Calories aren’t complicated

I’m an avid calorie counter. I know, you’re cringing already at the thought of penciling every bite of food you take, but it’s not that serious.

I didn’t always run my diet this way. However, I’ve found that it’s the best way for me to maintain and control my weight. I usually estimate and adjust my caloric intake based on how much physical activity I’ve had in a day. I tend to follow a more strict calorie count during the week, which allows for the occasional weekend or holiday splurge — without the worry of weight gain.

Before I did this, my weight fluctuated. I often went on “diets,” or periods when I deprived myself of certain foods. That never works. By counting calories and exercising, I lost about 15 pounds in about a year, but never once did I say I was on a diet. Healthy eating and exercise became my lifestyle.

I’ve always been interested in nutrition, so I might have a leg up in terms of keeping track of the foods I eat. But it’s not that hard once you get used to it. Plus, we creatures of habit tend to eat a lot of the same foods, so figure out the calories once, and you’re set. I usually don’t even write down the foods I eat. I just tally the numbers and stick to this general guideline: 350 calories for breakfast, 400 for lunch, 500 for dinner and a couple of snacks if I’m working out that day.

At My Fitness Pal, you can figure out how many calories you need in a day, which is determined by your age, weight, sex and lifestyle. You can also track your calories.

If I have a day with minimal activity, I can consume about 1,700 calories without gaining or losing weight. If I’d like to lose a pound that week, I stick to 1,200 (1,700 – 1,200 = 500 x 7 days = 3,500 calories or 1 pound).

I usually work out about five days a week, which I also factor into my plan. If I run 6 miles and burn 650 calories, I can add that to my daily allotment. Factoring in physical activity is so important so you don’t deprive yourself of essential energy, which can slow your metabolism and eventually lead to weight gain.

Figuring out calories in some meals that I cook used to cause me trouble, especially if I altered the recipe and if it included a lot of ingredients. I found a new tool, Spark Recipes, that calculates calories in recipes. I’m going to love this.

Many people use Weight Watchers to track calories, however, it’s just a simplified method that converts calories to points. My problem with the point system is that it doesn’t factor in calories for fruits and vegetables, which is misleading. However, it’s a good tool to help people get healthier or get back on track. However, I used it years ago, and I prefer my own tracking method.

If you find yourself struggling to lose or maintain weight, I encourage you to try tracking calories. It makes you think about the food you eat and the effect it has on your body. It also forces you to eat proper serving sizes. No more surprises when you step on the scale. No more yo-yo’ing. When you overeat, you’ll know it and expect the weight gain.

I used to lose and gain the same 10 pounds for most of my adult years. Once I started counting calories and regularly exercising about two years ago, I lost that 10 and an additional 5. My weight has remained the same for a full year.

It makes sense. And although it might seem complicated, counting calories takes the guess work out of nutrition and gives you control over your weight. What’s hard about that?

Read about blogger Emileigh Clare’s battle with the scale.

Hormonal effect on weight loss.

Time to dish. What are some ways you’ve attempted to lose or maintain weight? What works? What doesn’t?

Leigh Zaleski

I'm a health features reporter for the York Daily Record/Sunday News and healthy living blogger for No Sweat, York. Contact me with story ideas at, 717-771-2101 or @leighzaleski on Twitter.

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2 Responses

  1. Joan says:

    Leigh, as a Weight Watchers leader and member, I can emphatically say that the program DOES factor in the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables.

    A calorie is a unit of energy, not a unit of nutrition. Our PointsPlus system doesn’t look at the calorie, but rather the types of nutrition your body can extract from a particular food. I would really encourage you and anyone interested to attend a PointPlus meeting and Getting Started session (it’s free, even if you’re not a member) to learn more about the system. I think you’d be surprised!

  2. leigh zaleski says:

    Good point, Joan. And I might have read that there are some guidelines in Weight Watchers as to how many servings of fruits and vegetables one should eat in a day. All I was saying, is that if I eat 10 bananas in one day, that’s the equivalent of 1,000-plus calories. When I do my calorie counting, I factor in recommended serving sizes of food groups from My Pyramid, which I’m guessing is similar to Weight Watchers?

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