Getting Real About Calories

As I have been talking with various people about diet and weight loss, I’ve come to realize that most people have no idea how many calories that they’re eating in a meal, let alone in a day. So it seems to me that the number one thing that people need to do is get aware of what (and how much) they’re putting in their mouth and how much effort at the gym (or wherever) it’s going to take to get it off their hips!

There have been a number of studies lately about how good people are at estimating the number of calories things have in them; and guess what? It depends! But some interesting trends are apparent. Thin people tend to be more accurate when estimating the number of calories in a meal, whereas overweight people tend to underestimate them. Interesting? Well, it gets better. As it turns out, this really has nothing to do with body weight, but rather that people (regardless of weight) tend to be better at estimating small meals rather than large meals. And overweight people tend to eat larger meals than thinner people. So, hidden tip: Eat smaller meals!

So, how does one go about getting real about calories?

I recently stumbled across this website, where someone had taken photographs of everything in their kitchen that amounted to 200 calories, just to get an idea of what 200 calories actually looked like. Notice the tiny blob of my personal favorite–peanut butter–compared to the platter of kiwi!!

Another way is to simply keep a detailed food diary (meaning amounts as well as items) and to do a quick calorie count. There are a ton of calorie counting websites out there. My personal favorites are Calorie King, Calorie Count, and the Daily Plate. Though sometimes I just type in the words “beets calories” –that is, I’m eating beets–and Google will take me right where I need to be.

My personal strategy is to create an excel book with three worksheets.

The first sheet is the things that I tend to eat over and over (or things I make by recipe). I got the calorie counts for these all in one setting, because I know that I will be entering them over and over.

The second sheet is titled, Food and Exercise. This is where I do the calories in and the calories out.

On the third worksheet, Daily Totals, I add the calories burned in daily exercise to my personal BMR x 1.1 (because I have a relatively sedentary lifestyle) and subtract the calories I consume. On this page, I also keep track of my weigh-ins and my measurements.

Although I hated keeping a traditional food diary when I was in Weight Watchers, I get a tremendous amount of pleasure with my excel sheet. Maybe it’s the little kid in me that used to sit around and play with the adding machine!

Now, Michael is not a fan of the excel sheet; he’s much more techie than I am! He’s got an iPhone and he is a huge fan of the app, Lose-It. Unfortunate name, but a marvelous tracking device. Not only does it keep track of your calories, it also keeps track of your nutrients! Besides that, it’s super easy to use and it gives you an excuse to whip out your iPhone at dinner, which in most men’s worlds, is always a plus!

Now notice that I keep track of my calories burned just as I do the calories consumed. This is essential. Because there’s nothing more sobering than getting off a spinning bike after an hour of hard work and realizing, wow, all that effort and I just barely worked off that impulse scone from Panera.

Once you get real about about calories–that is, how easy it is to eat them and how much effort it takes to use them–it’s easier to make choices that support your goals instead of those that undermine them!


2 comments so far

  1. Michael J. on

    You have “a relatively sedentary lifestyle?” Sister, *I* have a relatively sedentary lifestyle, you do not!! Your BMR calc may need an update! [Totally giggling at the idea you’re sedentary.]

    • KJ on

      Technically, I do have a relatively sedentary lifestyle because I sit at a desk most of the time; the exercise calories get added in at the end! But thanks for the vote of confidence. And don’t you worry, we’ll be changing your R-S-L soon!

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