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Counting calories can be a laborious task that takes up valuable time and energy. In order to see results though, we need to count calories. Ensuring that we are taking in the right amount of calories is the foundation to knocking our nutritional kinks that may be hindering our progress. Beginning the calorie counting process, and especially if this is the first time, can be overwhelming but it is so simple once you get going, you will be counting calories all day. Here are 9 tricks you can employ to ease the process of calorie counting.
No matter what your goal is, make sure that you start off with a solid nutritional base. Calculate your calories based on how much and what you are eating right now. No matter what it is or how much, you need to get the basics of calorie calculations done, and this is one of the best ways to do that. You can then also see if you are eating too much or too little, and be able to tweak things from there. Don’t stress about BMR calculations and Resting Expenditure, that will all come later. For now, it’s all about the practice.
With everyone practically having smartphones these days, calorie tracking can now be done on oh-so-many different apps. In South Africa, one of the best calorie trackers is Fat Secret, purely because of the wide range of South African foods that are available when inputting your foods.
So, not only can you say you had x amount of chicken breasts, but you can also choose which store you bought it from, i.e., Woolworths, Pick ‘n Pay, SPAR, etc, and it will pull average nutritional values from those specific stores.
Cheat meals are a part of the process and offer some benefits when it comes to hormone regulation, and we all like to think we are pretty reasonable when it comes to our cheat meals. However, we often undervalue just how much we are cheating, which leads to meal plans failing. Counting calories is far more effective than a simple food journal because what you though was only 200 calories might actually be 500. Cutting out alcohol should definitely be on your agenda, and if there is sudden get together with friends, limit the beers to one or two, then stick to cold drinks. Not only does alcohol impair our ability to make reasonable food choices, but a gramme of alcohol has 7 calories, nearly twice that of protein and carbs.
Once you have been tracking your calories for a while, you will notice that you seem to fall into a routine now, or have some consistency. This will then be your baseline for your eating habits and meals throughout the day. If you are feeling pretty satisfied with your current routine, in that you aren’t feeling too hungry or struggling to get food in, and there aren’t many changes to your body, then you have essentially found your caloric maintenance levels.
Here is where you will get to adjust some things, and play with different ideas for your individual needs. If you are looking to lose weight, you will need to drop your calories so you will look at cutting down on the size of each portion throughout the day, or swap out some of the more calorie-dense food items. If you are feeling hungry still, then you will need to increase your calories, so you can look at increasing your food portions slightly.
Build your diet around a few meals that are convenient and easy to make each time you prepare them, as this will save you a lot of time having to weigh and calculate every single meal you make. This also removes most of the guesswork out of your calorie counting. You don’t need to eat the exact same meal every time, but having a set of ingredients with simple meal line-ups will make your life so much easier.
Eating the same meal every few hours will get tedious after some time, but trying it out for a few days is a great way to save on data entry on your app or journal. To make this work, choose meals or ingredients that you love, and don’t forget to try new spices or seasonings to change the taste of each meal without altering your nutritional content. Remember though, healthy eating is all about balance so if you hate your meals, you won’t stick to them.
This still excludes junk food. However, some pre-packed food items can be quite the time saver if you feel like you don’t have the hours to prep your food on a Sunday. Because the nutritional info is on the packet already, you can either enter it into your app or just see if it is there already, and see if it fits into your calorie goals. Pre-packed foods include things like nuts, burger patties, chicken sausages, and canned tuna, to name a few.
Instead of having to type in each meal every single time you finish eating, save your meal as a pre-set option so that you can just click it and it will record it, saving you loads of time and hassle. This is especially handy if you already know what you are going to eat throughout the day, thanks to foodprep Sunday. Over time you will eventually start learning how to eyeball your meals (not that this should be an accurate tracking method) but it does mean you will rely less heavily on your food app.
Calories are important obviously and are a great indication of what you need to achieve. However, it is also important to track your macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fats), as well as things like fibre, sodium, and water. Fibre and water can help you feel fuller for longer, without eating more calories, and it is important to make sure you are getting your daily requirements.
Macros are just as important because they will change depending on your goal. For instance, if you are trying to build muscle, you will increase your carbs and proteins but will drop carbs and increase fats for weight loss.
Now that you set up a solid foundation/template for your goals, now you need to set-up a system that will support long-term, sustainable change. Now that you have the basics down, experiment with different food options and meals, and see what changes they make to your body. Eventually, you should become so good at prepping meals and using different variations, that you might be able to stop counting. Not forever, of course, you will find yourself referring to calorie calculators to make sure you are still on the straight-and-narrow, but you won’t need to measure as much.
Calorie counting has become much easier with the convenience of food apps that track and measure your calories rather than you having to enter details after every meal.
Eventually, you should get good enough to eyeball your portions, and know what meals and ingredients work best for you. Remember, it’s all about balance though, so don’t make yourself unhappy doing this.