I often get this question from people, and it is very difficult to not give a sarcastic response – but I refrain. I also get the question(s) such as, “How many calories in biscotti?” or “How many calories in that sandwich?” I have to answer with “did you look at the package label?” or “it depends…” Because if there is cheese, mayo, or the burger is bigger than usual, it can change the calorie level much.
While I, like many dietitians, do know the calorie amounts in more foods than the average consumer, and I am intimate with the calories amounts in the foods that I eat (tall skinny mocha = 170 calories), I am not the USDA Food and Nutrient Database.
I know that peanut butter is 190 calories in 2 tablespoons, and a 12 ounce soda is around 150 calories. Things that I teach with regularly, I have become accustomed to their calorie levels. I have to look up the calorie amount in a Big Mac or a Whopper – since I don’t eat it regularly. Well, I must admit I have never had a Big Mac and I think the last time I ate a Whopper the year had two “9’s” and two “1’s” in it.
But I do know how many calories I eat on most days and I urge others to know that too, especially if they want to meet and keep up a healthy weight.
How do I know how many calories I eat daily? I keep a food diary, nearly every day. Years ago I had a program on my Palm Pilot that helped me and even tracked my food intake while in Disney World. I kept track of my food intake for more than three years, which helped me both lose weight and maintain it. Today I use a computer based program, since the program I once used no longer exists and my Palm is obsolete.
KEYS TO KEEPING A FOOD DIARY:
- Keep it throughout the day. Don’t wait until the end of the day to record your food intake. It is easier to forget things and if you enter you food intake at the end of the day, you might realize too late that you had 200-500 extra calories.
- Record what, how much and the calories. What food, how much of it and how many calories. You can look at fat, carbs, protein, sodium, etc., but don’t get too bogged down in the details when you are starting out.
- Measure for a few days or a week. Don’t assume you are eating one cup of cereal or a tablespoon of creamer, measure it. After you measure your food a few times, you will recognize what one cup or one tablespoon looks like.
- Read food labels (if it has one) and make sure it matches your intake. A client was eating 300 calorie tortillas, but in her computer program they listed tortillas at 140 calories. For each tortilla she ate, she needed to enter it as 2.15 tortillas to match the calories, otherwise she would be recording 160 less than what she was consuming.
- Keep it in whatever format you would like – handheld notebook, computer program, or an App on your smart phone – just keep one.
Why do I recommend this? If you don’t know how many calories you are eating on a regular basis, then how to you know if you are on track? An extra 100 calories every single day this year can lead to an extra 10 pounds by this time next year.
There are many applications where you can get nutrition information or keep a food diary:
On the computer:
- MyPyramid.gov (left column: Interactive Tools, MyPyramid Tracker)
- Livestrong.com (formerly, the Daily Plate)
Apps for your phone (I don’t own a smart phone so have only heard about these).
- Lose It!
- Calorie Tracker from Livestrong.com
- The Carrot