Home Debunking The Myths Understanding Calorie Counting: The Basics

Understanding Calorie Counting: The Basics

by Erika Nicole Kendall

caloriesFor our first series ever, Black Girl’s Guide To Weight Loss will be explaining calorie counting, and ways to win the war. Comments are always welcomed, and questions will always be answered to the best of my ability. 🙂

A reader hit me up with a question about calorie counting. Basically, sharing with me that for her goal of losing a couple of pounds a week, there’s information all across the Internet saying to shoot for a goal of 1200-1500 calories.

That’s all well and good, but… what if that’s what you were eating before? How do you take in 1500 calories? Where do you go from where you are now?

Let me explain what calorie counting is, and what it does for a person. Then we can get into appropriate calorie numbers.

First, the constants. What I mean by “constants” is the concepts that will be the same no matter WHO you are, how much you weigh, how tall you are, how much you want to lose, or how active you are. So far so good?

The Constants

  1. Pounds. Three thousand five hundred (3 500) calories is equal to a pound. What this means is that for every 3500 calories you burn, you will have burned a pound’s worth of energy.
  2. Calories. Calories are what your body burns in order to function. (Think of when you hit a cardio machine in the gym, and it tells you how many calories you’ve burned so far – it’s telling you the amount of energy your body has used thus far in order to do your exercise.)
  3. Metabolism. Metabolism manages this behavior. Meaning, when your body needs energy to carry out a function – be it running a mile or eating a steak – your metabolism facilitates that energy burst. Provided you don’t have a thyroid problem, your metabolism is able to move as quickly or as slowly as you do. WebMD says that it “not only convert food into fuel but also affect how efficiently you burn that fuel.”
  4. Weight loss. Weight loss is absolutely about creating a deficiency in calories taken in so that there is an excess of calories burned. No matter how you managed to find yourself overweight, the bottom line still stands – we will all lose it the same way.

The Sticky Part

  1. Pounds. We all weigh differently, and we all got our excess weight in different manners. For me, it was a combination of college and pregnancy. For my best friend, it was a strong decrease in activity levels between jobs. For my professor, it was emotional eating. Some of us have always been overweight, and others of us packed on a large amount of weight in a small amount of time. (As I currently state in my about-me section, I packed it on at a rate of 20lbs per year. Yikes.)
  2. Calories. We all eat different amounts! Why? Because we all weigh differently, live in different climates, and our bodies react differently to certain calorie levels. To the person who might be burning a ton of calories but yet is still eating more than she’s burning per day, to the person who may have a great day with calorie levels only to follow it up with a day horrible enough to ruin three good eating days. We all are in the same boat, we all got there the same way (eating more than we burned,) but where we’re coming from will differ.
  3. Metabolism. Our metabolism – our body’s ability to use energy and use it properly – changes over time. In our teens, our bodies are always burning energy like crazy because we’re growing. When we’re pregnant, our bodies are burning an excess of energy because we’re facilitating a life inside of our bodies. As we age, our metabolism’s power decreases by about 5% per decade. The amount of activity our bodies have to endure determines how fast and how often our metabolism moves. So, yes… you could keep your metabolism burning by eating all day – but are you eating celery sticks or cheetos? 🙂
  4. Weight loss. After a very long back-and-forth debate with a visitor, I’ve learned that some of us are simply beaten. For one reason or another, we believe this struggle is much more difficult than it actually may be, and that’s without trying it the old-fashioned way. Our 40s, 50s, and 60s babies didn’t have to fight demons like this, because their food was actually food when they were in their 20s and 30s. Their portions were smaller… so it was nothing to “clean their plates.” Their dishes were more wholesome. They weren’t devouring 7-layer dips, or pound-sized bowls of pasta when they went out to eat. They simply were unequipped to handle the struggle, and so we’re all left feeling a little helpless. We all are a bit clueless as to why we’re less healthy, why we can’t get this burden off our backs, and how we can successfully lose these last few nagging pounds.

