About Counting Calories

Keeping track of calories over the long haul calls for two key steps to enable an effective permanent weight loss plan. They seem obvious once you think about it, yet in real life they are often missing ingredients.

One is learning to measure calories accurately, using measuring tools not estimates. The second is to find automated methods of control so that this measuring is not difficult.

Measure, Don’t Estimate Volumes

Popped Popcorn

It is easy to get a little cocky about our ability to estimate volumes of ingredients and foods without actually using measuring spoons and cups. Sometimes we may do pretty well, but often we do not.

One of my ongoing challenges has been that while I may make it through most of the day without any overwhelming urge to eat, in the evening I tend to get very hungry. For that reason I have looked for low calorie snacks to tide me over. One of my choices for this has been popcorn. My experience with popcorn illustrates how difficult controlling calories can be in real life.

We have a popcorn popper that I had been using a while, not because it was ideal but because it is what we had. Unfortunately, it requires using cooking oil. My choice was to use a little olive oil.

Cuisinart popcorn popper

For some time I just poured a little oil from the bottle into the cooker, confident I was pouring about two tablespoons. I finally wised up and decided to measure the amount I was using. As you are rightly guessing by now I had been a little off—no, take that back—a lot off. I had actually been using at least three tablespoons, even a little more.

What this means is that while I was counting 240 calories, already all too many under the circumstances, I had been consuming at least 360 calories and perhaps 420 calories just for the oil every time I popped and ate my popcorn! Wow! Add another 150-200 calories for the popcorn and we are out of sight for what is really just a snack.

But there is more when we look at the volume of the end product being consumed. Taking once again my popcorn experience, it is easy to see why this is important. When I ate from a large bowel it was easy to think I was eating four or five cups of popcorn when I may actually have had six, seven or even more. Yes, I could eat that much, easily, and more.

Accurate measurements are necessary both in the preparation of our foods and in determining our serving sizes. Estimates are simply not enough. But in the next section we will see that this process can be simplified.

Automate Measuring Methods

measuring cup and spoons

To make measuring easy, make sure your tools are easy to use. One way is to keep them handy. Give them a priority location so they are easy to grab.

Most of these implements are very inexpensive so it is often helpful to have extra ones available for specific uses. We have a one cup ladle which makes serving things like soups very easy to do. Just use it for dipping and everyone gets exactly one cup. They are not cheap, but Weight Watchers sells a set of three stainless steel ladles (they call them measuring spoons) in 1 cup, 1/2 cup, and 1/4 cup sizes. Very handy.

Another way to automate your calorie intake is by controlling the amount of a food you prepare (which is especially helpful when you are preparing for only one or two people). With the popcorn, if I am only preparing for myself I can make just the amount I want to eat at one time. That is one advantage of the hot air popper; the lid even has a built in half cup measure for the corn to be popped so you can easily pop a set amount.

For when I am popping corn only for myself I use a quarter cup measuring spoon dipper which I keep right with my unpopped corn. I can start with exactly the amount of popcorn I want each time, knowing it will have a set number of calories when served. Using one forth cup of unpopped corn will give me 7½ cups of popped corn with 225 calories. Determining end results by measuring input will work with many food items and is an easy way to determine how much you will get in advance with little to no effort.

Even before I measured my oil I had decided to change poppers and ordered an air popper (pictured above) in order to get rid of some 250 calories, albeit the real number was much more. This suggests another way to ease measuring which works in some cases, simply eliminating an unnecessary ingredient.

quart container

With foods like popcorn another easy way to automate measuring calories is to find a serving container that only holds a set serving size—like this quart container that might be just right for your popcorn. Then plan to always use that container when you pour out your serving. If you want to eat only four cups this would determine in advance your serving size without your needing to think about it.

By now you are getting the idea. There are many ways to control your calories and you can probably come up with others I have not thought of at all. You can choose what you prefer for any given task and use different methods in different situations.

Naturally it can get tedious to take time to measure everything all the time. Even thinking about it is a little challenging! Thankfully it is not necessary to keep measuring cup by cup what we take of every food we eat, all the time. The trick is to find ways to control the amount we eat which can be permanent but easy. Think automation.

More Than Popcorn

Obviously, we need to recognize that the two ideas we are discussing here apply to all foods we consume, not just to popcorn. It is important to manage the amount of calories that go into our foods and also to manage the amounts we eat. To do this effectively it is essential to develop automated systems for measuring that apply to all of our food all of the time.

Actually, most people are used to doing this in a few circumstances already and we think nothing about it. For example, almost everyone uses a coffee measure to dip up grounds for their coffee. No one thinks it is a burden that they cannot just eye ball how many grounds they pour into their coffee maker. They see using the coffee scoop as normal and easy.

hanburger press

Many people use a hamburger press like this one which at the time I am writing you can buy for less than $10.00 on Amazon. It enables you to standardize the size of your hamburgers. Determine the calories in your hamburger the first time and you have it from then on (as long as you use the same type meat, remember).

Admittedly there are some measurements that we can learn to estimate accurately enough. But if we are looking at a bowl of cereal, for example, we should actually measure it out a few times (in a bowl we will regularly use) until we know we can do it accurately. Then, every so often we ought to double check ourselves by measuring what we have poured.

One tool that I like is a butter cutter. This makes it easy to cut your butter into measured pieces. Recently I saw what looks like a fantastic butter cutter that cuts off pieces designated by a sliding scale along the top, cutting in teaspoons or tablespoons from a sliver to eight tablespoons. What an easy way to control butter measurements!

The need to accurately control the calories in the food I eat is one reason I use quite a few frozen meals and canned soups for lunch and supper when losing weight. They have a measured, set amount of food, making it easy to count calories. This is most helpful when you are working at losing weight rather than regular maintenance because it is a time when you need to be extra careful with your calorie count.

While we need limit calories to a stricter level to lose weight than we do when maintaining our permanent weight, it is still essential to control them for the long term. That is why we need to set up measuring methods that are automatic and can be used consistently in our normal eating routine.

Measure and Automate for Success

To be accurate in our effort to control our calorie intake, then, it is important to learn to do these two things easily:

  • Accurately measure the calories of both the ingredients we put into our food when preparing it and the amounts we eat.
  • Design and use automated systems to make measurements easy.

The problem we face is that it is hard to keep measuring and counting calories for the long term even though we know that it is essential. That is why it is vital to learn ways to make it easy, finding methods that we can put on autopilot. If we learn these two skills we will be well on our way.