How To Track Calories

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Wed Jun 07 2023.

Calorie tracking sheet.

How To Track Calories

Has your doctor recently asked you to start tracking calories? Though it might seem like a hassle, this practice can help you live a healthier lifestyle.

“Tracking calories can provide insights into your daily food intake and help you make more informed decisions about what and how much you eat,” said Mary Sabat, MS, RDN, LD, a registered dietician, nutritionist, and certified ACE fitness trainer. “It can also help you identify areas where you may be overeating or consuming too many unhealthy foods and guide nutritional changes to achieve your health and fitness goals.”

Whether your goal is weight loss, maintenance, or you simply want to keep an eye on your calorie intake, below is a guide on how to track calories:

What You’ll Need

To track calories at home, you need the following:

  • A digital food scale

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • A calorie tracking app OR a food diary or journal

Calorie Counting Pro Tip: Tracking your daily calorie intake might seem daunting now, but once you get the hang of it, it won’t take so much time. Like everything else, practice makes perfect.

Calorie Tracking For Tech-Savvy Users

If you have a smartphone and feel comfortable using it, Sabat recommends tracking your calories with one of the following calorie-counting apps:

Lose It!

“This app uses a ‘Snap It’ feature to analyze your food photos and provide you with an estimated calorie count.”

MyFitnessPal

“MyFitnessPal has a feature called ‘Photo Food Diary’ that allows you to log your meals by taking photos of your food.”

Calory

“Calory uses AI-powered food recognition technology to estimate the calorie count of your meals based on photos.”

Foodvisor

“Foodvisor uses image recognition and artificial intelligence to provide users with personalized nutrition advice and track their daily food intake.”

Lifesum

“Lifesum allows you to take a photo of your food and get an estimated calorie count, as well as track your water intake, exercise, and more.”

“It's worth noting that while these apps can be a convenient way to estimate calorie counts, they may not always be 100% accurate,” Sabat said. “It's always a good idea to double-check your calorie totals manually to ensure accuracy.”

[Disclaimer: These calorie-counting apps aren’t listed in any particular order, so make sure to do your own research to find the one that works best for your needs.]

Calorie Tracking Without a Smartphone

If you don’t have a smartphone or feel uncomfortable using mobile technology, a pencil and paper work fine to track your daily calories. “You can use a food diary or journal to write down everything you eat and the corresponding calorie counts and then add them up at the end of the day,” Sabat said. “This can be more time-consuming, but it’s just as accurate.”

Steps To Track Calories

Step 1: Determine How Many Calories You Need Each Day

Everyone has different nutritional needs. The number of calories you should eat depends on your age, gender, body weight, and physical activity level.

“Generally, an adult woman needs around 1,600-2,400 calories per day, while an adult man needs around 2,000-3,000 calories per day,” Sabat said. “However, individual calorie needs can vary widely and should be determined based on your specific circumstances and goals.”

Your doctor, dietician, or nutritionist can help you calculate the calories you need to maintain, lose, or gain weight. For example, if your goal is weight loss, you should create a meal plan with a daily calorie deficit. This can be calculated once you understand how many calories you need a day.

Step 2: Weigh and Measure Your Food

Once you know your estimated daily caloric intake, you have a baseline to aim for. Before eating snacks or meals, weigh and measure all of the ingredients. For example, ½ cup of almonds, two tablespoons of honey, etcetera. 

“This is where the food scale, measuring cups, and measuring spoons come in handy,” Sabat said.

Pro tip: Measure the food by serving size so that it’s easier to calculate calories. For example, if a box of pasta says each serving size is one cup, use one-cup increments when prepping your meal. 

Step 3: Look Up The Calorie Count

After you finish measuring the ingredients, look up each calorie count. Most apps automatically fill this information in, but if you’re using a food journal, refer to the nutrition label. Produce usually doesn’t come with nutrition facts attached. This FREE downloadable poster from the Food and Drug Administration has calorie counts for raw fruits, vegetables, and fish.

Step 4: Add Up The Calories

After writing down the number of calories in each ingredient, add them up. The sum of those numbers is the total calorie count for your snack or meal. 

Takeaways

Counting calories can help you with weight loss, weight gain, or weight maintenance and can even help reduce disease-related complications, but it’s not a cure-all. “When counting calories, it’s important to focus on overall nutrition and not just the number of calories consumed,” Sabat said.

“Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats is essential for good health. And remember –– not all calories are created equal.  A 100-calorie serving of vegetables is much healthier than a 100-calorie serving of candy or chips.” In addition to calories, carbohydrates (carbs), saturated fats, and protein intake are all important nutritional information that should be considered for a healthy diet. 

Need More Information?

Meeting someone’s nutritional needs is hard work. We regularly assist family caregivers with dietary and feeding challenges. Whether your loved one has difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) or especially picky tastes, our feeding and nutrition section features everything you need to support a healthy diet.

If you have questions about the food items we carry, please reach out at any time. Our friendly Care Specialists are standing by. Call (800) 696-CARE or send an email to support@carewell.colm

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.