how to count calories

Ask Me Anything

I get a lot of great emails from readers. Some just want to tell me that they like reading my blog and that I inspired them to try swimming (which I love to read!).Β  Most of the questions I get are regarding a few of the same things. So here goes (in order of popularity):

1. What kind of watch do you show in your workout posts?

It’s a Polar Heart Rate Monitor. I wrote a post on how it works here.Β  I really recommend buying one if you are trying to lose weight. It really helps a lot.

2. Do you have loose skin from losing 100 pounds?

Yes, unfortunately. It’s kind of hard to avoid when losing so much weight but it shouldn’t discourage anyone from making positive lifestyle changes to get healthy. There are worse things than having some cellulite and loose skin.

For me it’s in two areas: the first is in my arms. I have a little loose skin under my arms that I wish I could get rid of. I’ve made a lot of progress with my weight lifting routine but I will probably always have a little bit there. The second spot is my stomach, unfortunately. I have some loose, dimpled skin (like cellulite) that never goes away no matter how much weight I lose, or how many crunches I do. That spot will most likely require surgery to improve and I’m not in a place to do that yet. Maybe in a few years after a few kids that will be an option.

Most of the time it doesn’t bother me. I try and remind myself of the accomplishments and look at the skin as a reminder of how far I’ve come. Some days it’s hard to remember that and I focus on the negatives. It’s a one day at a time kind of thing.

3. How do you know how many calories are in food when you eat out?

This is the tricky part. Really, calorie counting is less of a “science” and more of a “guesstimation.” I try and be as accurate as I can be but that’s not always possible. If a restaurant has their calorie information available, I use that. If not, I try and figure it out.

When in doubt: I always OVER calculate my calories.

For example, if I go out to dinner and order a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with a side salad, I will calculate everything individually. How much are two slices of thick sourdough bread? How much is mustard and mayo? The cheese? Butter? I just add it all up individually! It’s better being close than not counting at all and going hog-wild with my food.

4. How do I start losing weight?

I wrote a series of posts recently on how to get started losing weight. It’s often an overwhelming process and most people don’t know “where to begin.” I wasn’t sure how to begin either. I started with the fitness first. I started swimming and did that for over a month before I started tackling the food portion. The idea of losing 100 pounds was VERY intimidating so I decided to start smaller–lose 50 pounds. Once I lost the 50, I knew I could do 100. Set achievable, smaller goals.

Here are the links to that series on how to get started:

Week One,Β Week One Check In

Week Two , Week Two Check In

Week Three

Week Four

Week Five


5. How do I count calories?

There are a lot of different ways to count calories. When I first started I wrote it down by hand in a journal. Then I started using the MyFitnessPal App on my iPhone. That’s what I do now and for two years it’s worked well. I’veΒ  written a few posts on how to do it.

How to Count Calories – Part 1

How to Count Calories – Part 2

The Battle of the Calorie Counters-Guest Post

6. How many calories should I eat a day to lose weight? And when should I lower my caloric intake?

I’m not a dietitian and I recommend talking to your doctor before starting a weight loss program. Ask them how many calories you should eat a day.

For me, I tried to eat 2,000 calories or less when I first started counting my calories. It worked really well and as time went by, I lowered that by 100 calories every once in awhile. Usually I lowered my intake when I hit plateaus. When my body got used to eat 1900 calories a day, I lowered it to 1800 and so on. I never ate lower than 1600 calories a day in my weight loss journey. Anything lower than that was just too low for me–especially with my swimming program!


QUESTION: Is there anything else you’re burning to ask me? Ask away! πŸ™‚



How to Lose Weight – Week Four

Disclaimer: I’m not a dietitian or doctor. I did not go to school to get a degree in Nutrition. Please see your doctor before starting your weight loss journey.

You can read Week One, Week Two, and Week Three to catch up.

In Week Three you focused on adding exercise. When I started my exercise program I swam a few times a week for over a month before I tackled the food portion of it. For continuity’s sake I’m tackling the food part sooner than that.

Week Four- FOOD (Sometimes the Hardest Part)

A lot of people who are overweight and obese got that way through poor habits: no portion control, eating junk food, having a fast food diet, not being AWARE of what they eat, and having food addictions. If you truly have a food addiction I really suggest a therapist or Weight Watchers…trying to tackle it on your own can be overwhelming.

I had a health scare that woke me up. Having high blood pressure and developing diabetes was enough of a wake-up call that I didn’t feel like I needed to get help to do so. I had to lose weight NO MATTER WHAT. There was no half-assing it.


