When it comes to health and fitness, calories are, without question, the most misunderstood concept.

The majority of people, regardless of age or gender, simply have no idea how to a.) figure out how many calories they should be eating for weight loss, and b.) how to actually go about keeping track of what’s in their food.

And it’s really too bad – because it’s also the most IMPORTANT concept.

Get calorie counting right, and you’re almost guaranteed to lose weight.

Get it wrong, and you could spend months (or even years) spinning your wheels.

So, if you’ve been struggling with this, here’s how to count calories the RIGHT way.

Why Calories Matter

If you’ve read any of the popular media surrounding health and fitness, you might be under the impression that the mechanics of weight loss and weight gain are complicated.

In fact, it seems like every month there’s a new slew of article on the new weight gain “culprit” – carbs, fat, trans fat, meat, sugar, wheat, meal timing – the list goes on and on.

Here’s the reality – when it comes strictly to the cause of weight loss and weight gain, NONE of that matters.

At the end of the day, losing weight is simply a matter of energy balance.  We all require a certain amount of calories per day to maintain our weight.  Any amount we consume over that will cause us to gain weight – any amount under that will cause us to LOSE weight (yes, it is that simple).

Now, that’s not to say that none of these things influence how much food you eat.  Low carb dieters, for example, often report that the increase in protein and fat blunts their hunger, making it easier to cut calories.

But the fact of the matter is it’s the lack of calories that caused them to lose weight – not the reduction in carbs.

And believe it or not, this isn’t even a controversial position.  The mechanics of energy balance have been well known for at least half a century – it’s only through the bizarre world of advertisements and magazines trying to sell you on supplements and “miracle” diets that weight loss seems more complex than it actually is.

How Many Calories Per Day For Weight Loss?

Now, having said all of that, just because losing weight is simple doesn’t mean it’s easy.  You still have to determine how many calories per day will cause weight loss, and (more importantly) you still need to be disciplined enough to stick with your diet.

And unfortunately, a lot of women simply don’t know how many calories they need to be consuming per day to achieve their fat loss goals.

So, let’s start by clearing this up – there are a few ways you can go about figuring this out, but the easiest (and most accurate) is to determine your TDEE, or “total daily energy expenditure”.

Your TDEE, in case you didn’t know, is a measure of both your basal metabolic rate (the amount of calories per day required to simply keep you alive) plus an “activity multiplier” (how many calories you burn each day through movement).

Here’s how it works – plug your measurements into one of these calculators to get your basal metabolic rate.  Then, add in your activity multiplier as follows:

 

Sedentary Lifestyle – Basal Metabolic Rate x 1.25 = Daily Calories

 

Decently Active Lifestyle (i.e. workout 3 times per week) – Basal Metabolic Rate x 1.55 = Daily Calories

 

Very Active Lifestyle (i.e. CrossFit fanatic) – Basal Metabolic Rate x 1.72 = Daily Calories

 

Example – A 25 year old, decently active, 160 cm (5’3), 55 kg (121 pounds) woman would require roughly 1900 calories per day to maintain her weight.

 

Once you have this number figured out, it’s simple – eat 200-300 calories less per day.

How To Count Calories The RIGHT Way

Alright, so you’ve figured out how many calories you need to eat per day to shed the pounds.  Awesome.  Now let’s cover how exactly you should go about counting the calories in your food to make sure you hit that number each day.

If you’ve never attempted to track your calories before, this process may seem daunting.  But rest assured, we’re going to break down all of your accounting options to keep this as simple as we can.

Option #1 – Nutrition Labels

This is by far the most straightforward way to keep track of your calories – getting it right off the package.

It’s also the most accurate.  The vast majority of packaged food (from whole wheat bread to Pop-Tarts) typically will come with not only a breakdown of its micro and macronutrients, but also a listing of the total number of calories.

You’ll also find this if you eat out at popular restaurant chains.

That’s right – it literally doesn’t get any easier than that.

And while we’re certainly not encouraging you to eat out all the time (restaurant and pre-packaged food tends to have a higher calorie count), the upside is that it’s easy to keep track of everything when you do.

Option #2 – Measure And Count

The next option is for those of you who cook all your meals at home.  It involves measuring everything and determining the total calorie count from there

For example, let’s say that you’re having a chicken salad with some olive oil, vinegar and feta cheese for lunch (a healthy, low-calorie meal if we’ve ever seen one).

During the preparation process, you would weigh out and measure all of the various ingredients, and then determine how many calories are in each ingredient.

If this sounds intimidating, it’s really not – either use an app like MyFitnessPal, or simply google “how many calories in 4 ounces of chicken”.

While it may be a bit of a pain, it’s not that complicated.  And after a few weeks it will just become a habit.

Option #3 – Guess

Of all the calories counting options, this is by far the most difficult and least accurate – guessing.

And while you won’t have to do it that often, there will be times (birthday cake, certain restaurants, dinner with friends, etc.) when you’re just gonna have to wing it.

This is something that takes practice and gets easier the longer you count calories.  And the more you do it, the better you get at determining what the caloric load of a piece of chocolate cake weighing approximately 3 oz would be.

For the time being however, just do your best.  Use an app to determine what something similar would be…then round UP to be on the safe side.

For a lot of women, calorie counting is a hassle, and something that NOBODY wants to do…but that doesn’t mean it’s complicated.  Pay attention to nutrition labels, measure your food, and get good at estimating.

We promise your waist line will thank you.