I address this issue on a separate post here in my diet blog but this is a recap of what I have found out to be true for me:
I read the actual labels on the actual food that I am eating. Here is the one caveat on that though. For example, I have noticed that although the labels may say that there are 8 servings in the whole package, often more than not, there are only 6(for example). So, what I do is this formula:
Let’s say the frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts are 100 calories each.
The package says there are approximately 8 servings enclosed. If there are only 6 pieces then I multiply 8(what the label says)x100=800 and then divide by 6 (what actually is in the package)=133 calories per piece instead of the 100 calories listed as the calories for each piece. 33 calories may not be a big deal but depending on how many items you eat during the day, it could add up to several hundred extra calories that could make a difference in your weight lose results.
Also, there is the issue of uniformity; as in, it doesn’t always happen. So, if those same 6 pieces of chicken breast are not the same size then you will need to know what 3-4 oz looks like ( the size of a deck of playing cards) and determine just how much you are eating as a serving.
You can even take it further and weigh each piece with a digital scales. They cost around $65-80. I have an older WW balance scales I use but I find it kind of messy and it does involve keeping it clean from added bacteria so I don’t really use it much. I used to work in a deli many years ago and in order to accurately weigh food, you also have to first weigh the paper wrapping or container first (called the tare) and then subtract that from the additional food item so that you get an accurate pricing. I’ve digressed here some but the point that I am making is that unless you understand weights and measurements in at least a basic way, you can easily miscalculate calories.
I also use an online calorie counter and a standard calorie counter book as cross references usually when I am eating something from scratch, a whole food that normally doesn’t come with a nutritional label or when I am eating out. Some restaurants now have nutritional information posted within the restaurant, some even have it on their websites but also some restaurants do not.
When I eat out, I make a mental note of how the food tasted for how it was prepared. For example, if it seems to have an oily texture I automatically add 120 calories(the approximate calories for 1 TB vegetable oil) for the portion that I have eaten. I also take into consideration that the food might have been prepared with MSG and/or added sodium so often I will try to find comparable foods in those above mentioned resources and then add the sodium content as well. Between added oils and sodium, an innocent seemingly healthy meal can be shocking in added calories and sodium, which will definitely impact your next day weigh in, if nothing else.
I do weigh and measure my food that I eat at home. I start out with standard measuring cups and spoons. When I transfer them to a specific glass, dish or bowl then from that point on I use those as my measurement guide. I know that a lot of people use smaller plates but unless the restaurant you are dining at has those you won’t have your visual cues to help you judge how much you are eating so that is the reason why I stick to a standard dinner plate.
Lastly, if I am uncertain about the actual calories I will estimate on the high side. It takes a little practice but it really doesn’t take a lot of time out of my day. I waste time doing a lot of other things that have less impact on my weight lose than this.
Last summer, I began following the Biggest Loser food plan. It was the first time that I also took into account the macronutrients breakdown as well. It was the first time that I ever considered the impact of sodium on my weight lose efforts. What an eye opener that was for me.
By making an added effort to eat a balanced macronutrient food plan; ie, a specific amount of carbs, fats, protein, fiber and sodium each day within my allotted calorie range, I have significantly improved my health while I am losing weight. On previous food plans my hair was thinning for example. Since following this food plan, my hair has gotten thicker. My complexion is clearer.
I want to also add that I have discovered that if I increase my daily fiber intake to 35-45 grams coupled with an increase in plain water consumption and lower sodium intake, I can work through a plateau, budge myself to lose a little more weight each week and in general feel more full on “less food”. Put simply, I feel I have more control over the outcome. The “mystery” (or so it felt to me before) is no longer there for me.I feel that now when I see my weekly results I can follow the thread back to the beginning of the week and see what I did (or didn’t do) to get the results I got. In other words, there is less surprise involved. I pretty much know what the scales are going to say, if I’ve done my homework.
I always hated calorie counting in the past. It is the one thing that makes my food plan seem like a diet because if I weren’t counting calories I essentially eat healthy. Period. 80/20 is the ratio. 80% healthy whole foods/20% pizza, chocolate and Coke. I ain’t complaining.
By counting calories I am assured that I am also training myself to recognize and practice portion control, which is an important tool I will need not only to lose weight but to keep it off. So, I vote “Yes” for calorie counting within the perimeters that I just outlined.