Having said all that, now I think we’re ready to get down to business.

Looking for other posts in the Understanding Calorie Counting series? Check the links below!

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8 comments

Cryssy October 15, 2009 - 12:42 PM

this is really good, like we talked about earlier if you gonna do it make sure you are committed to it! It is so easy to think you are going to remember what you had and write it down late…

Erika October 15, 2009 - 12:47 PM

Cryssy, thanks for stopping by! 🙂

You’re very right! I thought long and hard about what you said, and in an upcoming part of the series, I directly address that issue that you brought up. I hope that you follow along and catch it, it’s kind of interesting.

Well, interesting to me, but I like this kinda stuff. LOL

Tracy October 15, 2009 - 9:14 PM

Can’t wait for the rest of the series!!

Jean M January 7, 2010 - 8:20 PM

First, what a great looking website. And, you’ve done a good job educating us to the basics..darn, they haven’t changed! I do agree with all you’ve said, especially about the “food journal” with the calories down at the time you eat them, so there’s no forgetting what went in the mouth. Sighhh!! No magic pill!! Just common sense & a commitment to a life change.

Ayana December 5, 2011 - 4:07 PM

I’m liking this series. I look forward to reading more of it. I wonder…what is your opinion of Weight Watchers vs. Calorie Counting.

V June 30, 2012 - 8:55 AM

I have learned that reading nutrition labels with the calorie count is better for me. After going through ten dietitians where they gave me larger serving sizes of food because I was vegetarian. After calorie counting again I learned that 1 cup of cooked grains is up to 340 calories according to the package. The meal plans were 2500 calories. During this time they gave me a book for intuitive eating. Then after that they said because I am vegetarian and have large muscles I would never lose weight. Well according to the gym I have more body fat than when I started with them. I stopped going to them in June. My doctor told me to follow the serving size when I cook so I learned that 2oz of dry pasta equals 1/2 cup cooked pasta. Even though my doctor wants me to try someone else, I will be counting calories to see how much food I am being given. Not sure how much calories I should be eating right now. I must admit I don’t trust dietitians right now!!

Nicole T August 14, 2013 - 9:59 AM

Okay Erika, I am going to finish reading this post all the way through, I however COULD NOT GET PAST #3 in “The Constants!!!!!!”

Erika, I have the stickiest situation here with my weight loss, I no longer have a thyroid; I had a full thyroidectomy back in 2009 and to boot I have oral allergy syndrome.

I would LOVE to eat raw fruits and veggies like other folks, but my palette & throat (literally) doesn’t allow me to do so. I can eat apples (if I peel the skin off, but it burns my stomach), I can do veggies once they have went through some type of process (microwave, steamed.) I then on top of all of this other craziness get super gassy, which is so so gross (and I’m married), but it is what it is.

With my thyroid issues, my joints CONSTANTLY hurt, I’ve got on the good foot with working out a couple times but wasn’t seeing progress like I wanted. I’ve been told by my doctor that it was going to be almost impossible to lose weight (THE DEVIL IS A LIAR) and I do not want to accept that. I understand that you are not a physician, but I am tired of THIS!!! I am 36 years old and I feel sooooooo old because I am over-weight.

Do you have any advice about the oral allergy syndrome (maybe you know someone who has suffered from it), do you know of how I can push past these joint issues, and with me not having a thyroid was my doctor right about the weight loss? I don’t want to do the surgery, but I also don’t want to feel like I am 50 years old because I am over-weight either.

Frustrated,
Nicole T.

P.S. Did I mention that I love bread, pasta & cheese?!?!

Erika Nicole Kendall August 15, 2013 - 3:21 PM

My suggestion would be to speak to a registered dietician and a dermatologist: the dermatologist can advise you on how to better manage your allergy, and the RD can advise you on how to eat healthily even though you have allergic reactions to some of the very foods you need. The two of them would need to operate in tandem with one another in order to get you where you want to go.

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