Counting Calories - What's it all about

by Gal Trieu
July 1st 2003

As part of a healthy diet, it is important that you include counting calories as part of you diet routine. Losing weight by counting calories is about ensuring the amount of calories you consume each day is less than the amount of calories you burn up.

Nutritionists, dieticians and other health professionals agree that healthy eating which includes counting calories and a low fat diet are essential for long term healthy weight loss.

Losing weight by counting calories helps to build your knowledge and awareness of how many calories your body needs to function and what is in the foods you consume. Counting calories does not take a lot of time or effort. It is flexible enough to fit into most lifestyles and can accommodate personal preferences.

Dieting by counting calories means there are no forbidden foods – everything is allowed – as long as you eat less calories than you burn up each day you will see the weight come off.

To lose weight by counting calories you need to first work out how many calories you need each day to maintain your weight.

For women, this averages around 2000, for men around 2500, this will vary depending on your build – such as muscle content and height.

To lose weight your calorie count needs to be less than the calories you burn. If you eat 500 calories less than you need each day you'll lose weight at the rate of one pound (453.6g) a week.

If you eat 1,000 calories less than you need each day you'll lose two pounds (907.2g) each week. By eating less calories, your body will have to turn to its fat stores to make up the deficit in your calorie count. It is recommended that you combine exercise, to burn more calories, with healthy eating to create a calorie deficit.

A useful calorie calculator can make counting calories easier - you can work out how many calories you need to perform daily activities or exercises to give you more control and knowledge about how many calories you should include in your diet.

Another tool that is useful for calorie counting is this calorie counter

Generally when counting calories, lower fat foods translate to lower calories:

Product Serving Size Calories Fat
Pauls Full Cream Milk 1 cup 165 9.5g
Rev Milk 1 cup 125 3.0g
PhysiCAL Skim Milk 1 cup 110 0.4g
White Wings Choc Chip Muffin Mix 1 muffin 204 8.1g
White Wings 97% Fat Free Choc Chip Muffin 1 muffin 135 1.0g
Kraft Cheese Singles 1 slice 61 4.7g
Kraft Cheese Light Singles 1 slice 55 3.4g
Kraft Cheese Extra Light Singles 1 slice 42 2.0g
Pringles Potato Chips (All types) 1 carton 1016 68.4g
Pringles Potato Chips Light 1 carton 870 43.0g

As always, there are a few exceptions to this rule. The following table looks at several foods and their reduced-fat variety. The reduced-fat versions have been notably reduced in fat yet the calories are roughly the same. If you’re watching your weight, lower fat doesn’t mean lower calories – remember counting calories is the best way to reduce your calorie intake.

Product Serving Size Calories Fat
Lanes Ritz Cracker 1 biscuit 17 0.9g
Lanes Ritz Cracker 50% Less Fat 1 biscuit 13 0.4g
Kraft Peanut Butter Crunchy 1 tbsp 126 10.5g
Kraft Peanut Butter Light Crunchy 1 tbsp 115 7.7g

There has been much debate in the past as to the merits of counting calories. The book “The T-Factor Diet” (published in 1989), proclaimed on the cover: “Lose Weight Safely and Quickly, Without Cutting Calories -- or Even Counting Them!”. However, as these tables illustrate, it is clear that for people who want to control their weight, reducing fat content and counting calories matter.

Weight Watchers’ success has resulted from a similar philosophy. Rather than counting calories, Weight Watchers has devised their own ‘Weight Watchers Points’ system.

This basically uses the same idea as counting calories. It allows you to eat a variety of foods, where each food has a number of ‘points’ allocated to it based on Weight Watchers Points system, depending on the individual’s diet program your daily diet consists of a variety of products that equal your daily point allowance.

Furthermore, scientific studies have shown counting calories could help reduce heart disease as well as reduce the signs of aging. An article in the American Journal of Physiology by George Roth and colleagues at the National Institutes on Aging and the Arizona Centre on Aging found while working with monkeys, a 30 percent reduction in calories led to higher levels of HDL -- the “good” cholesterol that decreases the risk of heart disease.

In addition to enhanced HDL and lower triglyceride levels, there was also a small drop in blood pressure.

The second study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, showed that caloric reduction helped slow down the body’s natural decrease in the level of the hormone DHEA, one of the indicators of aging.

A review article in The New England Journal of Medicine noted that, in addition to extending longevity in many animals, studies show that caloric restriction slows age-related deficits in learning, immune response, DNA repair and behaviour.

Counting calories is not the ‘be all, end all’ solution to healthy weight loss. However, it certainly has its benefits. Counting calories provides a useful tool for people wanting to achieve long term weight loss and should be used in addition to regular exercise and a sensible low fat diet.

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