By Casey Seamon, YMCA Registered Dietitian


When you do the math, counting calories and losing weight should be simple. When calories in < calories out, you lose weight. When calories in > calories out, you gain weight. And when calories in = calories out, you maintain weight. Right? WRONG. There is so much more to it! Our bodies are complex—controlled by various hormones and systems. Trying to make what is actually an advanced calculus equation into simple arithmetic often leaves us scratching our heads.

If counting calories is your happy place, go for it. Just remember these three tips, and you’ll be much more successful.

1. Use calories to create awareness.


With a multitude of food databases and tracking apps out there, it can seem impossible to account for each and every calorie. What happens if you’re out a restaurant and your calorie tracker doesn’t have the dish you ordered? What if you created something homemade and you’re not sure how to log it? Do not stress.

Zeroing in on every calorie is only going to make you crazy. Instead, try to log foods that are similar, or simply accept that your count will not be perfect all the time. The point is to create awareness around your choices, portion sizes, and recognize patterns. From there, you can work towards making small changes that will allow you to see the positive, healthy results you want.

2. Don’t starve yourself.

Whether your neighbor swears on a crash diet of 500 calories a day or you saw a celebrity on Instagram bragging about extreme calorie reduction, the point is: it doesn’t work.


Sure, reducing your calorie intake can absolutely lead to weight loss, but our bodies don’t know the difference between, “I decided to skip breakfast,” and, “I’m lost in the woods, and I don’t know where my next meal is coming from.”

Eventually your metabolism adjusts. Your body starts holding onto calories (storing them as fat), and your weight loss comes to a screeching halt. Your body will steal from your lean muscle mass, only adding to your metabolism malfunction, and then you’ve created a whole new issue.

Basic rule of thumb suggests reducing your calorie intake by about 500 calories per day from what you normally get to achieve a 1-2 pound weight loss goal per week. If you really want to know how many calories you personally should be getting, check with a dietitian.

3. See beyond one meal at a time.

Life is full of unexpected events, celebrations and all kinds of situations to throw you off your game plan. If you wind up blowing your calorie budget at breakfast one day, it doesn’t mean all hope is lost! As you work towards creating lifelong healthy habits, don’t get stuck in shame.


Each day and each meal are an opportunity to start fresh and make new choices. Cut yourself some slack when it comes to calorie counting, and know that there will always be tomorrow if today didn’t go as planned. When you’re focused on the long-term, it’s easier to move on and make good choices.

Get support

Every person’s health and wellness journey is different. If you could use help navigating yours, reach out to a Registered Dietitian or join a group like the YMCA’s Weight Loss Program. Your goals may be unique to you, but you don’t have to pursue them alone.