Tell someone “count your calories” and you will likely elicit a strange response. Some people quake at the thought of counting calories. Other people actually give up on eating right because of calorie counting. The words “count calories” brings fear out of people because they see a huge job. They envision themselves tethered to an app that will track their food. They see themselves as a slave to the process. This is why I decided to write this article. I want to change your perception of calorie counting forever.
Plan to Succeed or Plan to Fail
Nutrition is a process of planning things out carefully to achieve the desired results. The key thing is the plan. By definition, a plan is something done ahead of time. It is a fact that if you do not plan to succeed then you plan to fail. What does that mean?
Assume for a minute that my client weighs 240 lbs. and is 30% body fat. He wants to lose the weight and the fat. I will likely start him out on a 2700 calorie meal plan. Now, if I used the approach “Hey there client, I want you to go out and eat 2700 calories. I want you to eat 6 meals a day. Those meals should consist of protein, starchy carbs and vegetables for the first 3 meals and then protein and veggies for the final 3 meals. Now go do it” he is not going to achieve the kind of results I would expect in the time I would expect. If, instead, I wrote up a detailed meal plan that executed the very same thing, but had the calories and macronutrient ratios all planned out, the results would skyrocket.
In the first instance, I was planning to fail because there was no real plan. In the second, I was planning for success because I dialed in everything for the client. Thus, by planning to succeed I will avoid the failure in the long term.
Calorie Counting 101
Now that you see a plan must be in effect for there to be success, let's talk about how that plan interacts with calorie counting. The fact is that the plan is the calorie counting. It is wrong to start out your day and just pick foods and track the calories. You have no guarantee of hitting your calorie and macronutrient goals with this type of approach. However, by planning what you will eat ahead of time, you are going to guarantee that you hit your calorie and macronutrient goals. The calorie counting will be done for you. It is a no-brainer. When it is meal 4 and you still have 750 calories to go to meet your goal there doesn't need to be any stress at all because you have already planned your final 2 meals and you know you are going to hit the goal you have.
Steps to Counting Calories Correctly
The first step in counting calories correctly is to plan the specific things you are going to eat for the day. This starts the night before (at the latest). The easiest way is to use an Excel spreadsheet. That approach means you just set up a template one time and the rest of the work is done for you.
The next step is to add up (or review if you are using an Excel spreadsheet) the calories and the macronutrient ratios. If you've hit your numbers at this point then you are done. If not, you have to go on to the next step.
If your numbers need adjustment, make those adjustments. Add food if necessary, change portion sizes if necessary–just do what it takes to hit your goals. The goal, of course, is to hit the numbers as closely as possible. Do not get obsessive about the macronutrient ratios. They are very important, but if you are aiming for 40% protein and you hit 42% protein that is good enough. My advice is that if you are getting close to the macronutrient goals then just be sure you hit your calorie number and all is good.
What Happens Now?
After making the adjustments to the plan you've created you now set to work on cooking up the food you planned out for yourself. This will insure that you can eat to plan because the food will be ready for you when you need it. One big barrier is always the time to cook. If you leave the cooking until you need the food it is possible that you will either go off plan or just skip the meal–both undesireable outcomes.
By following the above plan you are much more likely to reach your goals. Remember that eating is 80% of the results you will produce. That makes the eating principles the most important part of your plan. Even for me, in a bulking phase right now, the plan becomes even more important because it is very difficult for me to eat 3500 calories of clean food. The plan gets me there.
Eliminate the Fear
Follow these guidelines and eliminate the fear of counting calories. The job will be done for you and there will be nothing for you to fear at all.
Do you have any tips for counting calories? Leave us a comment below.