The Imperfect Art of Calorie Counting

Someone asked me to better explain how it is I go about tracking Calories on SparkPeople. First off for those who don’t know how it works I’ll show you around a bit.

When you log in, it looks a bit like this:

I don’t work out…lol…so I really only use the NUTRITION TRACKER and the blog. Every day I mentally keep tally of what I eat from 5:30 am (when I get up) to 3:00 pm (When I get home from work). When I first started doing this I would write down what I ate in my phone (you can even send yourself a text message if you wanted) now I just remember. Then the first thing I do when I get home is enter in what I ate.


Here is what I DISLIKE about SparkPeople. Their catalog of foods that you can enter SUCKS! When I was on Weight Watchers their online system had a HUGE catalog of foods (meals, restaurants, frozen dishes) all available for you to click on. SparkPeople not only has a very limited catalog, but they also have a really crappy search engine. Type in “String Cheese” and you get 500 things that ARENT String Cheese…its dumb.

That’s where IMPERFECTION comes in! I just GUESS.  All the time. I pick the item that is closest to what I think I ate. Usually I guess high, but its hit and miss. The only way I could ever survive counting calories is by making it low-stress. I don’t give a shit if I’m off by 50 or a 100 calorie…o- freaking-well.

However if there is NOTHING even close to what I ate in there, they do have a nifty tool to add in your own food. It’s also nice because when you add it in, it saves it for you to use another time. To do this go to ENTER A FOOD NOT LISTED (on the right hand side):

Which pulls up this screen:

This is where GOOGLE comes in! Yay google! For instance I like to eat Power Bar Smoothie Bars in Creamy Citrus. I just google “Power bar Smoothie Creamy Citrus Nutritional info” and it will bring me to one of those sites like Calorie Count or whatever. Then I pull whatever info I want over into my “Add Food” Usually I just do fat, protein and Calories, I don’t do all the vitamins and such. Then I save the food and add it my daily meals!

Now what about a home-made meal? How do you count that. There are two ways to do this. Mentally break down as many of the ingredients as you can (Pasta, Ground beef, Spaghetti Sauce) and enter in each one individually. Or you can try the search for “lasagna” or whatever and take a risk picking one that may or may not match what you actually ate. I do this sometimes, it’s no big deal. Again I am NOT trying to be perfect here.

And what about size? They always want to know your portion or “serving” size you ate. For this I OVER-GUESSTEMATE. I’m not dumb, Ive cooked enough that I can visualize a cup or a tablespoon. But if I’m not sure, I guess. Usually trying to over-estimate a little. Better to be safe than fat sorry. Here is an example on Cake:

You search “Cake” and the list pulls up “Chocolate Cake With Frosting” Sounds good to me! So you click on it, and the bottom screen asks you “HOW MUCH” (and you answer A SHIT TON because I have no self-control) Kidding:

The drop down screen gives you three options

1. OUNCES (who the heck knows this?)

2. PIECE (which is kind of up for debate)

3. GRAMS (Again…I cant eyeball a gram…I’m not a drug dealer)

So you pick PIECE because that seems easiest. Then you see it says “1/8th of an 18 oz cake” so maybe you google what an 18 oz cake looks like, but this just makes you hungry for more cake so you move on.  And you…GUESS! Yes that is what you do. And because no one ever eats one serving, you type in 1.75 “Pieces” of cake. That good.

Then you hit ADD FOOD—>CLOSE which takes you to your daily totals where you can THEN (and only then) see what 1.75 “Pieces of cake” is in Calories see:

GAH…235 calories!

And that my friends is how it work. At the bottom of your daily totals its looks like this:

This is where I look to see what kind of dinner I will be having. If at 3pm I am already at 1000 calories, then its gonna be a light dinner. I don’t care if I’m still hungry. I knew my limits and I chose to go over them, and I will suffer the consequences. And no it’s not starvation, because I DID eat, just because I made poor choices and didn’t spread my calories out enough doesn’t mean I will go hungry and die. You will not die! Yes your evening may suck and you may need to have 4 cups of hot tea to trick your tummy into thinking its full, but you will not die. In fact its BETTER, you will LOSE WEIGHT! Hey there’s a concept!

I have actually really enjoyed counting calories. I keep it low stress and don’t put any pressure on myself to be perfect. No matter what I probably eat about 500-600 calories LESS a day just by counting them, so if I’m off by 100 I don’t care. The most important thing is that every day you try! At the end of my day I go back and enter in dinner and do a short blog post that mostly says how I felt about that days eating.

So that’s how I do it. Id love to hear others opinions on how they do this. Im no doctor, so don’t listen to me…lol. Let me know if you have any other questions that I didn’t answer, or if you are already on SparkPeople, be my friend and read my Calorie Counting Blog (which I warn is way more bitchy, and way LESS informative than this blog) Username: MORGANMELIM


4 thoughts on “The Imperfect Art of Calorie Counting

  1. I do it pretty much the same way… Sometimes I will enter the exact stuff off the box if I can’t find it. Or something else that’s really helpful for me is making stuff off cooking websites like Betty Crocker or Kraft Foods that are low in calories and then they list all the info on the site as far calories, protein and fats. I love it… plus I sometimes track my workouts on there but I have to text myself the calories burned and time that’s on the machines. I’ve lost almost 10 lbs doing it!! I’m so excited about it, it’s definetly helped me to eat smaller portions and watch what I’m eating.

    • we had to do this exact thing minus the fancy website when i was in nutrition class. we did use a computer program that is prety awesome. i remember after the first week i had to put down that i ate an entire box of cereal and a gallon of milk in one day. oh man… i looked a fool come count up time. lol sooo… forrest has about 5600 calories on that one day. hahaha… i loved that class though. it just transfered what i all ready knew how to do with money, and taught me how to do the same with food. pluses and minuses.

  2. You prob already know this, but if you’re looking for something specific like string cheese, you can click the “all these words” thing beneath the search so that it will only bring up stuff with all the words you typed. Also, even if sparkpeople doesn’t have the exact thing you need, if you search for items entered by other users, 9 times out of 10 you can find it, even down to the brand and flavor. Pretty cool. The way I calculate calories for meals I make is to use their recipe builder. Go to “healthy lifestyle” tab and click “” and you can add everything in your recipe to a builder and calculate the calories per serving. And then after you save it, you can even add it directly from there to your nutrition page! I added you as a friend. 🙂

  3. Hey! Just wanted to share a suggestion which helped me when I was calorie counting my way from just over 200 to 135lbs.

    I don’t have much advice for the Spark people website, because I did mine manually, googling the calorie value of items as I went along and used a ‘best guess’ method when adding up calories for multiple ingredient meals.

    One thing that might you help though, is breaking down your total calorie intake for the day into each separate meal and snacks. For example, I was trying to keep my intake to 1700 calories per day. I divided it up into 500 for breakfast, 500 for lunch, 500 for dinner and 2 100 calorie snacks. I found that sometimes (especially during breakfast) I didn’t eat 500, so I was able to borrow those calories for another meal or snack!

    It’s not an exact science, but it worked for me and I found it easier to remember and track. I found it effective to be conscious of every meal, and never found myself going hungry at night.

    Just a thought! Hope it helps! 🙂


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