Are you struggling to lose weight?  Using calories to determine the amount of food, and types of food you eat can be a useful measure if you want to eat smarter and healthier.  It will aid you as you work towards your ideal weight, and if approached correctly, it can also ensure you get the required energy to keep you going.

Calorie counting has however been seen as quite a contentious dieting method due to its restrictive nature. Modern fitness professionals and dieting experts argue that there are greater benefits if someone manages to address and improve their overall diet and lifestyle. A calorie driven-diet has the potential to answer calorie counts with the wrong foods and therefore calorie counting is only an effective weight-loss strategy if you consume the correct foods.

This article will explain what calories are, why calorie counting could be beneficial if you want to become more aware of what you are eating, what types of food to focus on and why it could be ideal if you want to look at your weight loss or management.

Which meals to eat
Knowing which foods are less calorie dense and more nutrient dense will help you choose the right foods to energize your body while working towards your ideal weight - Image by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels
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What Are Calories?

What exactly are calories and why do we need them? This is a great question as it forms the foundation of a calorie-controlled diet.

Calories are the measure for energy in a specific meal item or drink.

Our bodies need food for fuel and energy and therefore what we consume will be burned and used by our bodies to do what it’s meant to do. These include all the automatic bodily functions like what your brain and your digestive system does, as well as actions and movements you perform by choice.

It therefore makes sense that if you want to lose weight, you should work your way towards burning more calories than you consume.

But how many calories do we need to consume daily?

The daily recommended intake for women is around 2,000 calories per day while men are allowed around 2,500 calories per day.  This is the baseline for healthy weight management, but there are a variety of other factors that heavily influence the number of calories someone requires. A professional nutritional teacher or dietician will know how to establish your personal calorie threshold and requirements, but to do so they will consider:

  • Your age
  • Gender
  • Activity level and current metabolic rate
  • Your objective to lose weight or gain weight/perform better etc.

People who are less active, older and sitting the entire day, certainly need less energy than someone who goes to gym daily, work hard and move around a lot. For this reason a calorie controlled diet is only a recommendation for most people and you own personal goals and circumstances are key factors in determining how best to go about calorie counting. Pregnant woman also have completely different dietary needs, so if you are expecting you can read our article on prenatal nutrition here.

A calorie-controlled diet can also be quite dangerous if people don’t follow the right approach. Some people oppose calorie counting as a method of weight loss because they feel it makes it easier for people to eat the wrong foods. They convince themselves of their positive dieting while depriving themselves from the required nutrition, resulting in unstable blood-sugar levels and energy-losses.

The other, sometimes even more important factors to consider if you plan to follow a calorie-controlled diet are:

  • The right calories (types of food)
  • The mix and balance in the foods you consume
  • The additional lifestyle choices to benefit your weight management
Different Calorie Needs
Our calorie needs are different and depends on a variety of factors, including our age - Image by Gabby K on Pexels

The Right Calories

If you work purely on calories it means a chocolate can constitute as a meal, right?

Unfortunately no ...

It’s not that simple and this is exactly where most people get it wrong. Not all calories are the same and the meals and snacks with a high sugar content can easily get you to your total, daily calorie count without providing the much needed micro- and macronutrients your body needs for optimal functioning.

A good calorie-controlled diet doesn’t mean eating less, it just means eating smarter.

The secret is to seek out low calorie foods that are nutrient-dense and low in complex carbohydrates. The calories you’ll get from a candy bar or packet of chips will not provide sustainable energy as it causes spikes and drops in your blood sugar.  Opting for vegetables, full grains and a healthy mix of food types will ensure you get the nutrients and fibre you need, which means you will feel fuller for longer.

Vegetables are high in nutrients & full of healthy fibre, leaving you fuller for longer.

Finding the correct balance in what you eat will take some time.  This balancing act between the right number of calories and the right foods will take some getting used to, but once you learn which foods are calorie dense, you’ll avoid them and add more of the healthier nutrient dense options.

