How do I count calories to lose weight?

How is it possible to know, for example, how many calories are in the food I eat at the school cafeteria? Unless I’m eating anything that came in a package, I won’t know the calories.

Also, how do I know how many calories my body needs in order to consume below that number?

The first step is to determine how many calories you need to maintain your weight (maintenance calories).

As you already know, you must determine your maintenance calories so that you can eat less than that and generate a calorie deficit.

The whole point of calorie counting is to ensure that you are in a calorie deficit, which is the only proven way to lose weight.

There are many ways to estimate your maintenance calories, including different formulas you can use.

I wrote another post about a simple way to figure out your maintenance calories and how far below them you should eat.

The next step is actually tracking your food.

The best way to do this is to use an app. I recommend MyFitnessPal for reasons listed in this post. Also, if you use MyFitnessPal, you can skip step one because they will do this for you.

One thing to keep in mind is that your tracking will never be 100% accurate because as you mentioned, it’s not always easy to find the calorie counts for the foods you eat.

Just do your best.

MyFitnessPal has a lot of generic food entries and you can always swap similar foods for something you can’t find.

For example, if you can’t find your school cafeteria pizza, enter Domino’s pizza instead. The calories might not be exactly the same, but they will be similar. I do this all the time.

The final step is to stick with it, monitor your progress, and make adjustments if necessary.

When you first start, it will take some time to learn the calorie counts for common foods you eat. But over time, it will become easier and more intuitive, especially if you are using the time-saving features in MyFitnessPal like saving foods and copying meals from previous entries.

If you believe you are consistently hitting your calorie deficit and still aren’t making progress, then you are probably underestimating your calorie intake, overestimating your maintenance calories, or both, and may need to make adjustments.

Calorie counting works, but you have to give it time.

You need to be diligent and honestly track your food for a long enough time to see results, which will likely be months.


If you want an easy way to plan out your target calories on a calendar and make sure you are tracking towards your weight goal, I created a free weight loss spreadsheet you can use.

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