How to Count Calories

AJ asked a fantastic question: “Hey Lisa, I’m committing to returning to calorie counting after the holidays (I know that’s kind of a cop out about the holidays, but I’m focusing on some mental health concerns in the meantime, one battle at a time!)…my question is about how you count calories. When I’ve done it in the past, I always tended to eat more packaged foods because I knew the calorie count. But those are frequently less nutritious than whole foods I cook myself. How do you count calories for home cooking?”

I’ve talked about my process before here.  Let me go into detail some more.

How to Count Calories

  • First, figure out how many calories you should be eating a day. There are many ways to figure this out. For me I used the MyFitnessPal. I entered my age, height, weight and goal weight and it calculated for me that I should be eating a base of 1570 calories a day. There are a million websites out there where you can calculate your goal.
  • You can hand write your calories in a journal. This is how I did it for 2 years. I looked up everything on the internet and wrote it by hand.  Or you can use something like THIS. Now I use the app.
  • I only counted my calories. Trying to keep track of carbs, sugar, protein, fat on top of calories was TOO overwhelming! I stuck with just counting my calories. It was simple and something easy for me to grasp and keep track of.

  • Learn how to read a food label. Be very careful about PORTIONS!! Labels can be tricky. You might think you ate 1 serving when in reality you ate 3. How to make sure? Read on…
  • Buy a food scale. Mine was $5. It’s cheap and it works.  Measuring food gives you more accurate counts. For example: a serving of pretzels might be 18 pretzels. But reading the label correctly you’ll see that 18 pretzels should be 20 grams (for example). Food labels are rarely accurate. Measure Measure Measure!


For example, if you like milk as much as I do you can gulp down a pint glass full of milk (especially if there are cookies involved). A serving of milk is 1 cup (8 ounces) and the kind of milk below is 150 calories a serving.

Non-fat Milk is about 90 calories for a serving. To put things in perspective even more, a serving of Light Eggnog is 1/2 a cup and 120 calories.

Much less eggnog in the glass than the milk. See how much of a difference things are when you measure them out? It’s easy to overindulge and not even know it.

Servings sizes are hard to master. For example, 1 serving of cheese is about 1 ounce. This is 2 ounces measured out (or about 220 calories):

It may look like a lot but it’s really not. 1 Serving of cubed cheese is the size of 4 dice stacked:

3 ounces of meat (like chicken) is a serving and it should be about the size of a deck of cards.

It’s easy to suddenly be eating two or three servings of something and not even know it. I fall victim to this many, many times. I think I am doing really well counting my calories, watching my servings, and then I realize I’m doubling up on servings again.

A lot of people scoff at the idea of calorie counting. They think it’s hard work, that it will consume their life, or that they are denying themselves food. Not true!

Calorie counting doesn’t have to be the end of the world. It doesn’t you are starving yourself or denying yourself of anything. What it means is you’re being AWARE of what you eat.

I still count calories. Some days I’m lazier than other days. Some days I’m stricter with my calories.  Every day is a new opportunity to get healthy, be aware, and make necessary changes in diet. It really does get easier and it becomes second nature.

QUESTION: Are you a calorie counter? Are you planning on starting in 2011?

Author: Lisa Eirene

About Lisa Eirene Lisa lost 110 pounds through calorie counting and exercise. She swims, bikes, runs, hikes and is enjoying life in Portland, Oregon. Her weight loss story has been featured in First Magazine, Yahoo Health, Woman's Day and

28 thoughts on “How to Count Calories”

  1. Thanks for posting this! It’s very helpful. I have counted calories before. When I first started I had an old book that had been my mom’s – a little calorie counter pocket sized book – way old school. I think counting calories totally works. I tend to eat the same foods during the day, so once I have a sense of those, it’s dinners that are the only hard part to figure out.

  2. I am counting calories. I’ve always lost more weight counting calories as opposed to other methods (points, etc).

    For home cooked meals, I use the sparkpeople recipes web site. There is a recipe calculator you can use to figure out nutrients. It’s been very helpful.

  3. My breasts are HUGE. They are like 2.5 decks of cards!

    I don’t know what kind of chickens have those tiny deck ‘o cards breasts.

    You knew I was talking about chicken, right?

  4. I am not a calorie counter – I’m a WW points counter. I go on and off plan, but know that when I go off, my weight starts creeping up. I just recommitted to WW last week and lost 5.6 lbs in the first week! Measuring portions and just writing down what I eat makes a huge difference for me, even though WHAT I eat didn’t change that much.

  5. I have counted calories in the past, and though I’m not doing it now, it helped me become a conscious label-reader. Sometimes it is hard to know how to calculate baked or something homemade, but I guess that’s when you have to take portion-control and moderation into consideration.

  6. So true! Measuring food and keeping track of what you eat is key. I haven’t counted my calories in a couple months, and im definitely over eating. Using sparkpeople to track everything really helped me in the past, and im planning on starting again after the holidays for sure 🙂

    1. Elise-I ate a lot of processed foods for a long time because I wanted to know exactly how many calories I was consuming! It was easy that way. Now that I eat “real food” it’s a lot harder to be accurate which I part of why it’s harder for me to lose now. But I’d rather eat real food and stay the same weight.

  7. Great post! The measuring cup is a great great tool for this! I remember the first time I measured ONE CUP of cereal. I was like OMG I’ve been eatting like 3-4 servings of cereal this whole time!

  8. I like the new look of your blog and the new look where we comment 🙂
    Firstly, Happy Holidays to you and your family today and tomorrow.
    Secondly, I do count calories, that is how I lost the amount of weight this far.

  9. Most people don’t believe that when you drink calories you put on more weight than when you eat them thanks for sharing. I heard that men lose weight faster than women is that true, and another thing do you agree with counting the calories that we take in? The fact is it is much easier to put on weight than to take it off.
    Donnau1 recently posted..Stop Drinking Your Calories Eat Them

    1. Especially with sodas! That packs on the pounds so much.

      As for your question, I DO believe that men lose weight faster than women but I don’t know if that’s scientifically accurate. I’ve heard both things.

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