How to Become a Calorie Master

Orlando Weight Loss Program – Everyday Fitness

with Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP

Living life to the fullest is all about striving for a mind-body balance every day. Achieve a mental, nutritional, and physical transformation for life with tips from wellness expert Pamela Peeke, MD.

Monday, March 7, 2011

How to Become a Calorie Master

“Oh, NO! Don’t make me count calories. Can’t I just eat healthy foods and be OK?” This is one of the frequent responses I get when I mention the importance of knowing how much you’re actually eating each day. I also get the “I’ve done that before. It didn’t get me anywhere and it was such a pain. Just one more thing I’ve got to do.” Since just about everyone’s been on some kind of “diet”, many people feel like they’ve been there and done that with calorie counting. For that matter, it’s almost un-American not to have counted calories at some point in your weight management journey. And presently, some people in the nutrition community even avoid the topic of calories altogether, focusing instead on “healthy eating”. Is calorie counting a throw-back to the dark ages of weight management? Or is it your key to achieving your optimal weight? Do you really have to count calories?

Yep, but with some qualifiers.

Beginners need to take the time to learn how many calories they’re eating. As you achieve success and become more experienced over time, there’s less of a need to count every calorie. So, the great news is that with baseline learning, practice and success, you can one day graduate and become a calorie master. So, for those beginning on your journey, or those who’ve plateaued and want to get back on track, here are some calorie basics to help guide you.

I’m a real advocate of promoting caloric literacy. Most people are clueless about what they’re putting in their mouths. So I’m going to make this easy to understand.

A calorie is a unit of energy. It’s the currency of weight management. There are:

4 calories in every gram of protein

4 calories in every gram of carbohydrate

9 calories in every gram of fat

If you ate some random food that had 10 grams of fat, 10 grams of protein and 10 grams of carb, you’d be consuming 170 calories— (10×9) +(10 x 4) + (10 x 4) = 170.

If you’re good with the concept of a financial budget, you’ll be fine with caloric budgets. The way you handle your bank currency is the same as how you’ll manage your calorie currency. This is why I have a problem with people who advocate winging it and thinking they don’t have to have at least some basic understanding of how much they’re eating each day.

Let’s say I give you $500 to go to a department store and purchase an outfit. That’s all the money you get, including tax. You don’t want to go overboard and suffer the embarrassment of being short on cash. So, you’re very vigilant as you enter the store. If you’re a newbie at shopping (and we all were at some point), you’ll have to spend some time learning which parts of the store to avoid and which will have great options for you. First up, when you see the word “couture”, run. That’s a guaranteed five figure dress or suit, so don’t even go there. “Sale” can be good if it’s within your budget. You’ll find yourself flipping price tags to learn which designer or store section is user friendly and won’t burn a hole in your wallet. This is the learning process you must go through to get the gist of how much cash you’re spending.

The same applies to calories. As I said, most folks don’t know how much they’re “spending” when they select foods to eat. And it’s a real eye-opener at time to realize how fast you can eat through your budget. Check out what Gerryca from my Diet Community had to say:

Gerryca posted:


are many articles and books about avoiding having to count calories. But in MY book (LOL) counting those little darlings is the ONLY way to go… WEBMD also has a tracker that I am using, I like the food search. I am drinking at least 48 oz of water a day. I am only 5ft.2. When you count, you will be amazed at how fast you reach your calorie goal.

And here are some words of wisdom from 1961mark:

1961mark posted:

I STARTED OUT AT 284.5 ON 1-11-11.I now weigh 260lbs.2-19-11….I had type 2 diabetes. This material gives you a no nonsense way to count calories… (that i thought i could never do) …THE OVERALL KEY IS EATING FOODS LOW IN CALORIES THAT ALLOW YOU TO EAT MORE FOOD VOLUME WISE. You mentioned oatmeal, how many calories? I eat 2 packets of great value (from Walmart) maple and brown sugar at 100 cal per packet. I sometimes eat a banana 80 cal. Then I take 100% whey protein made by EAS. (one scoop 120 cal.)…that equals 400 calories. Then I work out with weights then I hit the elliptical machine alternating between 50 min. and 65 min per daily workout. (I burn between 653 and 875 calories per session.) My doctor listened to what my present activity level was and determined that my total calorie intake should be 1875 calories. The key to weight loss is getting active so you can burn calories up each day. People always say” eat less than you take in”. No kidding…but get real! If you can identify those foods low in calories but high in nutrients I am sure you know what I mean. I told you all this because I was trapped in my body basically dying a little bit every day due to diabetes and its complications.

