September 29, 2019

Getting Prepared for Counting Calories (and hopefully drop these extra pounds I picked up!)

Getting Prepared for Counting Calories

Like I've mentioned, if I want to get any of this extra weight off, I'm going to have to go back to the tried and true method of counting calories. I was able to lose weight in 2017 by becoming very in-tune with my body (and not counting anything), but that just doesn't seem to be working for me anymore. Even though I "hear" what my body is saying, I just can't seem to do what it's telling me.

When I get into a groove with calorie counting, I don't mind it. I kind of like it, actually, because I'm such a numbers person! But when I'm unprepared, I hate it. I absolutely hate having to figure out the calories in the recipe I'm going to make for dinner--especially when I'm starving and I just want to hurry up and eat.

I've done calorie counting on a whim, and I never last more than a day or two at most. And I think it's because I go into it unprepared (mentally and physically). The times I've been successful, I've prepared myself. And that's what I've been doing lately. I want to feel confident going into it.

(I talk about this like it's some enormous, meaningful life change, haha--I realize it's just calorie counting! But I want to stick with it this time, so I'm taking it seriously.)

Step 1: The night before you start counting calories, eat all of the junk food in your house so that you're not tempted to binge on it when you start counting. (KIDDING! But you know we've all done it...)

Honestly, this is what I've done to prepare myself:

I choose what method I will use (pen and paper, or an app of some sort). Currently, I'm a big fan of the Fat Secret app. I used to use My Fitness Pal, but the ads got to be too much when I was entering food items, and Fat Secret is much simpler. I like simple. (I wrote a whole post about why I like Fat Secret here.) Pen and paper has always been trusty, too, but this time, I will be doing Fat Secret.

Fat Secret app screenshot

Next, I make a meal plan. Usually, I plan out dinners for the week by going through my homemade recipe book, and I have a few different options for breakfast and lunch. Once I plan out the meals, I make a list of all the ingredients I need and I go grocery shopping. (Most of the recipes in the book can be found on my Recipes page on my blog)

My recipe book

I always make sure to buy a few "convenience" foods that I can use as a back-up if my day doesn't go as planned--frozen dinners, Spaghetti-O's (a guilty pleasure of mine), things like that. That way, if my kids make plans with friends and Jerry's at work, I can just eat something simple without saying, "Oh, screw it! I'll go through a drive-thru and eat all the food."

To solve the problem of cooking dinner when I'm starving, and trying to measure foods and count calories, I prepare all of the counting work ahead of time. This is probably the most important/helpful thing that I do to prepare for calorie counting: I take the time to create a "recipe" on the app of my go-to recipes (family favorites, things I make frequently, basically everything that is in my homemade cookbook).

When meal planning, and I'm going to be making a new recipe, I also take the time to enter the recipe into Fat Secret so that I don't have to figure anything out while cooking.

Then, when I'm cooking dinner, I take out my recipe book and cook the recipe as I've written it. I do measure or weigh most things (for things like onions, I just cut up an onion and I don't worry about whether it's considered "small" "medium" or "large"; and some vegetables I just eyeball as I'm cooking. I'm very good about not being "heavy handed" while portioning things out.

(I specifically remember the first time I thought about this. When I was losing weight back in 2009-2010, I remember measuring out a cup of spaghetti. I was tempted to make it a heaping cup and count it as a cup--and then it occurred to me that the only person I'm cheating is myself! I can certainly do that, but then it will have an effect on my weight loss, so what's the point? As a result, I'm always honest when I measure my foods.)

Using a food scale is always helpful, too. There are a lot of foods that are very inaccurate with their measurement versus weight. One of them is an avocado--when you log 1/4 of an avocado on an app, for example, it's lists quite a bit more calories than when you weight out your 1/4 avocado. So, you're not getting as much as you should for the amount of calories you're counting!

This also works in reverse sometimes (actually, most of the time). When I weigh out a serving of oatmeal (40 grams), for example, I get less than 1/2 cup (the serving size). I've yet to find a good food scale, however. The one I currently have is super annoying--touching the button that changes from grams to ounces rarely works because it's SO sensitive that all it does is change the weight as your finger touches it. I don't want anything fancy! Just a digital scale that tells me grams and ounces. I'll start looking for a new one.

The night before I start counting, I make sure to write everything out that I plan to eat. That way, when I'm hungry, I don't have to decide what to eat--which usually leads to eating too much. I don't do this every night, because I have no idea what I'm going to be in the mood for, but I do have a basic idea of what I'll be eating.

When I count calories, I don't change the foods I eat--I eat what I enjoy, healthy or not, and I just keep track of the calories in it. So, I don't have to make "special foods" apart from the family. I just cook regular recipes with regular ingredients (no low fat or "diet" foods). I prefer eating quality over quantity. This comes in handy when meal planning--keeping it simple, as I don't have to alter recipes to be lower in fat, carbs, etc.

