. Identifying problem foods and habits 

Counting your calories helps you identify foods or behaviors that may be hindering your weight-loss efforts. 

It enables you to pinpoint high-calorie or unhealthy choices and make the necessary adjustments to create a more balanced and nutritious diet.  

7 Tips and Best Practices for Tracking Calories

Now that you have a solid understanding of what calories are and how to track them, here are some tips, best practices, and things to look out for that will certainly help in your tracking calorie journey. 

1. Be Honest with Yourself

I can’t stress this point enough, as this is the foundation for success when tracking calories. For you to see weight loss results, you must not lie to yourself. 

Do not make it a habit to choose the lowest calorie option in the tracking app or consume extra snacks on the side and intentionally leave them out.

2. Embrace the Struggle

When you start tracking calories, you’re going to be confused initially, you will see different values for the same food item, and it can be difficult to choose the correct option. 

With enough practice, it’ll get easier to make the right choices.  

3. Tracking Calories cannot be completely accurate

Tracking calories isn’t exactly math or science; there will be some errors due to the uniqueness of everyone’s food and the varying values. 

Accept this fact as part of the game and do your best to be as accurate as you can be. 

4. Leave room for error 

A good practice that I use is to increase the calorie value of certain foods that I’m not sure about. 

For example, if a slice of cake is shown to be 350 calories, I’d log in 370 calories just to make sure I’m not underestimating.

It’s better to overestimate than underestimate.  

5. Meal Prep

Meal prep can make this process so much easier.

A good practice would be to plan out what you want to eat for the day, prepare, weigh, and log in each meal early in the day.  

6. Stay 50 calories below your deficit 

A good way to combat calorie underestimation is to eat less than your daily calorie deficit.

Let’s say your daily calorie intake for weight loss is 2200 calories. Eating 2150 calories instead can help increase accuracy.  

7. Don’t rely on a single calorie estimate source

You may need to compare multiple sources for the nutritional value of some foods to reduce the margin of error.  

Bottom Line 

Tracking calories will benefit people who can stick with the process long enough to lose weight.

I would suggest using this method only for a specific time to achieve a specific goal.

It helps you create a calorie deficit by first showing you the number of calories you’re consuming and then adjusting that number, so you know how many calories to eat each day to achieve weight loss. 

The fundamental principles of tracking calories help increase food awareness, improve portion control, hold you accountable, and help you see trends and issues you otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. 

A combination of all these benefits is guaranteed to lead to predictable and controlled weight loss.