On losing weight (Part 5 – Calorie counting)

How much is too much?

Determining a limit

In volume 3 of this series, I talked about the cell phone app that I use, called Noom. Based on the information you give to Noom, it calculates a daily caloric intake goal for you. You don’t need to use an app to do this. It’s pretty easy to calculate the number of calories you should eat daily. Here is just one of many sites that will help you with this:

Calorie calculator

If I enter my information into this calculator, then it tells me that I need to take in about 2500 calories per day to maintain my current weight. If I want to lose 1 lb a week, then I need to eat about 2000 calories worth of food per day. To lose 2 lbs a week, I should step it down to about 1500 calories per day. This information matches up pretty closely with what Noom tells me.

NOTE: Keep in mind that 3600 calories is roughly equivalent to one pound of weight loss / gain.

What about exercise?

Let’s just lay it out there. If your goal is to lose weight, focus on your diet. Exercise is a secondary consideration. See:

Article from Real Simple magazine

This is a fairly well documented fact, yet many people don’t seem to know it. When people ask me what I did to lose so much weight, one of the most prevalent theories that they will postulate is that I have increased my exercise. I have not done so, and in fact I have somewhat reduced my exercise in the past year. That being said, exercise is still an important part of weight loss planning.

Noom increases your calorie goal dynamically as you record exercise. You tell Noom the type of exercise done, the duration of the exercise, and the intensity. It has a pretty big selection of exercises ranging from standards like “walking” and “running” to more practical things like “house cleaning” and “yard work”, and even includes some pretty eclectic selections like “hula hoop” and “snowshoeing”. Noom calculates how many calories you burned during your activity and increases your caloric intake goal for the day by half of the calories that you burned doing the exercise. Why half? Two reasons:

  • To make sure that you see a noticeable benefit from your exercise. If you were to increase your caloric intake enough to exactly balance the energy expended by exercise, then exercise would not be noticeably beneficial, and you run the risk of becoming disheartened.
  • Number of calories burned by a given exercise is not at all an exact science. When calculating your benefit from a given exercise, Noom plays it safe and errs on the low side.

So how much can I eat?

Noom can also help with determining what to eat in order to meet your caloric goal. You tell Noom, meal-by-meal, exactly what you ate today and it gives you a running tally of how many calories you have consumed throughout the day. It also categorizes the foods you eat as red, yellow, or green, as mentioned in my post on volumetrics.

Logging what I eat is a pain!

Yes, but Noom makes it relatively painless. Their food database remembers things that you eat frequently, and presents you with a list of your favorite foods for each meal. Do you commonly have yogurt for breakfast? When you are logging your breakfast food, Noom will probably have your yogurt at the top of the list. Noom also has a barcode scanner, so you can scan your food and Noom will (sometimes) just pop up the selection on the screen.

If these two fail you, then you can search for your food. This used to be a bit dodgy, but as their food database is maturing, the process gets easier. Last resort is to enter custom information. You can tell Noom the color (red, yellow, green) of the food you ate, the portion size, and the number of calories.

As the application learns your foods and your eating habits, and as you learn your way around the interface, it actually becomes quite easy. I found this to be my most valuable learning experience from the application. When I first started logging what I ate, I was quite surprised. I knew that I didn’t eat very well, but I didn’t realize how poor my eating habits were. Careful logging of your food combined with weight tracking can give you a valuable tool to evaluate the impact of your diet on your weight and adjust accordingly.

Budget your meals

Let’s say you determine that you should eat about 1800 calories per day, and you have been logging your meals for a little while, so you have an approximate idea of what you are eating. It’s time to make a budget. Consider the following questions:

  • At which meal(s) do you ingest the most calories?
  • At which meal(s) do you have the most control over what you eat?
  • At which meal(s) are you most likely to overeat?
  • For which meal(s) are you willing to experiment with lower calorie foods?

I have the most control over my weekday breakfasts. I’m usually at the mercy of whatever Marlene decides to prepare for dinner, and I frequently go out to eat with a friend or coworker for lunch, but breakfast is entirely my own affair. I tend to eat the most during dinner, not because I eat large portions but just because I don’t tend to plan those meals myself. So here is the approximate budget I have come up with for myself:

  • Weekdays
    • Breakfast: 200 – 400 calories
    • Lunch: 400 – 600 calories
    • Dinner: 800 – 1200 calories
  • Weekends
    • Breakfast: 500 – 700 calories
    • Lunch: 500 – 700 calories
    • Dinner: 800 – 1200 calories

Notice that on the weekends I am likely to go over my 1800 calorie limit. I have conceded that I am likely to overeat on the weekends, and consequently my weight will likely go up slightly. Since I tend to usually be closer to the lower end of my budget on weekdays, it all works out just fine in the end. If it didn’t, then I would need to adjust something.

Throughout the day, I try to be conscious of approximately where I am compared to my budget. Did I have a slightly large breakfast? Then I’m on the high side of my budget and try to compensate a bit at lunch. Still high at dinner? Then I try again to eat a bit less to bring my overall daily total within my 1800 budget. If I fail, then I don’t try to compensate the next day. The meter is reset each morning. Each day is a new opportunity for me to do my best.

 – danBhentschel

7 thoughts on “On losing weight (Part 5 – Calorie counting)”

  1. I’ve never quite understood how to count calories in most foods. Yes, if you’re eating a container of yogurt, that’s easy. The number of calories in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, for instance, can vary widely.Read more …

  2. There is a huge margin of error in most calorie counting schemes. Sometimes even the nutrition panel has so many rounded off numbers that the carbs/protein/fat does not add up to the “correct” number of calories. But…Read more …

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