Calorie counting, also called CICO (short for calories-in calories-out), is a dieting method which focuses exclusively on tracking the number of calories consumed throughout the day. Dieters set maximum calorie goals and each day work to keep their consumption under the target. Thanks to a proliferation of dedicated apps, websites, and weight-loss forums, the popularity of calorie counting has exploded in recent years.
Calorie counting aims to simplify dieting by focusing on just a single aspect of nutrition–calories. Unfortunately, although this sounds simple, many new dieters have difficulty learning how to actually track the calories they are consuming. Luckily, there are a few easy tips that can make calorie counting significantly easier.
Start with Your Normal Diet
Since the ultimate goal for most dieters is to lose weight, you may be tempted to aim for a very low daily calorie target as soon as you begin counting calories. Setting such an ambitious goal could prove counterproductive though. Aiming for a low calorie count right away will add needless difficulty to the diet, and the frustration it causes could lead to you abandoning the diet altogether.
Instead, begin counting calories without making any changes to your diet. Before setting a calorie goal, simply track what you are normally eating for several days. This serves two helpful purposes. First, it will ease you into the calorie counting process, giving you time to learn how to track food without the stress of worrying about a calorie goal. Second, it will help you establish a baseline so that you can better determine what your calorie goal should be.
Make Small Adjustments
After tracking your normal calorie intake for several days, it’s time to start setting calorie goals. Again, many dieters will be tempted to set a goal to eat a very low number of calories per day. They believe that the fewer calories they eat, the faster they will reach their desired weight.
Setting a goal for too few calories can backfire in several ways. It can make the diet too difficult to follow, cause fatigue, and even lead to serious health problems. Instead, set a modest target, aiming to lose about half a pound per week. The weight won’t come off as quickly, but you will be much more likely to stick with the diet for the long-haul and will, therefore, be more likely to achieve your goal weight.
Use a Calorie Counting App
One of the most difficult parts of calorie tracking is finding out how many calories are actually in the food that you eat. Some packaged food contains calorie counts, but much of what you eat through the day might have no calorie information available. Fortunately, in recent years there has been an explosion of apps designed to help count calories. These apps are available for all popular phones and in website versions.
A key feature of calorie counting apps is that they give you access to massive databases of food with the nutritional values already recorded. You can simply scan a barcode or use a text search to find exactly what you’re eating and add it to your calorie log. The apps also can help you determine calorie goals and track your weight over time. Calorie counting apps are an invaluable tool for maintaining a CICO diet.
Use a Kitchen Scale to Measure Food
Another tool that will make your calorie counting easier is a kitchen scale. One of the hardest parts of counting calories is accurately estimating how much food you are eating. If you try to guess just from looking at the size of your portion, you could end up drastically over- or under-estimating the number of calories.
A kitchen scale allows you to precisely determine exactly how much you are eating, and therefore how many calories you are consuming. Kitchen scales are available for cheap online and in many big box stores. The best scales will have options to weigh food in grams, ounces, pounds, and kilograms. By weighing your food with each meal, you can rest assured that you are getting the most accurate calorie counts possible.
Count Food as You Eat It
A final tip to help make your calorie counting easier is to log your calories as you eat. If you wait until the end of the day to log all the food that you’ve eaten, you may have a hard time remembering exactly what was in your meals. It’s easy to forget an afternoon snack or to incorrectly estimate the portion size you had for breakfast.
By counting calories as you eat, you don’t ever need to second guess the accuracy of your log. After just a few days of counting calories, you develop a habit of logging food as you go, and calorie counting will become second nature.
Calorie counting is a powerful tool for losing weight, so it’s no wonder that its popularity has exploded. Although calorie counting may feel intimidating at first, it doesn’t have to be difficult. By easing into a CICO diet and using all the calorie counting tools available, you can make calorie counting much easier. After just a little practice, you’ll have no trouble using calorie counting to help you achieve your weight-loss goals.