Avocados and Healthy fats
Avocados provide necessary, healthy oils. Unfortunately, eating half an avocado will push your calorie count very high and therefore getting the mix of foods right forms part of smarter nutrition - Image by Bulbfish on Pexels
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Ruan
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Some Food for Thought

Doing calorie counting can guide you towards eating better foods and balancing the quantities of the food types.  In any diet we need to consume a healthy balance of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, grains, macro and micronutrients.

Unfortunately, most of us eat far too much protein. We think something is healthy when it’s not and underestimate the effect an unhealthy snack can have on all the hard work we’ve done during a day's healthy eating.

Here are some foods you should add, or avoid if you plan to do a calorie-smart diet.

  • Avocados are filled with healthy fats, but if you consume half an avocado with salad dressing and nuts, you’re leaning towards a calorie dense meal. Ensure you balance the healthy fats when you plan your meals and rather spread them out than consuming all of them at once
  • Protein is necessary but can be limited to 100 grams per meal. A lot of people think that more protein is good as long as it’s lean, but rather opt for more vegetables to fill you up
  • Choosing reduced fat yogurt or milk will reduce your intake of calories
  • Dried fruits are incredibly calorie dense, so rather opt for fresh fruit
  • Eliminating cooking oil can drop the calorie intake of a meal from 30 – 50%
  • Complex, refined carbohydrates are high in calories and opting for options like cauliflower rice, zucchini noodles, sweet potato or brown rice is always better

As mentioned before, these are guides only and the calorie needs will change from one person to the next. The best advice you can get is directly from a nutritionist who will work out a custom diet while educating you around the best foods for you.

Eat your veggies
Vegetables are the best option to bulk up any meal - Image by Mark Stebnicki on Pexels

Get a Calorie Tracker or Calorie Calculator to Help You

Once you know the amount of calories you require to keep your weight consistent, or lose wight gradually, you’ll need to find a way to measure and count them. Luckily we’ve got technology to help us and there are several fantastic apps on the market that offer great calorie trackers or calorie calculators.

To make informed food choices you need to know how much calories you consume daily. This is where a calorie tracker comes in, you record each meal and its ingredients, adding everything you eat to get to your total, daily calorie count. The app will show you when you approach your daily limit and enable you to manage your calorie intake accordingly.  If weight-loss is your goal, you'll have to remain in a calorie deficiency, eating less than your body consumes and burns.

Other Important Considerations

A balanced body is a happy body, and approaching your health in a holistic way will create a healthier and happier version of you.  Physical health, emotional and mental health all influence your diet and visa-versa.  Making sure you look after your mental health will ensure you increase your chances of success when changing to a new diet.

Regular exercise is also a fundamental building block to building a healthy and happy life. Not only will this help with weight-loss and management, it will also improve your cardiovascular health, reduce stress and anxiety, and impact your overall mood positively.  Always speak to a healthcare professional or fitness expert if you plan to start a new fitness regime.  They will be able to provide guidance around the best type of exercise to get started.

Something like a brisk daily walk or yoga is suitable for most people.  If you are completely new to yoga we have some excellent teachers on Superprof to give beginner classes and show you how to get started and our yoga articles will explain how this practice can cultivate some overall happiness and mobility.

A food journal can be a great aid on your journey to weight-loss.  It will help you keep track of your progress and you can also use it for those great meal ideas that are healthy and yummy.  Also learn how to read nutrition labels on foods as this will help you choose the right foods and just by glancing at products you’ll start to learn which ones are high in calories while they are low in nutrition.

Fitness and Weight Management
Make fitness part of your new healthy lifestyle. Find a sport you love that's also good for your body - Image by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels

Lastly, don’t be afraid to get the help of professionals. Our Superprof nutrition tutors will be able to give you a basic meal program, guide you in what you can snack, what you can use to replace the things you don’t like to eat, explain your body mass index and other important considerations as you work towards your ideal weight.

Happy calorie-counting!

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Mauritz

Writer and qualified yoga instructor, who is passionate about health and well-being.