How to Figure Out How Many Calories You Are Eating

This page is continued from here: Fat Loss Part 1: How Does Fat Loss Work?

We’ve established that to lose fat, the ONLY thing you need to do is to consume less energy (in food) than the amount of energy required to maintain your body weight and activity. In other words, eat fewer calories than you expend.

But you need to try to work out what those numbers are! Let’s start with working out how many you’re consuming so you can work on bringing that number down (if you need to lose fat).

How do you figure out how many calories you are eating?

Fortunately, you can find out the amount of energy in almost any food. It’s the calories printed on the nutritional information that has to be provided by law in most cases.

With almost any food, you can find out the calories it contains by looking at the nutritional information on the label.

When you do this, you’ll see a bunch of information. Some of this, we care about, some we don’t.

nutritional information for crispsWe’re mainly concerned with the amount of protein, fat and carbs. For now, we only care about the calories (kcal, not kj). The amounts of protein, fat and carbs in the food directly influences the amount of calories. This is because a gram of protein or carbohydrate contains four calories. A gram of fat contains nine calories. There is a fourth macronutrient (alcohol) which contains seven calories per gram.

To figure out exactly how many calories are in the food you’re about to eat, you’re usually going to have to measure it out. The best, most accurate way is to use digital scales. To figure out how many calories you’re eating over the whole day, you’re going to have to track and record the calories of everything you eat that day. By far the easiest way to do this is to use MyFitnessPal. Using the app on your phone, you can easily scan the bar code on the food’s packaging to bring the nutritional information straight up on screen. From here you can enter the amount of the food you’re having and save it to your diary.

Serving Size is Extremely Important When Tracking!

Don’t make the mistake of not paying proper attention to serving sizes when you enter your foods.

There is often a serving size specified on a nutrition label. This could be anything, and it’s not necessarily a whole packet, or whole portion. For example, some ready meals contain 2 servings even though no-one would only eat half.

An official serving of cereal is often thirty grams. That isn’t a lot. You probably use more.

Many 500ml drink bottles contain “two servings”. For zero calorie drinks like Coke Zero this doesn’t matter at all. However, if you’re drinking the regular coke it’s the difference between 105 calories and 210 calories.

Look at the nutritional information of the Walkers Sensations crisps I’ve shown above. A serving is apparently 30 grams. If you just open up a bag and eat until you stop, you’re probably going to eat more than 30 grams! If you never actually weigh 30 grams of crisps out, how would you know if you’d eaten 30 or 60?

Be Careful With Servings in MyFitnessPal, Too

Often when you scan things on myfitness pal, it comes up with the default serving size first. It can be easy to miss this and end up only tracking half or a third of the calories you actually had. It can also be quite tempting to be lazy and assume your serving size is similar to their serving size, it’s probably not! On some foods this can make a huge difference.

Take this peanut butter for example:

peanut butter

When you scan this into Myfitness pal, the default serving is 15 grams which contains 92 calories.

“Meh, probably about right, right?”

NO! That’s a potentially huge mistake if you do it often enough with high calorie foods.

I weighed it out. This is 15 grams:

peanut butter 15 grams

Looks like quite a lot, right?

I spread it on a piece of toast. Didn’t even cover the whole thing. I ended up having two slices of toast with 20 grams of peanut butter on each slice for a total of 40 grams of peanut butter. My “serving” is therefore 2.66 times as much peanut butter as the official serving size! That’s 245 calories instead of 92 calories!

If you’ve never actually taken the time to weigh out spreads, how are you going to know what 15 grams looks like on a piece of bread?

This is somewhere you can easily end up having an extra 500 calories a day if you don’t properly track your peanut butter, mayonnaise, olive oil, cereal, etc.

Be extremely sceptical of “serving sizes”, they’re nearly always less than a real person’s serving. This is because “45% of your recommended daily intake of calories” looks bad on packaging.

Don’t assume you are eating the default serving size when you scan in myfitnesspal. Look at the nutritional information for 100g of the food (this is nearly always on the label, next to the information for the “serving” size.) Weigh your own serving out. Weighs 64 grams? Then you ate 0.64 servings of 100 grams. Or 64 servings of 1 gram. This is what you enter into myfitness pal, not the official serving size that you assume you must have eaten.

But How Many Calories Should You Eat to Lose Fat?

So now you have one piece of the puzzle: the amount of energy you are consuming. Using some digital scales and myfitnesspal, excel, Google Sheets or pen and paper, you can track what you’re eating.

Now you need to know how much you’re expending so you can eat less than that amount.

We’ll figure this out on the next page: How many calories should you eat to lose fat?