What Is Calorie Counting?

Calorie counting is a common strategy for weight loss. It involves counting the calories in every food and beverage that you consume throughout each day.
What Is Calorie Counting?
Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health

Calorie counting might come up if you are looking for help losing weight and possibly lowering health risks such as high blood sugar. Calorie counting is a common strategy for weight loss. It involves counting the calories in every food and beverage that you consume throughout each day.

Calorie counting can help with weight loss, but is it good? How do you know if you should count calories? These are the basics of calorie counting and how to do it.

What Are Calories in Food?

Calories are a unit of energy. They are used to describe how much energy a food or beverage can provide to your body. Your body uses energy for daily functions, such as breathing, keeping your heart beating and blood pumping, and thinking. You also use energy, or burn calories, whenever you move, such as walking, typing, driving a car, or lifting weights.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explain the principle of calorie balance. If the amount of energy or calories you take in from foods and beverages is the same as the amount of energy you burn, you are in calorie balance and your bodyweight stays the same. If you take in more calories than you need, or expend, your body will store the extra as fat and you will gain weight. If you reduce your calories so that you take in fewer than you need, you will lose weight.

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How Calorie Counting Works

Calorie counting includes these basic steps.

  1. Figure out your daily calorie goal, as described below and in American Journal of Physiology Endocrinology and Metabolism.
  2. Measure the portion size of your foods and beverages anytime you eat. Scales, measuring cups, measuring spoons, and counting (such as number of crackers) can help.
  3. Log the foods and beverages, including their amounts and calories, in a notebook (food journal or diary), app, or website.

A calorie recommendation is often 2,000 calories a day, but that is just a general guideline. It is the amount that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans estimates is appropriate for many moderately active or active women, and some sedentary older men. Many males need more calories daily to maintain their weight, while many females need fewer than 2,000 calories per day.

Your personalized daily calorie goal is based on factors such as height, gender, age, and current weight, as well as whether you want to lose, gain, or maintain weight. There are a few different ways to know how many calories per day you should eat to maintain weight.

You can:

  • Check a table, such as in the US Dietary Guidelines
  • Multiple your weight in pounds by 15, as suggested by Harvard Medical School
  • Enter your information in a calculator, such as the one at Mayo Clinic
  • Use a calorie counting app or website that asks for your information

Then subtract 250 to 1,000 daily calories to lose ½ to 2 pounds a week.

Lark Diabetes Prevention Program is a nutrition tracker that considers your height, gender, weight, age, and activity level to estimate your calorie needs for sustainable weight loss.

Does Calorie Counting Work?

Calorie counting does seem to work, according to some research studies on weight loss. A review article and meta-analysis published in Obesity Reviews found that on average, participants in the included studies lost 3.3 kilograms (7 pounds) when they used calorie counting. 

Calorie Counting Is Not Nutrition Tracking

Calorie counting may have its place as a strategy for weight loss, but it has a few limitations, too. For example, it does not consider the nutritional value of foods, which can lead you to believe that it does not matter whether you choose bacon, jam, or tuna fish as long as they have the same number of calories.

In reality, these foods have different effects on risk for developing diabetes and other conditions. For example, bacon increases insulin resistance, jam raises blood sugar levels, and tuna fish lowers risk for diabetes.

Calorie counting is also not some of these.

  • Not completely accurate, since nutrition labels or food labels can be incorrect
  • Not easy, since it may require precise measurements of weight or volume of portions
  • Not intuitive, since it may encourage you to eat according to your calorie budget and not your hunger and fullness levels

That’s not to say that tracking your food is not valuable! Nutrition tracking is an alternative to strict calorie counting that considers aspects of foods in addition to just their calories. It also includes information on diet quality, or the nutritional value of the foods you choose, and their effects on health, as well as suggestions for improved choices next time. 

With an easy-to-use tool such as Lark DPP, nutrition tracking can be more sustainable in the long run because of factors such as not focusing on precise measurements of portions, easy entry of foods, and friendly reminders to log your meals.

Eating healthier and losing weight are some of the most important steps you can take for your health, and nutrition tracking can help. Tracking your foods and beverages can hold you accountable with your good intentions and make sure you know exactly what you are eating and how much.

A good nutrition tracker can fit right into your lifestyle without weighing you down, and it is not hard to find one. Lark offers intuitive tracking features, such as recognizing favorite foods and keeping a history of your choices. Plus, Lark’s nutrition coaching includes instant feedback to celebrate the good choices you made and guide you towards any possible improvements next time.

Lark’s nutrition tracking is part of the entire coaching program for weight loss and improved health. The program may be available to you at no cost if your health insurer participates! Click here to find out if you may be eligible for Lark. You could be minutes away from taking the first steps to hitting your weight loss goals and improving health.