A group of researchers at UCLA recently investigated common diets that people tend to follow (1). They found that most diets do not seem to work. People often jump from one diet to the next, with the hopes of reducing their body weight. Some do lose weight, but most of these people gain back the lost weight after they stop with the diet. Many diets claim that counting calories are not a necessity. Unfortunately, this is one of the biggest mistakes that a person could make. 

Studies have shown that the only real way for a person to lose weight is by creating a caloric deficit (2). This essentially means a person has to eat fewer calories than the number of calories they burn. To follow a lifestyle where a caloric deficit is present, counting calories becomes a necessity. 

The processing of counting the number of calories burnt versus how much has been consumed may seem like a hassle for some people. The problem is – losing weight does take time and effort. Implementing an appropriate strategy can make the process easier and less inconvenient, while also ensuring a person is able to reach their weight loss goals faster. 

Successful Weight Loss Comes Down To Calorie Balance

Weight loss involves a process of burning more calories than one eats in a single day. This is a goal that a person needs to strive toward in order for weight loss to be possible – yet many diets claim that calorie counting is not needed for successful weight reduction. 

A study (3) published in the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism is one of the many scientific references that focuses on providing evidence of how weight loss is possible. A total of 20 individuals participated in the study. Two different types of diets were introduced to the study participants. Some of the participants were at a healthy weight. Others were considered moderately obese. The participants were followed throughout the course of the study – which lasted eight weeks. 

Researchers concluded that an energy deficit is critical for weight loss to be possible. Only the groups with an appropriate caloric deficit were able to lose weight effectively. Weight maintenance occurs with a balance in caloric expenditure and intake. When there is a surplus of calories consumed, the person will gain weight instead. 

While a caloric deficit is important, the selection of foods also matters. 

Evidence of this fact was provided in a study published in the Journal of the American Diet Association (4). The study focused on determining how specific dietary intakes would affect weight loss, as well as the maintenance of weight loss. The researchers concluded that a higher intake in vegetables and fruit, as well as low-fat dairy products, seemed to yield more effective results in both weight loss and the maintenance of weight after a person reached their goals. 

Determining Calorie Consumption For Weight Loss

When it comes to counting calories, the very first step that a person needs to take is to calculate their caloric requirements. This would start with a calculation for the calories required to maintain the person’s current weight. This calculation provides an answer to the energy balance a person really needs. 

Energy balance is calculated as follow:

Calorie consumption – calorie expenditure = energy balance

Calorie consumption refers to everything that a person eats on a daily basis. All food contains calories – the calories count up, often faster than a person tend to realize. 

A person needs to calculate how many calories they need to eat to maintain their weight first. To do this, it is important to consider daily calorie expenditure. This is the number of calories that are burnt each day. 

The body burns through calories in two different ways. These include:

  • The basal metabolic rate refers to calories that are burnt through natural processes in the body each day. This generally accounts for up to 75% of the calories a person will burn each day. 
  • Energy expenditure through physical activity. 

Calorie consumption for weight maintenance depends on a few things, with gender being particularly important. The average recommendations for daily calorie consumption, based on gender, is as follow (5):

  • Women are advised to consume about 2,000 calories each day
  • Men are advised to consume about 2,500 calories each day

Once the daily calorie requirements for weight maintenance has been calculated, a person is able to make appropriate adjustments. This allows the person to determine how many calories to consume if they want to lose weight. 

It is important for a person to take their goals into account, while also ensuring their expectations are realistic. 

If a person wants to lose about one pound of body weight each week, they should aim to reduce their daily calorie consumption by about 500. If more weight loss is desired, it is generally advised to limit the restriction of calories to 1000. 

This means a woman should consume between 1,000 and 1,500 calories each day to lose between one and two pounds per week. For men, the daily consumption of calories would be between 1,500 and 2,000 calories to lose this amount of weight per week. 

Steps For Effective Calorie Counting

Once a person calculates how many calories they should eat per day for weight loss or maintenance, calorie counting becomes essential. This would allow the person to see just how many calories they eat during the day. 

A common problem that people face when they are trying to lose weight is the fact that they often do not realize how quickly calories tend to count up. Those small snacks that a person would often turn to during the day – perhaps while waiting for lunchtime – adds a lot to the daily caloric consumption. 

We will consider a step-by-step guide to help a person start with calorie counting in a simple yet effective way below.

