Not the most exciting thing for your personal trainer to ask you to do.
But, for any weight loss goal, one of the most important skills you will ever learn.
Tracking what you eat is more than a chore. It also:
Promotes mindful eating.
Teaches you the calorie amounts of your favourite foods.
Ensures you are in control of your food intake.
It provides knowledge of dense foods and their alternatives so you make better decisions
Lets the people around you know you're serious about shedding the kilos this time.
Plus, counting calories is the one way you can guarantee you succeed in losing weight.
The skinny on how you actually lose fat.
To lose fat you must be in a calorie deficit.
What the heck does that mean?
You must consume fewer calories than your body expends each day.
When you do so, your body needs to get the extra energy from somewhere. It must make up the difference. Your body does this by tapping into fat stores (mostly) to burn as energy.
This is fundamentally how fat loss occurs.
You can train as hard as you can, but if you consume too much energy (calories), there's no reason for your body to change. You have to get into a deficit somehow.
How do you know if you’re in a calorie deficit?
Count your intake.
Every morsel of bite-sized nibbles. Every sip of skim-capp-one-sugar. It all counts towards your intake.
By counting your intake of calories, you take objective control. It becomes a numbers game. Eat below this number and you will lose weight. Simple.
The app ‘MyFitnessPal’ is the best calorie counting service out there.
It has an easy to use interface and turns counting calories into a breeze.
Here’s exactly how to use this fantastic app.
NOTE: This may seem like a hassle. It isn't. The first few days will be some effort but after that, it becomes much easier.
Your efforts will be rewarded in the long-run when you smash your goals and people notice your impressive transformation.
The beginner's guide to setting up and using MyFitnessPal.
Step 1: Download the app and create your account.
It's good to have the app on your mobile device, so head to the app store and download it.
(You can also access your account from a computer)
Once you're in it will ask for some details. Follow the prompts, do your thing, and let's move on.
Step 2: Set your calorie and macronutrient targets.
The default calculations MyFitnessPal uses are not great at setting your targets. In general, ignore what they recommend. Instead, ask me (or your Trainer) to help you set them correctly.
Here’s how to do it in the app:
The process is the same if you're using your mobile device. Click 'More', then 'Goals' and then 'Calorie & Macronutrient Goals'.
Step 3: Now you can begin using the app.
You have your calorie target set. That's the magic number. Try to consume a number of calories close to your target every day.
Be consistent in this. Good things will happen.
Let's turn you into a MyFitnessPal pro.
How do I add food and drinks?
Here's a video of me manually adding 3 eggs and a glass of milk.
That's me on the computer.
On your mobile, it follows the series of:
1. Go to your diary.
2. Click '+ Add food'.
3. Type in your food/drink.
4. Click the one which matches.
5. Choose how much you had of it.
6. Click the tick icon.
The important thing is that you have the measurements correct. I knew the milk was 125ml as I measured it. You don't want to be obsessively over-controlling, but you do want to be accurate.
You may also notice this heavenly button in the corner of the app.
This is a barcode scanner. When you're consuming anything with a barcode, click it and scan it. This automatically brings up your food for you to add to your diary.
The barcode scanner speeds things up immensely!
What if my food isn't in the database?
Most things are in there, but you may come across a food which isn't. This is where things can get a little tricky.
If the food has a nutrition label you can add it in yourself.
Go to 'My Foods' and click 'Create a Food'. From there you can fill in the nutrition details from the label. Now that food will always be available in the database for you to select.
How do I add in home-made food?
You'll need a scale.
Then, break down your food into the ingredients you used to make it. Weigh each ingredient separately and add them into MyFitnessPal.
The cool part is once you do this once, MyFitnessPal remembers your 'meals' so you can quickly select them next time. Usually, we eat similar things each week so this feature simplifies the whole process.
The hard part is doing it all the first time. When it's done once, it's a walk in the park.
How do I add restaurant food?
Again, a tricky one. You'll have to estimate as well as you can.
First, break the food down into its separate parts (it makes things easier if you choose simpler menu items like a steak and salad).
Then, estimate how much of each is on your plate. Add them into MyFitnessPal separately.
I'd recommend you overestimate your portion sizes. Chefs like to add all sorts of sauces and butter to their dishes to make them taste better. Fair enough. But, those extra calories must be accounted for.
Does alcohol count?
Add it in like any other food item. Don't be shocked when you realise how many calories are in a few schooners of beer.
Common mistakes in the cal-counting world.
1. Forgetting to count the little things.
One tablespoon of oil contains 120 calories.
A serving of mayonnaise contains 144 calories.
A bite of Martha's office cake, a handful of dried fruit on the go, a cappuccino and a few pecks of the kid's dinner can add up to 400+ calories.
Little things like that add up.
2. Missing liquid calories.
Juices, milk, shakes and coffees all count. Don't forget to add them to your diary.
3. Not weighing food.
Eyeballing your food to guess measurements is asking for errors. It doesn't take much effort to pop your plate on the scale as you serve up your food. Remember, we don't want to be obsessive, but still need to be relatively accurate.
4. Too much guesswork.
Similar to not weighing, guessing too much leads to too many errors. Errors lead to way-off calorie counts. This could negate all your hard work.
5. MyFitnessPal errors.
The database of MyFitnessPal is crowdsourced. This means anyone can add the calories of food in and you can select it. Unfortunately, many people add in wrong numbers.
I've seen doughnuts with zero calories... I wish!
Do a quick check when you select a food and see if it makes sense before you add it.
You don't have to count calories forever.
This is something to keep in the back of your mind.
The goal is to count calories for a specific amount of time, lose weight, then ease off the counting while maintaining your new weight.
For myself, I go in phases of counting and not counting.
When I want to hit a specific goal or want to tighten up, I count. It gives me complete control over my nutrition (which we know is most of the battle). The rest of the time I just eat relatively healthy.
It's about 25% counting and 75% maintaining what I have.
Counting calories is an extremely effective skill to have available when you want to make a body composition change.
It's not forever, and the effort you put in pays off dramatically.