Calorie Trackers: Could They be a Reliable Weight-Loss Tool?

 , NDTV  |  Updated: July 18, 2017 11:55 IST

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Calorie Trackers: Could They be a Reliable Weight-Loss Tool?
I'm a food writer who takes the phrase 'food for the soul' way too seriously. And on most days, opening and closing the snack drawer is the only kind of workout I get. So it's safe to presume that fitness isn't my forte. But health is.

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How 'Best' to Lose Weight

This article is not about specifics on 'how to lose weight' but what we will tell you is that it's a two pronged approach. Exercise is good, but it won't help you with weight-loss unless you change your diet. Eminent cardiologists in the British Medical Journal will back us here: "The truth" they say, "is that while physical activity is useful in reducing the risk of developing heart disease, dementia and other conditions, it does not promote weight loss. There has been little change in the level of physical activity of people in the last 30 years. This places the blame for our expanding waistlines directly on the type and amount of calories consumed."



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The new truth: To lose weight, eat less calories in a day.



Let's start by assessing how much weight you really need to lose. First, calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI), a measure of body fat that's been in use for over a hundred years. BMI is derived on the basis of height, weight, age and gender of the person in question. How can you calculate BMI? Take total weight in kilograms and divide it by height in centimetres squared. Someone with a BMI of less than 18.5 is underweight, anywhere between 18.5 and 24.9 is normal and 25 to 29.9 is overweight. 30 and above is clinically obese.



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There are studies which contradict the accuracy of the BMI rating system since it doesn't differentiate between muscle and fat. It's not that muscle weighs more or lesser than fat, but it is denser. So a person who has more muscle, weighs more and hence might be categorised as overweight vs a person who has more fat but is of normal weight. The first kind of person is healthier and might even outlive the latter. There are a lot of free BMI calculators online that don't just calculate your BMI but also indicate how others of your age and height weigh, where you stand and how to go from there. You can try smartbmicalculator.com or Mayo Clinic's BMI calculator as well.



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Now that you have your BMI, set your goals: how much weight must you lose and how much time do you have? Try to plug in an hour's exercise at least four times a week because even someone as lazy as me can! Then, scan through your day's diet. If you want to lose say 1kg a week you need to reduce around 3500 calories from your week's diet. This translates to 500-1000 calories a day and so you know only working out isn't going to be enough.



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Watch What You Eat



I've spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out all sorts of fitness bands and digital skipping ropes so I should tell you that you don't need expensive gadgets to lose weight. The biggest problem that fitness apps and wearables face is that they've been unable to engage users over a longer period of time. A study titled 'The Dirty Secret of Wearables' verifies this theory. Researchers surveyed around 6000 American adults and found that one in 10 customers over 18 own a fitness tracker. Yet, more than half of them don't use it anymore and a third of them stopped using the device within 6 months of getting it.



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How Else Could You Use Technology for Weight-Loss?



You've got your BMI, target weight and hopefully a fair idea of the number of calories you need to consume in a day. All you need now is a bit of self-monitoring because it'll help you pay attention to things you otherwise ignore. I came across this website twofoods.com which compares the nutritional profile of any two foods you choose. Since chocolate is always on my mind it was the obvious choice. I compared regular chocolate with dark chocolate and here's what I found: 100 grams of regular chocolate has 535 calories and 100 grams of dark chocolate has (wait for it) 200 calories. Needless to say I'll be enjoying dark chocolate almost guilt-free for a long, long time!



The concept of calorie tracking is fantastic and it's all a numbers game. You literally have to be obsessed with what's going in and how much you're burning. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will agree with me because they've recently launched a Body Weight Planner, an online tool which will help you chart out your weight-loss journey. It'll tell you how many calories you need to take to maintain your current weight, the amount you'll need to reach your ideal weight and the calories you'll have to maintain once you've met your goal.



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It's a brave new world where all you need to meet your weight-loss goal is a smartphone. So without any further delay, I'm going to suggest three fantastic apps and online tools that will help you monitor the number of calories you're consuming, how many you really need and figure out how to plan your diet in order to reach your ideal weight.



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1. My Fitness Pal



This one is my absolute favourite. Not only can you track how many calories you're eating but also the amount of carbohydrates, fat and proteins that you're getting. They've got a small icon marked 'Nutrition' which gives you a pie chart with carbs, fat and protein. So if you want to bulk up on muscle you may want to bump the protein content in your diet, and track it through the app. The app also suggests how many vitamins you're getting, which in the long run is a good indicator of what's lacking in your diet. So the next time you get muscle cramps or are under the weather, take a look at your last few weeks' diet and you'll know what's the missing piece of the puzzle. Vitamin A!



2. Calorie Count



This is a free online tool with a database of almost 250,000 foods. So you have access to the nutritional profiles of each. And by that I mean not just calories but even cholesterol levels, sodium levels, total fat and more. There is also an app version of the site and is available on the iphone, ipad, blackberry and android.



3. Calorie King



McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks: You'll have access to foods from these and many other popular international brands. And Calorie King will also suggest how to burn those calories. Say for example, a burger has 549 calories. Calorie King suggests that you can walk for 144 minutes, jog for 63 minutes, swim for 46 minutes or cycle for 74 minutes to burn them off!



If your eating habits are anything like mine, you'll be in for a real shock once you start to count the calories you consume. Unfortunately, there aren't any substantial studies which suggest that you'll start to be more cautious of what you eat or eat less, but it makes you pay attention to things that you'd otherwise ignore. Doesn't it?



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