Step 1: Gather The Right Tools

The first step would be to get the right tools and equipment that is needed. The specific tools that a person would need really depends on the preferences of a person. Some people are happy using a pen and paper. Carrying a notebook around is a great way for a person to quickly capture notes of all foods that they eat throughout the day. 

Other people may want to consider taking advantage of the conveniences that come with recent technology. There are several smartphone applications that allow a person to keep track of the calories they consume. These apps usually contain a quick way of capturing food that a person eats. In fact, some of these apps will ask for the food that was consumed and automatically calculate the number of calories that are contained in the snack or meal. 

Another important tool that a person should get their hands on is a kitchen scale. This is an affordable product that is readily available at many local stores. A kitchen scale gives a person a much better way of accurately tracking the calories they consume. 

Step 2: Count Calories For A Week

The next step is to get started with calorie tracking. The person should make sure to take full advantage of the tools they decided to use during their calorie counting journey. 

Everything the person eats or drinks should be noted down – whether in a notebook or through an app on their smartphone. Whenever possible, the kitchen scale should be used to make measurements of food when preparing a meal or perhaps when the person decides to have a handful of nuts.

Step 3: Review Notes

After the initial week of counting calories, a person should ensure they take some time to review the notes that the person made. This allows them to identify areas where they are doing well. Additionally, the person would be able to detect particular areas where they may be making mistakes. 

A look at the notes taken during the week should be used to the person’s advantage. They should ensure they look at how snacks quickly add to the total calories consumed each day. 

At this point, it is important for the person to take the notes that they made in order to create a diet plan for themselves. During the time when the person follows a diet plan, they should continue to ensure they plot down everything they eat and drink. A frequent session of reviewing the notes taken is important – this allows the person to continuously determine areas where adjustments can be made to improve the results they achieve. 

Tips For More Effective Calorie Counting

Now that we have looked at a basic step-by-step way of counting calories, we want to share a couple of tips. These tips will help a person make their efforts in terms of calorie counting more effective. 

We share the tips that people should be taking into consideration below:

  • One of the most important tips that we can share would be to avoid relying on memory. Many people tend to think that they will remember what they ate during the day. Sure, it may be possible to recall that the person consumed a candy bar, some salad, and maybe a sandwich. The problem is, for calorie counting to be effective, the person needs to ensure they know how much they consumed and how many calories the food contained. 
  • It is also important not to guess the size of the portions. This leads to inaccurate tracking of calories consumed – which means when weight loss does not occur, the person may not be able to determine where their problem areas lie. A person should always ensure they measure out their food and track their calories accurately. 
  • Even smaller “nibbles” that the person eats during the day should be recorded. Even though some snacks may seem very small, these foods can sometimes contain large amounts of calories. 
  • There is no need to pay hundreds of dollars on tools to help a person count their calories. It is possible to simply use a few simple tools, such as a cheap notepad and pen. The results would be exactly the same compared to paying a more significant amount for a notepad or buying a specialized application to assist with the process of counting calories. 
  • A person should also consider tracking major nutrients. This would include protein, fat, and carbohydrates. 

What To Do After Successful Weight Reduction

When a person has been able to reduce their body weight successfully, they may not be sure what to do once they reached their goal body weight. Many people gain back the excess weight after they quit the diet that they were following. This is a common concern – when the person stops with their habit of counting calories, they may fear to regain weight. 

Weight maintenance depends on an appropriate caloric balance. The number of calories consumed needs to match the calories burnt through physical exercises, while also taking the resting metabolic rate into consideration. 

At the point where the person reaches their goal body weight, they will need to increase the number of calories they consume. 

For this reason, a person might want to consider continuing their efforts with calorie counting even when they have reached their ideal weight. This is a good strategy to ensure the person remains in control – and assures a calorie balance can be maintained. 

Without appropriate efforts to count calories, a person might increase their intake of food. In turn, this would lead to excess calorie consumption – essentially contributing to a caloric surplus. A caloric surplus equals weight gain – something that the person certainly wants to avoid once they reach their weight loss goals. 


People who are looking for an effective way of losing weight need to consider the importance of counting calories. Without an accurate view of the calories consumed versus calories burnt, it is hard to understand why weight loss has not been possible. When a caloric deficit is achieved and maintained, a person is able to lose excess weight effectively. 


  1. http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/Dieting-Does-Not-Work-UCLA-Researchers-7832
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3447534/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18025815
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3225890/
  5. https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/food-and-diet/what-should-my-daily-intake-of-calories-be/ 

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