I also don't worry about carbs or protein or fat, or anything else. When I eat what I enjoy, I find that my body tends to eat fairly balanced over a period of time. Some days, I might eat nothing but junk, and other days, I might be on a super healthy food kick. Usually it's somewhere in between.

Something else that I do to prepare for calorie counting is that I plan for a treat to have in the evenings. (I consider the difference between treats and snacks to be this: a "treat" has no real nutritional value where a snack does have value.)

I find that if I plan to include a treat to look forward to each evening, I'm much happier with calorie counting throughout the day. I used to do wine and chocolate, but now that I'm not drinking, I will probably have an alcohol-free Heineken and some pretzels or fruit snacks.

Yesterday, I planned out our meals for the week. I'm going to make Pumpkin Cranberry Apple Baked Oatmeal and then eat that all week long. Lunch is always the hardest for me. I usually end up putting together several snack foods--cheese, apples, toast, pretzels with hummus, things like that. Doesn't this oatmeal look so good?! It tastes like fall. And I'm ready for fall. (The recipe is here: Pumpkin Cranberry Apple Baked Oatmeal.)

Pumpkin Cranberry Apple Baked Oatmeal

Finally, I look at my schedule and think about any situations that I may have to deal with--going out to dinner, getting together with friends, spending the entire day at Eli's baseball games, etc. I make a plan for what I'll eat, and I usually plan a lighter calorie day around the situation.

When I was super strict in 2009-2010, I usually didn't eat at all in those situations and I would eat at home before or after. However, I've since realized that I want to live a relatively "normal" life while counting calories (much like I did in late 2015-early 2016).

I didn't have any strict rules--the main thing I focused on was eating "normal" sized portions (the calories helped me to figure out what that was) and eating just four times a day--breakfast at 8:00, lunch at 12:00, dinner at 4:00, and snack at 8:00. I felt my best that way, and it worked very well for me.

So, tomorrow is the big first day of calorie counting, and I feel prepared! I've been working for the last few days on getting my recipes entered into Fat Secret, meal planning and grocery shopping. Jerry is totally on board, too--he wants to drop about 20 pounds.

If I manage to stick with this and see some progress, I'll even start doing Wednesday Weigh-Ins again! My mom mentioned today that I should take photos every five pounds or something, and put together a video like I did of my initial weight loss. I haven't watched this in forever!

There obviously won't be as drastic a difference if I work on dropping 20-30 pounds, but I'd still like to document it. And who knows, maybe it will be pretty noticeable. I miss the confidence that I felt as I was losing the weight in 2009-2010. Even at my current weight, I felt so much better than I do now. And that's really why I finally feel ready to do this... because I want to feel better.

FYI, here is my past post of "How I Calorie Counted My Way Back to My Goal Weight" which explains more about how I count calories. I got a lot of questions about it because it was working so well. Slightly different in what others do, because I don't put a "cap" on the calories I can eat each day. But it works for me! And you know I always encourage doing what works for you, because we are all individuals.

Here goes nothing! ;)


  1. Hello! I just started calorie counting again as well! I have struggled with binge eating for years, usually triggered by my anxiety. The source of my anxiety was my job, I ended up quitting recently. I cannot seem to find the right career for me! The hardest part of the day for me is at night with dinner. It is so hard for me to know when to stop eating.
    What is the calorie range you are aiming for? Do you plan to factor in any calorie burn with exercise or just sticking with diet alone?

  2. Counting calories has worked for me too. I liked that I could eat anything I wanted as long as I counted the calories. I use an Amazon Basics digital food scale and haven't had any problems.

  3. Katie I’m so proud of you. You can do this!!!!

  4. Best of luck to you Katie! <3

  5. Thanks for this post. I am also trying to shed weight that has crept back on, and tracking food has always been most helpful. I especially appreciated your comment that you don't change the way you eat and that some days you eat mostly junk, but that in the end that balances out. I have those days, too, and it has been hard to learn to accept that (I beat myself up badly!) I have learned that those days are often followed by several days of VERY healthy eating, though...and some weight loss. Still, the goal for me is to eat as "healthy" as possible, as often as possible. I've had to seriously step up my exercise (I am a walker) and that's going to make the biggest difference in the rate of my weight loss. Casual strolls are now brisk 1-hour walks. If nothing else, I know I am more fit!!
    Good luck to you on your continued health and fitness journey. Please don't be too hard on yourself re: weight regained over the past years. As our bodies age, they hang on to that weight more tenaciously and it just takes more effort to blast the ounces off. You can--and will!!--reach your goal.

  6. Good luck! Oh, and I like Spaghetti-os, too. :)

  7. I know you've mentioned reading the Intuitive Eating book, but I highly recommend getting the new Intuitive Eating WORKBOOK and going through that. It's been life changing for me

  8. I have this food scale and it does the trick!


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