The Science Of Calorie Counting

The Science Of Calorie Counting

People have a tremendously difficult time understanding why they are not losing weight even though they are sure they are “only eating X calories”. They swear up and down that they are counting accurately, and then the truth comes out. They are guessing at portion sizes, they are not weighing things, they are using generic brands, etc. Unfortunately, we often see what we want to believe, so you must assume that every estimation you make will be too low, even if you try to overestimate. The only fix for this is to be as precise as possible.

This level of precision is not necessary for everyone. If you are losing fat as expected by guessing or being less precise, then good for you. This advice is meant for those that think they are tracking accurately, but somehow still are not losing fat as measured over at least a 3 week period. If that’s the case, you need to crack down.

First, sign up for MyFitnessPal (MFP). It has the largest food database of them all. Others may work, but I will base these instructions off MFP since that’s what I know.

Everything needs to be weighed, so buy a kitchen scale. Find one that is digital and can do both metric and imperial (grams and ounces). Weigh in grams if possible though, it’s more accurate.

Free-pouring liquids (milk, juice) and tiny ingredients like spices, baking soda, etc, can be measured by volume, not weight. This means cups, tablespoons, teaspoons, etc.

Never, ever, use normal silverware to estimate a teaspoon or tablespoon, they are not even close.

Stuff like peanut butter, honey, mayo, mustard, ketchup, etc, are not considered free-pouring, so weigh them. A lot of people become very sad when they weigh their peanut butter for the first time.

Oatmeal is not a free pouring liquid. That means it must be weighed, not measured in a cup. A true 1/2 cup of oatmeal is 40g and 150 calories. When most people use a 1/2 cup measure, they get closer to 60g, which is about 220 calories. Same goes for stuff like rice, broccoli, etc. They are not free-pouring liquids, so get the scale out.

A banana is not a free-pouring liquid, so guess what? That’s right, it’s not “1/2 of a medium banana”, it’s “57g of banana”.

Never record “1 chicken breast” or “1 pork chop”. Use “126g lean white chicken, roasted”, or “227g boneless pork loin, broiled”.

If a food listed in MFP only has a volume measurement and it’s not a free pouring liquid, ignore it, go the label or the producer’s website and find the calories by weight. If this fails, consider not eating that food. I’m not kidding.

Nothing is ever measured as “heaping”, you always level off the tops of measuring cups.

Always weigh things, even meat, raw wherever possible, because food loses or gains water and therefore weight during cooking.

Nutrition labels must specify pre-cooked weight, unless it’s a packaged, cooked food, in which case it lists the cooked weight. Take this into account.

When weighing “sticky” foods like mayo, put your bread on the scale, zero it out. Then apply the mayo and record the net amount. This way you are not guessing about the amount left sticking to the spreader and whatnot.

Similarly, you don’t guess at 1 tbsp of ketchup on those eggs, you put the plate of eggs on the scale, zero it out, squirt on the ketchup, weigh it.

Splenda has calories, 4 per gram. Record it.

Cooking spray has calories, 7 per 1 second of spray (it’s rounded down on the label per 1/4 second spray). Record it.

Cream in your coffee? Weigh it and record it. Forgot that, didn’t you?

Do not pick “generic” anything in the database if you know the brand. There are differences in calories between Kraft, Skippy, Hellman’s, etc that really do matter.

If the info on a food looks suspect, check the number of confirmations from MFP users. If it has less than half a dozen, go look it up yourself on the label or website. Do this anyway for foods you eat a lot, it may expose errors.

For recipes, set them up in MFP, and record the entire dish size by weight. So you weigh the whole damn casserole, then you weigh your portion of it, and record the number of portions from that. You don’t estimate with crap like “1 bowl” or the like. Yes, this might require that you weigh your casserole dishes and write them down and do some math. It’s a bit of work, but only has to be done once for any given recipe.

If someone else cooks your meals for you, get their recipes and enter them in MFP. If you can’t do this for some reason, stop eating what they make and start cooking for yourself. What’s the alternative? Well, you can keep guessing and stay fat. Record your frequent meals as food groupings in MFP under the “My Meals” tab for quick recall. This is a huge time saver because you can add your common meals from this list and then adjust portions if need be for that particular meal (like mustard on the sandwich today instead of mayo for example). Recipes are less flexible.

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