So Gerry and Mark, like the newbie shopper, are taking time to check out the calorie “price tags”, learning which foods have “couture calories” and which are safely within your caloric budget. How do you know what that budget looks like? You need the WebMD Food and Fitness Planner.

To help you get started on the path to becoming a calorie master, I want to introduce you to a terrific new tool from WebMD to help guide you.

Click into WebMD’s Food and Fitness Planner and you’ll see that WebMD has gone all out to provide an easy way to find out how many calories you need to consume as well as burn given your weight goal. This is customized to your unique needs and incorporates critical and user friendly information to:

  • Learn about Portions: Prior to entering a food into the food log, a “portion size help” widget is available that helps people visually understand portion sizes so they can log accurately. Most people generally under estimate the amount of food they consume. This portion size helper educates users on what a portion size really looks like.
  • View Your Weekly Summaries: People can quickly assess “how they are doing” for the week, and identify trends which may help them modify their behavior. WebMD has a unique product design which allows the user to quickly and easily view their food and fitness logging for the week where they can assess (a) how well they have stuck to their plan and (b) they can notice trends in their eating habits which may lead to needed behavior change (e.g. The user may not be losing weight – by looking this weekly view they may find that they are consuming the majority of their calories at dinner – and this may be why they aren’t as successful as they had hoped.)
  • Monitor Your Medical Condition: WebMD also has “Condition Trackers” for people who may use their eating plan as a means of helping to manage a health condition (Diabetes, High Cholesterol, Hypertension, and Heart Disease). Most people generally don’t understand the nutritional content of the foods they eat, and how those foods may impact on their medical condition. WebMD’s “Condition Trackers” aim to help educate people about various macronutrients so they can learn to make more informed eating decisions.
  • Learn How to Read Nutrition Labels: WebMD displays Nutrition Facts Labels on all foods and has Nutrition Trackers which deliver personalized messaging to help the user understand how to read a nutrition label to guide them as they their eating decisions. People don’t understand how to read nutrition labels. WebMD’s Nutritional Trackers aim to help users understand how each of the macronutrients impacts their health, and helps them understand if they are taking more or less then what is recommended by the USDA or AHA. Research shows that this would help people better understand how to read a nutrition label, and how to make decisions in the supermarket.
  • Budget Calories In and Calories Out: WebMD allows people to select how they would like to split their calories. For example, options include: “Eat the same amount, but increase fitness”, or “Have a 50/50 split between food and fitness”. All other diet planners do the calculation for the user and only allow them to restrict food calories. Incorporating physical activity into a person’s lifestyle is critical to both shedding weight and maintaining the healthier weight. WebMD users love that they were able to customize their preferred calorie split.

For people who are beginning their weight management journey and are not yet calorically literate, do this two part exercise:

FIRST — Scope Out Your Binge Foods and Beverages: It’s time to face the music. Make a list of those bad boy foods and drinks you tend to over consume. It could be anything, even healthy foods (eg. you like sweet potato but you’re eating 3 of them). Now, just quickly look at the calories you’re consuming with each bender. Whoa! Quite an eye-opener. So wipe the shock off your face when you see smoke coming out of your bathroom scale after a week eating like that. The point is to just know how much you’re “spending” on a typical overeating session. Hopefully, it will make you think twice before you do that again.

SECOND — Scope Out Your Healthy Foods and Beverages: Now, whip out another piece of paper and simply write down the typical foods you’ll be eating on your new plan. Studies show that most people usually rotate the same 10 foods around all week. Write them down and look at the serving sizes and calories attached to them. Now look at your budget and start figuring out how you’ll spend your calories throughout the day. Pair that up with your physical activity and you have your total budget.

Calorie masters had to do this exercise at one point. With months and years of experience, they can tell you by memory how many calories are associated with specific foods. That’s why they don’t have to write it down any longer. However, when new foods come along, the calorie masters will take a moment to look up the calories and register that number in their memories. They’re constantly learning, as you should, too.

Everyone should strive to become a calorie master. Here are the requirements. A calorie master has:

  1. achieved their optimal body composition goal (e.g. which may not be the “ideal” but one that is much healthier and not associated with increased risk for disease or disability);
  2. kept weight stable (e.g. +/- 5 pounds for removal of 40 pounds or less; +/- 10 pounds for removal of 50 pounds or more) no less than one year following the achievement of their body composition goal;
  3. shown the ability to adapt and adjust calorie consumption and burn when “life happens”— new physical disability, medical condition, personal/professional challenge(s), and keeping weight stable (see “2″).

Greater Orlando Medical Weight Loss is a safe and effective Program that can help you achieve and maintain your weight loss goals. Call us today and find out how we can help you change your life.