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.


  • Your diet in a nutshell: Eat within your calorie target for your weight loss or maintenance goal. No foods are restricted, but you’ll probably avoid high-calorie foods like sweets and fats.
  • Track the diet on Lift.
  • Read this guide. If you have more questions, ask them in the discussion section when you check in to Lift.
  • Get a diet buddy. Ask a family member, friend or coworker to join the Quantified Diet and help keep you accountable.


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:

  • Bagel (250 calories) → 2 Slices of bread (150 calories)
  • Juice (111 calories/cup) → Water (0 cal), sugar-free beverage like Hint or fresh fruit (50 calories)
  • 2 Eggs (156 calories) → 3 Egg whites (51 calories)
  • Syrups (lots of calories) → Fresh fruit (50 calories)
  • Full fat yogurt (190 calories) → Low-fat yogurt (100 calories)
  • Coffee/Tea: switch from cream (40 calories/oz) to skim milk (10 calories/oz) and cut sugar or use artificial sweeteners. Avoid sweetened and frozen coffee/tea drinks.

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:

  • Salads: substitute for lighter dressings (not creamy), hold the bacon/cheese
  • Sandwiches: hold the sauces, cheese, mayonnaise
  • Burgers: hold the bun or the cheese
  • Entrees: order salad/veggie on the side instead of potato/rice/bread.
  • Soups: non-creamy versions are usually a low-calorie option
  • Burritos: get a burrito or salad bowl instead!

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

  • Buy leaner cuts of meat
  • Fill up on vegetable side dishes
  • Use cooking spray instead of oil
  • Grill/roast/bake dishes instead of frying
  • Don’t graze while you cook

Follow these tips whenever you eat to cut calories:

  • Go easy on sauces and dressings
  • Skip dessert or eat fruit instead
  • Drink water instead of juice or sweetened drinks. If you’re drinking alcohol, choose wine or a low-calorie cocktail and stick to 1 glass.


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:

  • Raw veggies or a piece of fruit
  • Veggies with hummus (instead of pita chips)
  • String cheese
  • Veggies with peanut butter or dip
  • Air-popped popcorn
  • Small handful of nuts
  • Hard-boiled egg
  • Cold cuts wrapped around veggie sticks

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:

  • Any beverage → Water (zero calories)
  • Sweetened coffee/tea → Coffee/tea without sugar or with artificial sweeteners
  • Juice → Flavored water (ex: Hint water, water with fresh cut fruit/veggies)
  • Soda → Diet soda
  • Cocktails → Red wine or cocktails with diet soda

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

  • Fruit
  • Frozen fruit or fruit juice (great replacement for ice cream/sorbet)
  • Frozen yogurt
  • Anything made with an artificial sweetener instead of sugar
  • Glass of wine or champagne (it’s a bit sweet, with fewer calories than dessert!)
  • Small piece of chocolate
  • Hot cocoa packet with water
  • 1 Individual serving of a sweet snack


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:

  • Applesauce without added sugar
  • Lemon, grapefruit, oranges or their peels
  • Cinnamon
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Dates, raisins, dried fruit or cranberries

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

  • Portion food into single-serving bags or containers.
  • When eating out, take half the entree home for dinner or lunch the next day.
  • Eat on small plates.
  • Fill up your plates with veggies first, then add calorie-heavy items (instead of the other way around!).
  • Always choose the kids size of treats like soda, ice cream, or candy.

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:

  • Most chain restaurants have low-calorie options and state the calorie count on the menu.
  • Say no to appetizers, desserts, and the bread bowl.
  • Choose salads and simple meals made with whole foods. Stay away from heavy sauces, substitute for a lighter sauce/dressing when you can and don’t be afraid to ask for it on the side.
  • Limit fried foods–stick to baked or roasted.
  • Doggie-bag half of the food (it’s usually enough for two) or split an entree with a friend. You can even ask them to doggie-bag it before they serve it to you so you aren’t tempted to overeat.
  • Substitute veggies or salad instead of starchy sides (e.g. potato/rice/bread/pasta).

Sticking to the diet while traveling

It’s all about preparation:

  • Pack your clutch foods and snacks (foods that you love and can eat on the go).
  • Even if you pack food, you might be tempted to buy something during a long layover. Play a game of “spend as little at the airport as possible.”
  • When you do need to buy food, stick to whole foods and foods that aren’t fried, such as raw nuts, simple salads, and sandwiches.
  • Stick to chain restaurants: most have low-calorie options and state the calorie count for all items on the menu.

How to approach social situations

  • Schedule coffees and drinks instead of lunches and dinners if you’ll feel tempted/pressured to eat big or high-calorie foods (for instance, if you eat family-style).
  • Eat before attending networking events, where the food spread is almost always high in calories.
  • Watch how much alcohol you’re drinking: it’s easy to exceed your daily calorie budget. Stick to wine and low-calorie cocktails
  • Suggest healthy venues when you can. It’s hard to say no to sharing wings at a sports bar, easy to say yes to sharing hummus and veggies at a cafe.
  • Tell your friends you’re watching what you eat. They’ll probably support you and might even order healthier meals themselves.
  • Skip dessert.


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

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