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How To Count Calories To Lose Fat (3 Methods)

By Marc Perry / November 27, 2017

I created the video above to STRONGLY encourage you to track your nutrition intake even for a few days. If you have not gone through this exercise before, it’s an eye opener!

If you are still not convinced you should “count calories”, which I take to mean track your nutrition intake, check out this article that’s a must read: 7 Reasons To Keep A Food Journal. If you are looking to identify a target calorie intake to help you lose fat, check out this article: How Many Calories Should You Eat To Lose Weight?.

There are 3 primary ways to help you count calories easily so you can glean insights into what you eat, when you eat, and how you eat to help improve your eating habits:

How To Count Calories Method #1) Mobile Application

If you have a smart phone you should definitely use a mobile application, which makes counting calories a breeze. Not only can you count calories, but you can also learn the macronutrient breakdown (protein, carbs, and fat) of each food, meal, and day as a whole without doing any calculations.

So how does a mobile application make counting calories so easy besides the effortless calculations? There are a few reasons:

  1. You always have your smartphone on you
  2. You can access the nutrition info on a large database of foods instantly
  3. You can save your favorite foods and meals so you don’t have to input them over and over again (this is a big deal). You can also add custom foods if they don’t have the food you want in their database.

My top choice is the Lose It! application on the iphone. For more information about mobile apps and counting calories, check out my article: Best Free Online Calorie Tracker App.

How To Count Calories Method #2) Food Journal

If you don’t own a smart phone, or simply would rather count calories by hand, you can write down the foods you eat and portion sizes in a journal and then later figure out the calories and macronutrient breakdown for each food. Finally, you will add up the calories for each meal and for the day as a whole.

This may sound like a lot of work, but it’s 100% worth your time.

To make this process easier for you, I created a food journal template that includes several tips to help you count calories easier and glean greater insights into your eating habits.

Here’s the link to the Free Printable Food Diary Template.

How To Count Calories Method #3) Create A Spreadsheet

Are you stuck at 12% body fat?

Do you want to see changes every week in your body, and possibly even every few days?

Well you can do what fitness models and bodybuilders do to prepare for competitions. Instead of eating and tracking randomly, the foods and meals you eat can be predetermined by putting them in a spreadsheet. You eat according to the spreadsheet, or spreadsheets (if you have more than one) so you know EXACTLY what you are putting into your body. You take the guesswork out of counting calories for ultimate precision.

Is this boring? Yes.

Is this sustainable? No.

If you can stick with it, there is absolutely no debating eating with laser like precision is very, very effective. If you asked me to get as ripped as I could in 3 weeks, the first thing I would do is create a spreadsheet and stick to it religiously. The exercise is an afterthought. You also get a feel for your hunger patterns and what foods and meals help you feel great and satiated.

For more on creating a spreadsheet and the types of variables to consider, check out: How To Get Ripped & Cut: Definitive Guide.

Again, if you haven’t kept a food journal before to count your calories and learn more about your nutrition habits, it may be the single most important thing you can do to improve your health and well being.


  • Kati says:

    Recording what you eat is so important if your end goal is losing weight. Keeping a food journal can really help you identify what you are doing well and what might need a little work.

    • Marc Perry says:

      @Kait - Totally agree!

  • mary says:

    It definitely makes a difference in your eating habits. I did not realize how many foods I was picking at in a day. I know a lot of my friends don't want to acknowledge the foods they ingested in a day. Calorie counting definitely makes you mindful of your habits. Thanks for the great suggestions.

  • Hank says:

    Food journal is important if you are having trouble understanding why you are not getting the results you expect. There is a lot of truth to the saying " you are what you eat." Nice approach having three ways to keep track of the foods and liquids.

    • Marc Perry says:

      @Suraj - Your absolutely right! Thanks for the comment. Looks like it came out in June/July of this year. Wow, slipped right by me.

  • Mitchell says:


    I've recently adopted the phone method after relying on a spreadsheet for a long time. In my opinion it's so much more in-tune with my daily activities than needing to set a certain amount of time to jot down in a journal.

    You are absolutely right about the "eating versus exercise" face-off. If you want to get lean, it's really worth it to record every morsel that enters the mouth on a daily basis, and have a plan in place that will allow you to stick with a meal plan religiously.


  • Alan says:

    I downloaded the "Lose It" app and it looks good and easy to use but have been using another web-based program which has a phone app as well. It is "myfitnesspal.com

    The real difference between the two is that myfitnespal has a larger database. It includes most chain restaurant menus, grocery store products including name brands, and even some magazine menus. The nutrition and calories are already there making keeping track easier and more accurate.

    Like Loseit you can establish goals, add in exercise, and it also keeps track of water intake which Loseit does not do. I have lost 70lbs in the past 14 months through using this program and exercise of course.

    • Marc Perry says:

      @Alan - Thanks for sharing.

  • Weebly says:

    I would also recommend the dietsnap app for the iPhone, you take a photo of eveything you're about to eat, and you can instantly record the time and date of that food item. You can also add notes and export your daily, weekly or monthly logs to your email, Facebook or twitter.

  • shaun says:

    hey im looking to get ripped but working for a fast food resturant i need to keep track of calories, whats the best app for iphone to keep track and whats the link for it?

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      shaun - I like LoseIt! the most on the iphone. It's incredibly easy to use and seamless.

  • milad says:


    first off great job on writing articles that are actually in simple english, really easy to follow and understand.

    so i've been lifting for about a year now and just cannot get ripped, my stats are 5"11 @165lbs
    did some math yesterday and came out with this: BMR=1798.45 and then used harris... formula to multiply BMR by 1.55 because i lift 5 times a week and i got 2787.59 calories i need to maintain weight. U suggested to use roughly a % between 15-30% for the deficit which i think 20% is a fair number since my problem zone is my gut only so that means i'd be put at around 2200-2300 calories a day, i hope all the math is about right so far.
    my issue is that this is still not working out for me, so go even lower?
    and the second issue is i workout at nights due to my job and realize that i have to eat carbs after a good workout is that maybe the problem?

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @milad - My best guess is somewhere around 1800 would likely work a lot better. Generally, I find the Harris Benedict method overestimates calorie burn level and the activity multiplier of 1.55 also overestimates check out this article. I would subtract around 100 from the Harris Benedict results and also use 1.45 instead of 1.55. One more thing, if you haven't checked out this article, it's a good one - How to Get Ripped. I'm hard pressed to believe eating carbs at night will make an impact because there is no scientific proof eating carbs at night slows down fat loss.

      • milad says:


        sounds great, what site can u recommend to find out nutri facts for veggies and fruits as they don't have labels
        i know there are plenty out there, but i was hoping u'd know a trust worthy 1

        thanks again

        • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

          @milad- My favorite is Nutrition Data, which is owned by Conde Naste. The information in Nutrition Data's database comes from the USDA's National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference and is supplemented by listings provided by restaurants and food manufacturers. The downside is after inputting the specific food item into the search bar and clicking "search", you will need to filter the results by choosing either "vegetables and vegetable products" for veggies or "fruits and fruit juices" for fruits. These filters are located right under the phrase "Narrow Your Search". The other thing about the database is that it has great detail including calorie information for veggies raw, cooked, or fruits with skin and without skin for example. I don't mind this extra detail, but some find it too much. If anyone else has any other databases they like that may be more simple, please chime in!