It is as simple as that. But simple is not the same as easy, as those of us who have tried to lose weight and failed know.
Almost all nutritionists and weight loss experts say that calorie counting is an essential element in successful weight loss programs.
You need to know how many calories you're taking into your body and how many you're burning. That's the only way you'll know if you need to be taking in fewer calories and/or burning more.
Tips from the experts
This is basically a math-story problem. To help you do the math, so that the story has a happy ending, here are some tips from the experts.
Keep a food "diary." Write down everything you eat. Every day. Be brutally honest. There's no point otherwise. This includes all meals, snacks and drinks.
Get yourself a calorie-counting guide. There are plenty of calorie guidebooks. A popular resource in this category are the books written by Corrine T. Netzer. Netzer has authored dozens of books on nutrition and diet.
There are also some pretty nifty calorie guides online. The online reference resource NutritionData (www.nutritiondata.com) provides comprehensive nutritional information, free of charge. The site also features different calculators that make it easier to keep track of your total caloric intake, to measure the nutritional content and value of the foods and drinks you consume, to calculate your body mass index, or BMI, and to identify other numbers and measures that will help you chart your weight loss progress.
Learn what constitutes a single "serving" of the foods and drinks you consume most often. This information is available on the labels of pre-packed food. For fresh foods, you'll need to consult your calorie guide.
In your diary, calculate and record the total calories in the meals and snacks you most often eat. To do this accurately you'll need to be honest and thorough in adding the total number of servings and the total calorie count for each meal and snack.
Keep track of the time of day you eat your meals and snacks. It also may be helpful to make notes about your moods and feelings when you eat. This record will help you identify patterns in your eating. Do you eat more after a long day at work? Do you eat more when you're stressed or sad? Do you skip breakfast, then snack all morning?
3,500 calories is the equivalent of one pound of body weight. To lose one pound per week, eliminate 500 calories a day. Over a year, that's 52 pounds! (Most of us don't need to lose that much, but some of us do.) Your food diary will help you identify ways to reduce your intake by 500 calories per day. It may be easier than you think.
Remember, there are two ways to cut calories. One is to reduce your caloric intake (eat less); the other is to expend more calories (exercise more). At www.caloriecontrol.com there are calculators that will help you measure the amount of calories burned through various forms and durations of exercise.
Returning to our example, if you wish to cut your calories by 500 per day, you could reduce your intake by 250 calories and increase your calorie expenditure by 250 by walking, lifting weights, cycling or playing basketball.
Definition: A calorie is a unit used to measure energy. The scientific formula for a calorie is the quantity of heat needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree (centigrade) at one atmospheric pressure. Calories are used to calculate the amount of energy-potential produced in food when oxidized by the body.
Sources: www.nutritiondata.com; dftools.ivillage.com: www.caloriesperhour.com; www.caloriecontrol.org