I’ve had a lot of people ask me for “my secret to weight loss” and how I make it work. It’s clearly a hot subject, especially in America where it seems like everyone is over weight (or thinks that they are). And there is so much information out there and the rules seem to change every day. One day it’s all about whole wheat and fiber, then it’s cut carbs all together. Eat this but don’t eat that, but then eat it next week when we tell you differently.
And most of those diets will work for a little while, but I don’t think depriving yourself will ever work forever. Never eat pasta again, are you serious? Sorry, I’ll pass. Especially because, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. It’s actually really easy.
When you eat more calories than you need, you will gain weight. Plain and simple.
I have to say making the decision to count calories was one of the smartest things I ever did. It quickly and easily helped me figure out how many calories I should be eating in a day if I want to lose weight. You can also find out how many calories to eat to maintain your current weight. If you eat the same amount of calories you burn, your weight should stay the same. If you eat more, you gain weight. Eat less, you lose weight. So it’s up to you, if you are trying to lose weight, you can either eat less or exercise more (or both).
So how many calories should you be eating? Well that does depend on a couple of variables, namely your age, height, weight, gender and activity level.
I am 5’2″ and currently 180 pounds. As a female in my mid twenties with a fairly sedentary lifestyle I burn about 1820 calories in a given day. So to lose weight, I need to eat less. Now, because I’m breastfeeding, I add about 500 calories to my daily allotment to ensure that the baby and I get enough nutrients (because a woman will typically burn about 500 calories in a day from nursing). If you are nursing you should not consume less than 1800 calories. I shoot for 2100. If I weren’t nursing that number would be 1600. You can eat less than that and lose weight quicker. Ladies, don’t eat less than 1200 calories in a day or you risk health problems. For men, that number is 1500. But you get the idea right?
More calories in = Weight gain. More calories out = weight loss.
So … yes, that means I count calories. I keep a daily food log on Calorie Count of all the food I eat. You can also keep track on a piece of paper or any writing tablet. We used a dry erase board for a while. You should be able to find the nutrition information either on the food product, in Calorie Count‘s extensive database or in the case of a restaurant, often it can be found online at their website. And there are other food log websites out there if CC doesn’t do it for you. My friend likes My Pyramid because it sorts your foods out and shows you what areas you might want to eat more or less of.
So, let me give you some quick tips:
- Treat yourself when you need a treat. If you don’t enjoy your food, what’s the point of eating? If you deny yourself you will resent the whole thing and your odds of success are probably not going to be that great. I have dessert every day. By counting your calories throughout the day you can plan your meals to leave room for a treat later. Or if you indulge earlier you’ll know how many calories you have left.
- Don’t over do it, as not all calories are created equal. By that I mean not all foods will leave you feeling as full as others. It would stink to blow 1,000 calories on some admittedly delicious treat that doesn’t even fill you up leaving you with like 600 calories for the rest of the day. Also if you are going to indulge, make it count. Try to make sure your indulgences are for the things you really love and not just random crap that catches your eye.
- My meals are typically between 400 and 600 calories. If I have three 600 calorie meals that totals 1800 calories. Which only leaves 300 calories for wiggle room like the snacks I’d need midday since I’m nursing or that night-time treat that I like to have. If I had three 400 calorie meals I’d only be at 1200 which leaves a LOT of room. My snacks are typically 100 or 200 calories. Say I have two 200 calorie snacks, that brings me to 1600 at the end of the night. My point is – small things can make a big difference.
- Drink water. Lots of water. I am a really thirsty person and before drinking water I could blow through 1,000 calories a day on drinks alone. Water has been my saving grace.
- Be honest with yourself. If you are not committed to this, it won’t happen. So don’t beat yourself up if you just aren’t committed. And if you cheat, and over eat, remember that it’s not the end of the world. Tomorrow is another a day.
- Invest in a food scale. Being able to accurately and easily weigh your meals will make a huge difference and when I say invest, keep in mind you can get a digital scale for like $20. Really no big deal. I recommend going digital as those analog scales seem way less accurate to me. But definitely get a scale. If I had to pull out measuring cups and spoons every time I ate, I’d never be able to commit to this.
- Don’t forget about exercise. Remember it’s not just a way to make up for over eating – and you don’t have to hate it. Simply taking a walk at night can be a great way to burn some calories and also blow off some steam. It’s good for your body AND your soul. But be realistic in how many calories you are burning. You can look up the workout on calorie count and find out exactly how many calories you’ve burned so you don’t say, “That mile walk must have burned at least enough calories for this slice of cake.” Because you’d be wrong. A typical walk for me would burn about 240 calories in an hour. So a half hour walk which is common for me would only burn 120 calories. Running will more than double that at 640 calories per hour.
Now I don’t claim to be an expert or even really good at this. Despite a great year, I’m still 50 pounds over weight and I have my off days. My husband and I both admitted recently that we’ve been eating closer to our maintenance calorie limit than our weight loss limit. But it’s comforting to know that even on our bad days now, we simply maintain our current weight and we know exactly what to do when we are ready to pick the ball back up.