If you’re new to weight loss, counting calories can be a bit daunting.
You have to correctly identify the amount of food you ate, figure out how many calories are in that specific amount of food, and then you have to record it in a little book.
For every single meal you eat.
And, sometimes there’s no easy way of knowing how many calories are in a certain food.
(As is the case with almost all fruits, vegetables, and meats – you know, the foods we should be eating more of!)
It would be much better if there was some kind of computer program that did it all for you.
Maybe some kind of app you could download of your phone even?
Well, this app does exist and it’s called My Fitness Pal.
It’s a website/app where you can type in the food you ate, and it will do all the hard work in calculating the calories.
You can also set calorie goals, which you can keep track of throughout your day.
Counting calories is dead easy when all the work is done for you and all you have to do is concentrate on eating healthier foods!
It’s totally free, and I implore you to head on over there and create an account.
But before you do that, we need to work out exactly how many calories you should be consuming on any given day in order to lose weight.
1. The Calorie Calculator
Before we head over to My Fitness Pal, we need to figure out the number of calories you should be aiming for every day.
Basically, your weight, gender, height, age, and activity level all come together to determine how much energy your body needs in order to function.
The heavier you are, taller you are, younger you are, and more active you are, the more energy your body needs, and the more calories you’re allowed to consume.
Same goes if you’re a man.
Below you’ll find a calorie calculator created by the good team at Wolfram|Alpha, fill it out and get ready to do some math (albeit, very simple math):
After you’ve pressed “Submit”, a long list of numbers should appear.
The one you’re looking for is the one that corresponds with your level of physical activity.
For me, it would be either moderately active or very active, as I exercise almost every day for around 30-60 minutes.
For most of you reading this (no offence), you should be looking at either sedentary or lightly active.
Don’t just pick the extra active one because you want to impress me, ’cause I can’t see which one you pick, and you’ll only be hurting yourself in the long run.
Okay, so you’ve got the number, awesome, now it’s time to do some (very) basic mathematics.
2. Calculating Calorie Goals
The number you grabbed in the last step is the number of calories you should be consuming to maintain your current weight.
But you’re not here to maintain your current weight, are you?
If you want to lose weight, you’ll need to consume fewer calories than you would if you were trying to maintain your weight.
Which means the number you got in step 1 needs to be reduced by a certain amount.
The go-to amount when it comes to caloric restriction is around about 500 calories, which could represent up to a pound of weight loss in a week.
So take your number from step 1 and reduce it by 500.
Now that we’ve got our goal number, it’s time to move on to creating a My Fitness Pal account and tracking some calories.
3. Setting up a My Fitness Pal account
(Note: If you’re doing this on your phone or tablet, it will be a bit different to how I tell you to do it in this guide.)
(In fact, just go to the play/app store and download the MFP app)
We’re now going to create a brand new My Fitness Pal account , so click here and begin filling in the boxes with your details.
Decide if you want to receive their free newsletter, and click continue.
The next page will have questions that are very similar to the ones you’ve already answered earlier in step 1; just fill them out the same as you did before.
For the question that asks “How many times a week do you plan on exercising?”, just leave it blank.
After you click continue, you can invite friends to sign up as well, if you want.
Click continue (or skip) and the account creation section is done.
Now we’ve got to tweak a few minor settings, and then we can start tracking our food/exercise, and losing weight.
4. Creating Calorie Goals
After the account creation, you should now be on the homepage.
We now have to set some goals, so click on the “Goals” button.
You’ll see a list of information, including calories, carbs, fat, protein, etc.
Click “change goals” so we can change the “Net Calories Consumed* /Day” to our weight-loss number we got in step 1.
Tick “custom”, and then tick continue.
You should now be on a page with a large table with information similar to the last page, except this time, you can change it.
In the “Net Calories Consumed*” box, enter the value you found in step 1.
Once that’s done, click “Change Goals”.
After it updates, your account will recognize that new number as your calorie goal, and all of your macro-nutrients like protein, carbs, and fat, will be re-calculated too.
Now that all the account creating and configuring is complete, I’ll give you a quick run-through of how to add food and exercise to your daily journal.
5. Adding Food to My Fitness Pal
After all the boring account creation and customization, this is where the fun begins.
To add a food to your diary, click “Food”.
You’ll now see a list with different meals such as “Breakfast”, “Lunch”, “Dinner”, etc.
You can change the names of these meals yourself, but that’s outside of the scope of this article and I won’t be going into that here.
Click “Add Food” and you’ll be taken to a page with a search bar and a list that loads your search results.
You can now use the search bar to search for the food you just ate.
A bunch of results should appear, so you’ll have to use your best judgement to determine which one is the most relevant.
After you’ve selected the food, select the quantity that you ate, and click “Add”.
Rinse and repeat for all of the food you eat, and you’ll get an idea of just how much you’re eating and how each individual food directly contributes to your calorie intake.
5. Adding Exercise to My Fitness Pal
This is almost identical to adding food, except instead of adding calories to your diary it will remove calories.
Start by clicking “Exercise”.
Once here you can choose between strength training (weight-bearing) and cardiovascular (jogging, cycling, etc).
Click “Add Exercise” under the correct exercise type.
Now perform a search for the exercise you did.
Like when adding food, a list will appear with slight variatins of what you searched.
For example, when I searched jogging, I found a whole bunch of different speeds.
Select the result that matches the exercise you performed, enter a duration (on the right), and click “Add”.
And that’s the end of this little tutorial.
You’re now capable of counting calories; by using My Fitness Pal to track food eaten and exercise performed.
If you log onto MFP every day, and log every single meal you eat, and every single time you exercise, and you manage to hit your calorie goals, you will lose weight.
And that’s the beauty of MFP; all you have to do is continue to use it, and stay out of the red, and you can’t possibly fail.