Individuals with a weight-loss goal need to consume fewer calories than they burn each day. Calorie counting helps to ensure that the calories you consume throughout the day do not exceed the number of calories you burn. By keeping calorie intake in line and adding a daily exercise program, you can effectively start losing weight right away.

The number of calories you typically burn depends upon how active a person you are. However, as a general rule of thumb, you can approximate your average calorie usage by simply multiplying your weight in pounds times 15 calories. As an example, a 140-pound woman burns 15 x 140 or 2100 calories on average. If weight loss is to be achieved, fewer calories must be consumed, and/or more calories must be burned daily. To begin to see positive weight loss within the first several weeks, a 1200-calorie daily diet is often recommended together with an exercise program.

Cut Calories, Not Nutrition

One common mistake dieters make when cutting calories is inadvertently cutting out needed nutrition. If the body is being robbed of essential nutrients, it will trigger a hunger response. It’s the body’s way of ensuring that it gets what it needs for healthy functioning. So, when counting calories, concentrate on eating nutrient-dense foods; you’ll derive more value from fewer calories.

By selecting foods like broccoli, salmon, brown rice, yogurt, soy, beans and lentils, berries, omega-3 eggs, raw seeds, and brightly-colored red, orange, and green vegetables and limiting white foods (white bread, potatoes, white rice, and pasta), you’ll help guarantee that your low-calorie meals are part of a healthy, nutrient-rich diet. A good low-calorie diet shouldn’t leave you starving for nutrition.

Meal Planning Helps Budget Daily Calories

Meal planning will take a little more forethought if you’re counting calories; but, once you get accustomed to it, you’ll find that you and your family are eating healthier, feeling better, and enjoying meals more. Below are three typical 1200-calorie daily menus. When planning, try to combine protein, carbohydrates, and fat at each meal in order to optimize the value of these daily meal plans. Also, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding keep in mind that you will require more than 1200 calories. Discuss your particular nutritional needs with a physician or nutritionist.


Sample Menu #1 – approx. 1200 calories

Breakfast: Banana Smoothie – blend together 1 cup [8 oz] plain, low-fat yogurt, 1 teaspoon honey, half a banana, 1 cup fresh/frozen berries, 1 tablespoon flaxseed

Snack: 2 cups popcorn (air-popped)

Lunch: Tuna Salad – mix together 1 apple, chopped; 3 oz water-packed tuna, drained; 2 celery sticks, sliced; 2 cups lettuce leaves; 1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise; 1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt; top with 4 walnuts, chopped

Dinner: Hamburger – mix together, form into a patty, and cook on the grill – 4 oz very lean ground beef and 1 tbsp ketchup. Serve with salad: 1 small grated carrot; 1/2 finely chopped onion; 1 egg white, beaten; 2 cups lettuce, shredded; 1/2 cup cucumber, sliced; 1 tomato, sliced.


Sample Menu #2 – approx. 1200 calories

Breakfast: 1 slice French toast, 1 cup fresh blueberries, 1 cup skim milk

Mid-morning Snack: 1 orange

Lunch: ¼ cup cottage cheese, 1 mixed green salad, 1 tablespoon fat-free dressing, 1 whole-wheat roll, 1 cup skim milk, half cup sliced carrots

Dinner: 3 oz. baked or broiled cod, 1 cup noodles, 2 teaspoons butter, ½ cup applesauce, 1 cup mixed vegetables

Evening Snack: half cup of fat-free pudding


Sample Menu #3 – approx. 1200 calories

Breakfast: 1 whole wheat English muffin, 1 tablespoon peanut butter, half a banana

Mid-morning Snack: 20 almonds, 1 apple

Lunch: 2 slices whole wheat bread, 2 oz. low-sodium turkey breast, 1 oz. cheese, 1 tablespoon mustard, lettuce, tomato, 1 orange

Mid-afternoon Snack: 8 oz. low-fat yogurt

Dinner: 3 oz. grilled, baked or broiled chicken breast (skinless), 1 cup cooked broccoli (or vegetable of choice), 2/3 c. brown rice

Evening Snack: 1 cup 1% milk, 2 low-fat fig cookies


Calorie Counting Tips

1. Pay careful attention to portion size. Familiarize yourself with portion sizes and be watchful of single serving size. When eating out, it’s a good idea to double the estimated calories in a large meal. A common mistake among calorie counters is misjudging portion size, thus underestimating their daily calorie consumption. The following examples may make it easier for you to visualize portion sizes:

  • 2 tbsp of peanut butter is the size of a ping-pong ball
  • 1.5 ounces of cheese is the equivalent of 4 stacked dice
  • one-quarter cup of raisins is about the size of a large egg
  • 1/2 cup of fresh fruit would fit into one-half of a baseball
  • 1 cup of cereal is the size of an adult’s fist
  • 3 ounces of meat or poultry is the size of a card deck

2. Keep track of daily intake. 
It’s not uncommon, especially among individuals who are new to calorie counting, to forget what you have eaten and lose track of many of the calories consumed throughout the day. You may think you are sticking to your daily calorie intake, but it’s easy to lose track and unwittingly exceed your goal.

3. Use prepackaged meals to stay on track. Prepackaged meals can make calorie-counting easier.

4. Plan ahead for each day’s meals. Don’t leave your meal planning to the last minute. Plan out your meals for an entire week and shop accordingly. Leaving meal planning to the last minute leaves the door open to rash decision-making, sloppy calorie calculations, and nutrient-deficient food choices. You’ll also find that planning makes it easier to keep track of calories and stay on track.

5. Break it down. Evaluate each item on your plate when gauging the calories in a meal.

6. Use a reliable source for calorie counts. There are many software programs on the market that make it easy for you to put together healthy meals that meet your calorie guidelines and also help you determine calorie counts when eating out.

If you follow these tips and stay mindful of what you are eating each day, then you will shed unwanted pounds quicker and remain on track in the future. Calorie counting can pave the way for building healthier eating habits for yourself and your family. Combined with exercise, calorie-conscious eating can help you slim down, feel better, and stay healthier.