Everything You Need to Know About the Calorie Counting Diet

Getting Started with Lift’s Quantified Diet

Erin Frey
Erin Frey
Dec 29, 2013 · 7 min read

Thanks for being a part of the Quantified Diet Project, one of the most ambitious projects ever to learn what works in dieting.

Whether you stick to your diet every day or not, please fill out the surveys we send you and track your progress on Lift. Your responses are really important—and much appreciated.



Standard health wisdom suggests that if you eat more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight and if you eat fewer calories than you burn, you’ll lose weight.

On this diet you’ll track how many calories you eat each day. It involves a bit of prep work and measuring in the beginning, but after a few days you’ll have learned about appropriate serving sizes, low vs. high calorie foods, and how you can reduce calories in your favorite dishes.


To lose weight, keep a healthy (i.e. modest) and sustainable calorie deficit. To maintain weight, match your calorie intake to your calorie needs. You’ve probably heard that you need 2,000 calories a day to maintain your weight, but your real need will depend on your height, weight, gender, and activity levels.

You need to do two things before you start on this diet: Figure out your daily calorie target and then learn how to calculate and track the calories in your food.

Step 1: How many calories do you need?

Calculate how many calories your body needs each day to maintain weight. You can use one of these free websites: Calorie Counter at freedieting.com Calorie Needs Chart at WebMD.com

1 pound of fat is the equivalent of 3,5000 calories. To lose 1 pound per week, eat 500 calories less than your calorie needs each day. 1-2 pounds per week is the often-cited figure for a healthy rate of weight loss.

Step 2: Count and measure food calories

It’s a good idea to log your calories, whether via Lift notes or some other system.Use an app or website like Lose it! to calculate (and track) the calories in the food you eat. You can also find out by reading food labels or menus at chain restaurants.

Eventually you’ll start remembering how many calories are in the most common foods you eat. Some people find logging calories tedious; others find it fun. Regardless, keep doing it!


Eat whatever you want as long as you eat within your daily calorie target.

The easiest way to reduce calories is to substitute foods you normally eat with lower-calorie options, which are usually those with lower fat and/or sugar.


Cut calories by making substitutions like these:

Sometimes people skip breakfast to “cut calories.” This can backfire if you’re so hungry that you eat more calories at lunch and dinner.

Lunch & Dinner

Here are ways to eat less calories when you’re eating out:

Here are ways to eat less calories when you’re eating in:

Follow these tips whenever you eat to cut calories:


Strategy #1: Don’t snack. If you’re eating enough at meals you probably won’t be hungry between them.

Strategy #2: Choose low-calorie snacks to eat between meals or before a workout. These include:

More snacks under 200 calories


Cut liquid calories: stop drinking soda, sweetened coffee/tea, juices, and cocktails. You can consume hundreds of calories in minutes without ever feeling full. Here are easy substitutions you can make:

Milk is okay but choose low-fat or skim milk instead.

Sweets, Junk Food, and Empty Calories

The easiest thing to do is to cut sweets out. If you do need something sweet, here are lower-calorie alternatives


Another easy way to cut calories in a meal is to cut out the fat, since one gram of fat has about twice as many calories as one gram of protein or carbohydrates. Choose low-fat yogurt and cheeses and use cooking sprays instead of oils and butters.

On the other hand, fat is also more filling. If you’ll end up snacking because you ate low-fat yogurt for breakfast instead of full-fat yogurt, then eat the full-fat option.

Sugar Substitutes

Natural sugar substitutes like honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup and agave nectar have as many calories as plain sugar but at least come with benefits like antioxidants. Eat these in limited amounts.

These foods and spices add flavor without the calories:

More substitutions from Greatist.com

You can also use artificial sweeteners like Splenda and stevia. Learn more about artificial sweeteners.


Eat the right portion size

Another trick for reducing calories is to eat a smaller portion size. American foods are notorious for coming in extra-large portions.

Here’s what 1 serving of common foods looks like:

1 serving of meat = deck of cards 1 cup of rice = 1 baseball 1 tablespoon of butter = 1/2 golf ball 1 ounce of cheese = 1 matchbox (one serving of hard cheese is 1.5 oz)

Tips for eating smaller portions

More tips

Before you eat, drink a glass of water

Did you know that sometimes your body mistakes thirst for hunger? If you feel hungry but think you shouldn’t be, drink a full glass of water and wait ten minutes before grabbing a snack.

Sticking to the diet when eating out

Follow these tips for choosing healthier meals:

Sticking to the diet while traveling

It’s all about preparation:

How to approach social situations


Good luck on your diet. Here are some final tips:


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    Erin Frey

    Written by

    Erin Frey

    Cofounder at hellokip.com: Not your average therapy service. Y Combinator W16. Yale ‘08.