What is calorie counting?

Calorie counting involves estimating and monitoring your daily calorie intake in foods and calorie output in physical activity for weight control. In most instances calorie counting is a method used for weight loss but for an underweight person, it may be useful to gain weight. Unlike other methods for weight management, calorie counting is able to estimate, with a greater degree of accuracy, the balance between the input of calories in food and output of calories in activity to yield a given weight.

Methods for Calories Counting

Over the years many new and innovative ways have been developed for calorie counting with a various names and technical jargon that can be confusing at times. The point system is sometimes used which is more convenient in that users deal with a standardized calorie value for foods.

For example food A has 100 calories/100 grams so is denoted as 1 point, whereas food B which is 300 calories/100 gram is 3 points.

This, however, falls short when a person has to structure their own unique calorie counting diet or assess new foods that are not listed on the point system. Therefore every person considering calorie counting for weight control should be familiar with the basic concepts and be able to apply it accordingly.

Calorie Counting Diary

Download our weekly calorie count sheet.

Daily Recording

One of methods of calorie counting involves using a diary and recording all foods consumed within the day and calories expended in physical activity. Since a person cannot be certain of the calorie content in every food and activity, the specific food and portion size or the type of activity and number of minutes for which it was undertaken is recorded.

Weekly Analysis

Every few days or at least once a week, this information is analyzed by marking the calorie consumption or expenditure. The total calories are tabulated (input and output) and net calorie gain or loss recorded. Since most weight loss programs will focus on a  reduction in body mass by week, rather than by day, it is best to assess the net calorie gain/loss on a weekly basis.

For example, if the aim is to lose weight by removing at least 500 calories per day either through diet and/or exercising, the weekly goal will be a net calorie loss of 3,500 calories/week (500 calories x 7 days). The body weight at the end of the week should also be recorded in order to analyze the net calorie balance in conjunction with weight change.

Learned Eating Behavior

The calorie counting diary has two purposes :

  1. It helps a person to better understand their eating and activity habits.
  2. Over a time it teaches a person which high calorie foods should be avoided and which activities are high calorie burners.

Calorie Counting Eating Plan

Another approach to calorie counting focuses on a set eating plan with an established menu. Here the number of calories to be removed from the diet is established and the exact meal with portion size is predetermined. A person simply has to follow the eating plan without recording individual items consumed. It should be used in conjunction with a calorie counting exercise plan. There is no need for calorie analysis at the end of the week as the input and output calories have been assessed and determined ahead of time.

Calorie Counting Exercise Plan

An exercise plan should always be part of any weight control program. While aerobic and anaerobic exercise are both effective means for weight control, cardiovascular exercise is ideal for weight loss by increasing the amount of calories expended in a shorter period of time while weight bearing exercise should be considered for weight gain as additional body weight should be derived from muscle bulk. The calorie expenditure of different exercise techniques are fairly well documented and with modern equipment, a digital calorie counter can be useful when recording total calorie expenditure. On average, the human body expends at least 60 to 70 calories per hour even at rest.

Pros and Cons of Calorie Counting

  • Calorie counting with a predetermined eating and exercise plan often offers a greater degree of accuracy and control but monotony can set in if the menu is not diverse. The calorie counting diary may therefore need to be employed as a backup method for estimating any additional calorie intake if the eating and exercise plans are not adhered to.
  • Calorie counting can sometimes be confusing for varying portion sizes. Despite the attempts of food manufacturers to mark all packaging with the calorie content based on portion sizes, estimating mixed sized portions may prove to be difficult to estimate. This can be overcome to some extent by overestimating, rather than underestimating, calories for these undefined portion sizes.
  • Calorie counting offers patients a chance to better understand the impact of their eating habits in relation to the daily activity. By making informed decisions, a person may be more likely to stay with this method to some degree or other for life, even after reaching their goal weight.
  • Calorie counting can be time consuming and a bit tedious. However, awareness about the dangers of being overweight or obese may motivate patients to undertake this method of weight control. Others may prefer calorie counting as it allows them to be in control of the daily calorie input and output.

Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on April 28, 2011