When you embark on your weight loss journey, the first step to success is understanding your own habits in order to make adjustments. A calorie tracker, as a form of food journaling, is a popular weight loss tool that might make the difference between long term success or recurring weight fluctuations.

What is a calorie tracker?

A calorie tracker is simply a tool to monitor daily calorie intake from food and beverages you consume. Also, most record calorie expenditure from exercise and activities you perform.

The objective is simple: find out what you’re consuming and expending so that you optimize your habits to meet your fitness goals. 

By logging your daily calorie input and output over the course of several weeks or months, you’ll have a broader and more comprehensive understanding of the patterns that exist in your diet and physical activity.

Calorie tracking isn’t just for weight loss. As you might already know, it’s an essential tool for bodybuilders and athletes that need to closely monitor their calories to meet their fitness objectives, like bulking up or developing lean muscle.

Is a calorie tracker the same as a food journal?

A calorie tracker is not necessarily the same as a food journal. However, for the purposes of this article, we refer to them as one and the same. 

The term “food journal” conjures up images of a food diary or notebook where meals, calories and observations are logged while a calorie tracker connotes numbers and precision. 

Ultimately, they share the same goal of identifying and optimizing patterns in your diet, fitness and even your grocery list.

How does calorie tracking work?

The first step to calorie tracking is to set a clear goal. This might be, “lose 20 lbs by the end of the year”. A clear goal helps you monitor progress and gives meaning to your tracking work.

The second step is to establish your daily maintenance calories, also known as your TDEE, or Total Daily Energy Expenditure. This provides a benchmark so you know whether you’ve consumed too many or too few calories any given day.

The third step is to create a calorie tracker and fill it in consistently for a designated time.

Whether you’re using an app (see app recommendations below) or a simple notebook, here’s what you should log in your calorie tracker:

  • Caloric value of each meal, including snacks and beverages throughout the day
  • Caloric value of exercise and other calorie-expending activities

Ideally, you’ll do this every day for every meal and gym session but, realistically, you’re bound to miss a few meals and sessions here and there. It’s important to realize that calorie tracking isn’t an exact science, though it provides valuable insight on calories in and calories out.

That said, you’ll find elaborate trackers that log exact times, units (e.g. mL), food categories, water consumption, and more. You can also find simpler, downloadable options, like this one.

If you’re not sure how many calories are found in a food item, check the nutritional label, search online or check out websites like Calorie King.

At the end of every day, note how closely you met your daily maintenance calories. Did you consume too many calories? What meals contributed to your high calorie intake?

Please note that if you are trying to lose weight, track calories based on your TDEE. Subtract 500 calories from your TDEE for feasible weight loss. 3,500 calories equal 1 pound. If you subtract 500 calories from your TDEE each day, that totals 3,500 calories off for the week, in turn losing 1 pound a week. You will lose even more weight with consistent exercise. Do not subtract calories burned from TDEE – 500 calories either. You don’t want to eat back what you burned.

Can you lose weight by tracking calories?

Yes, you can definitely lose weight by tracking calories. 

The simple act of becoming aware of what you’re consuming and how it might affect your weight, countered by your activity levels, will facilitate weight loss. Tracking calories takes that awareness to greater depth, and the results can be impressive.

By tracking your calories, you’ll start to notice your underlying patterns. For instance, say you start intermittent fasting 2 weeks into your tracking. You’ll start to notice immediate shifts in weight and energy levels which will, in turn, affect what and how much you eat. 

If you’re recording this data in your calorie tracker, you’ll quickly find the secrets that unlock your individual fitness potential.

Something to keep in mind as you track calories, however, is to consider quantity and quality. Some foods have few, but empty calories, while others contain more calories, but are rich and nutritious – which one should you select? For instance, calories found in processed sweets are vastly different from calories found in a protein rich, whole foods meal. Always opt for nutrient-rich foods, you’ll quickly find that they add to your energy levels and are generally much better for your health.

Best calorie counting apps

Before apps existed, a calorie tracker referred to a spreadsheet, sometimes a simple notebook, where you could log your data and body stats, like your TDEE.

Today, there are incredible and convenient tools at our fingertips. Forget about Excel formulas! In fact, you don’t even really have to count to track your calories (not sure if this is a good thing…) A few of our favorite apps are the FitBit, MyFitnessPal and HealthyOut.

So, how many calories did you just burn while reading through this article?

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