Step One – Limiting/Counting Your Calories

Read this post on How to Count Calories.

If you’re doing Weight Watchers it’s the same process: counting points and staying within a range. Counting calories worked for me. It was simple. I did not track fat, carbs, sugar, etc. I just counted my calories. And I did it the old-fashioned way with a journal and a pen. I also ate a lot of processed food because I was learning how to eat portion sizes and how to count calories.

Count everything that goes into your mouth: liquids, nibbles, bites, snacks, sips. Everything. Writing it all down will break the habit of mindless munching. Being accountable, even just to yourself, will open your eyes to how you eat. For the last few weeks I recommended you become AWARE of the food you eat. Now is the time to start restricting it.

Of course the words RESTRICTING will be unnerving. It might suddenly make you feel like you want to eat everything in sight. Don’t give into this. Stay under 2,000 calories a day (for a woman) for at least one week. Really try hard. After the first week you’ll find that it’s starting to become a habit. I am so used to counting my calories now that I hardly even think about it, I just do it.

If you need a mantra, inspiring photo or a list of things to motivate you to lose weight, do it. Post a photo on your fridge. Have your list of goals in your purse with easy access.

“It is not strength but desire that moves us.”


Step Two – Eat the Same Things

My diet was pretty boring for about 1 year. In order to stay on track and lose 50 pounds I stuck to the same foods because it was simple, I didn’t cook and I knew how many calories were in what I was eating.

There is a benefit in eating the same foods, at least for awhile. Get used to eat smaller portions of food. Get used to not giving in to trigger foods and cravings. Knowing exactly what you’ll eat for every meal will take out temptation and slip-ups. It’s not a magic cure and you’ll still struggle but the hard work is worth it. You don’t have to do it forever either. This exercise is just to help form healthy habits.

For this week pick 2 or 3 different foods for each meal and alternate each day. For example: Monday/Wednesday/Friday eat 2 scrambled eggs for breakfast. Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday eat oatmeal. Sunday eat cereal or yogurt and fruit. Rotate a few different low calorie things for each meal to avoid boredom but stay within the calorie range.


Step Three – Take Photos/Food Journal

One thing about blogging is that I’ve realized just how powerful photos can be. Try taking photos of your food BEFORE you eat it. You don’t have to share it with anyone, you don’t have to post them on a blog or online. Just become aware of just HOW MUCH and WHAT you are eating.

Even now, at 143 pounds, after 3 years of maintaining 100 pounds lost–I can still slip up. Sometimes I don’t even notice that I’ve been LAZY about portion sizes until I write the blog post about dinner and see the photos. OOOPS. Remember the “how many ounces of steak is a serving?” debate I had with Michael? Yeah. That was me having eyes bigger than my stomach.


It’s a great idea to look at the photos before eating, as well.

Step Four – Eat Portion Sizes

I had no idea what a portion size was. When I was 250+ and saying “I’ve tried everything and CAN’T lose weight” I was eating 3-5 times the food I should. Portions sizes are always going to be something I struggle with.

I love that photo. Half the plate should be fruits and vegetables. Filling up on high fiber foods like steamed broccoli, peas and carrots, mashed cauliflower–whatever you prefer–will help prevent overeating. Check out this awesome slide-show about portion sizes at the Mayo Clinic.

In order to learn how to eat portion sizes I ate Lean Cuisines for dinner every night for a long time. I’d have around 400 calories in the frozen meal plus a small salad. That’s how I learned what the “right amount” of food to eat was. I also measured and counted everything. If I was having some Wheat Thins I counted 14 crackers out and that was it. Sure the processed food wasn’t the healthiest thing to do but it worked for me!

Dish up servings sizes onto the plate and then eat it slowly. Remember that eating at restaurants will be detrimental to your weight loss. No restaurant dish is one serving. It’s often 3x the amount of food we should be eating.

  • Enjoy the food. Eat it slowly, savor it.
  • Don’t go back for seconds. No buffet style eating!
  • Try eating HALF of things. Half a sandwich with a salad. Split a burger with a friend.
  • Don’t eat from the package. Measure out the serving size, put the package away and eat the serving.
  • Eat SMALL snacks every few hours. Carrots, plain yogurt, cottage cheese, an apple, etc. The trick is to not starve yourself and then binge.

One tip I use for figuring out servings sizes: A serving size is never as much food as you WANT to eat!


QUESTION: How are you doing on your weight loss program? Have you followed any of the steps I suggested?