Does the thought of counting calories make you head for the biscuit tin in sheer boredom?
If so, you’re not alone. Calorie counting as a method of weight-loss has had a bad press in recent years, and for some very good reasons.
Obsessing over every mouthful, constantly looking up calories for every ingredient, and endless measuring and weighing are not behaviours that are likely to help your overall relationship with food.
However, before you dismiss this old-fashioned way of losing weight, let’s take another look. Sometimes the simplest way can be surprisingly effective….
Calorie counting can really kick start weight loss, and help people avoid some of the mistakes that more complex diets can fall into.
For example, my client *Clare couldn’t understand why she wasn’t losing weight – she was eating more healthily than she had ever done; she was feeling fit and energetic, but the weight wasn’t shifting.
It was only when she started using a calorie counting app that she realised that her portion sizes were completely out of kilter. She might have been eating healthily, but she had lost sight of how much food she actually needed.
A few days later, with a few tweaks to her usual recipes, she began steadily to shift those last few stubborn pounds. Sometimes really focusing on what and how much you eat for a short period of time can help you re-learn good habits and leave behind the bad ones.
But you need to be savvy.
Read on to find my 6 Top Tips to make a calorie counting diet work for you.
1. Use one of the many ‘apps’ or websites available to track your food.
Most of them have a huge database of different foods, so while the first few days can be a bit of a hassle, they rapidly become easier and easier to use.
Find one that syncs easily with your phone so that you can add in foods as you eat them, or in odd moments in the day, rather than trying to remember everything at bedtime.
2. Think of the number of calories you are supposed to be having in terms of a weekly (rather than a daily) goal.
Having fewer calories on some days and more calories on other days is how our bodies usually work, and is the basis of the popular 5:2 diet.
However, you don’t need to be as rigid as the 5:2 diet to get the same benefits. Simply ‘save up’ some calories for times you know you will want more, or alternatively compensate by reducing calories for a day or so after you have succumbed to an unplanned treat.
Doing this can help you keep your sense of perspective and stops you giving up completely.
3. For the first few days, it is probably a good idea to weigh and measure your food so that you don’t wildly over- or under-estimate your calorie count.
But you will quickly learn what a sensible portion of your usual foods look like and will be able to ditch the scales most of the time as you get used to what you are doing.
4. Base your meal planning around real foods.
Avoid processed foods and any food with artificially lowered calories such as low calorie yogurts or low fat cheese. They will inevitably have other things added such as sweeteners or fillers. You want to eat food that is healthy for life, not give money to a diet industry!
5. Don’t avoid good fats, just because they appear to be higher in calories.
A gram of fat does have more calories in than a gram of carbohydrate (1g of fat has 9 calories; 1g of carbohydrate or protein has just 4)… but fat has a high ‘satiety’ value – meaning it helps you feel full.
Make sure you include a few nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado, oily fish etc. every single day, to get your vital omega 3 fats.
Counting the calories will help you eat a sensible portion size; and by eating these foods you will feel fuller and have fewer cravings for unhealthy foods.
6. As always, vegetables are your friends.
They are nutrient dense but low in calories, making them a fantastic choice for those people wanting to lose weight. If you count the calories in a salmon stir fry for example, made with one salmon fillet per person and pretty much unlimited vegetables, you will be amazed how much you can eat. Base your meals around a little protein and lots of vegetables and you won’t go wrong.
If you do go down the calorie counting route, remember that it is always going to be a fairly rough and ready guide. Don’t obsess over every carrot stick, but do let it teach you about sensible portion sizes and give you a feel for how much you can eat and still lose weight.
For most of us, it really can be as simple as calories in and calories out, so get out your calculators and get going!
Sophie is a Registered Nutritional Therapist working with people of all ages in and around Sheffield. She is qualified to degree level, and is registered with the CNHC. Sophie is realistic and practical in her approach to nutrition, and loves both food and cooking. She is also a fully qualified and experienced teacher and has experience in coaching.
More details about Sophie can be found on her website www.nutritioninsheffield.co.uk.