Tracking Calories 101

Old-school as it may seem, tracking calories works, plain and simple. Here are 4 approaches.

My mother has always been a role model for me in health awareness. One of my first encounters with the notion of “calories” was from her: when she felt she’d been eating unhealthily, she would begin recording each thing she ate, with neat rows of calorie numbers. She sometimes kept track for my father too, as they tried to make sure that they didn’t fall into habits that had them eating more than they needed.

To make this work, she needed a book of calorie counts for common foods (Google wasn’t around when I was a kid!), a simple notebook, and the willingness to take a few seconds after each meal or snack to record the food, the quantity, and the calories in that food. She usually set a goal for the day, but if she went over the amount of calories allotted, she would still record it and simply try again the next day.

Calories might be small and invisible, but those numbers are really powerful; studies have shown that just seeing the calorie counts on menus leads people to eat 100 fewer calories on average than people who make their menu selections without calorie knowledge. Keeping track of calories doesn’t need to be obsessive—it can be reflective! It’s a way to not forget what we’re eating and to get a real picture of our choices.

If you’d like to go low-tech, I recommend a small, durable notebook with at least 15 lines on each page – fewer than that will make it hard to list out all of a day’s foods and calorie counts on one page. This option is nice because you can’t get distracted by other features on your phone while using it, and you get a blank page every day: the perfect symbol of a fresh start.

For those who prefer to tap into the magic of technology to track food, there are tons of great apps to choose from. Here are 3 that I’ve tried (this is not an advertisement, and many other apps exist that can do this work for you, including a simple notetaking app!):

MyFitnessPal: I used this for a while, and it is pretty great because of how many calorie counts it has available (logged by other users, so make sure you pick one that is accurate!) and because it lets you log both physical activity and food consumption in the same space, showing you how “on track” you are for the day.

Calorie Counter and Food Diary by MyNetDiary: Focused specifically on tracking food and then keeping the calorie counts at a reasonable level, this app has features like a barcode scanner that can immediately get you info on serving sizes and calorie counts – quite convenient!

Calorie Counter by FatSecret: For those of you who want streamlined simplicity over extra features, this calorie counting app is a good in-between – plenty of the basic features you need to keep track of your calories, but no requests for upgrades or a lot of other features that distract from the specific goal.

Make it WayBetter

What is your method of keeping track of calories and food intake? If it hasn’t been working for you or you’re getting a little tired of it, try a new app or an old-school notebook to get you excited about keeping up with your intake again!