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Welcome to the inside of my brain. Here, I share experiences, tips, tricks and fun things I've learned during my weight loss journey. 

  • Gail Ballin

How I Count Calories...

Last week during my Face Book Live session I talked about some of the strategies I use to help me lose weight. A lot of questions came in about calorie counting and how it works, so I'm going to elaborate in this blog. Hopefully it will help.

If you missed the life chat- you can watch it in the Bee Happy section of (We're getting SO high tech!)

Let's start with the apps....

There are a lot of great weight loss apps available that will help you track your calories. I preferred SparkPeople for many reasons (most of which I mentioned in my live session), but you can Google other options to see what would work best for you. You want to look for an app that has:

1) a large (really large) database of food options already entered - this will save you considerable time. Sparkpeople saves every entry made by every user, so it continuously accumulates data. That's one of the things I love about it.

2) the ability to scan bar codes from the packages of your favorite foods and save them into the database. You'll find that it's easier to scan a box or wrapper than log it in manually, so having this capability is a big time saver

3) the ability to capture calories burned via exercise. You want the ability to capture calories in (what you eat) vs. calories out (what you burn via exercise). Having the ability to capture exercise will adjust your available calorie balance based on calories burned. NOTE: You'll find that the more calories you burn, your daily calorie allowance will increase too. That confused me for a long time. I thought that I could eat the entire range of calories, and I likely could if I wanted to maintain my weight. However, I outreached to a nutritionist who shared that there is no way to accurately measure true calories burned. It's a guesstimate based on weight, age, exertion, etc. I got into the habit of eating 1/2 the calories added to my daily intake and it worked. You will have to adjust your intake based on your activity level and weight loss success. It may take time, so don't get discouraged.

4) provides educational materials. I learned a lot by reading the articles that SparkPeople provided. Experts in nutrition, exercise, behavioral health and physiology shared information that was incredibly helpful. SparkPeople provides exercise videos and information via their app but also through email, so I could save my favorites and go back to them later, which was a bonus.

Choose the weight loss app that you like best keeping in mind that ALL the apps will work as long as you are HONEST with yourself. Make sure to enter EVERYTHING you eat. Even if it is one cracker, put it into the app.

It's about learning.

The reason experts suggest you track your calories is because they want you to LEARN how to be mindful in your eating routine and conscious of how many calories you're consuming daily. It's through conscious efforts that we realize the need for change.

Once you realize that the burger you wanted to eat is 900 calories, you're apt to choose something less fattening like a turkey burger with 1/2 the bun or a chicken sandwich. You are going to become mindful by looking at labels and portion sizes; as a result, you will make better choices. It's a learning process that will take time and a lot of trial and error.

Here's an example. I shared during our live session that I loved Chic-fil-a and that I never gave it up. However, I did give up the french fries because in my opinion, they are wasted calories; instead of ordering the fries (350 cal) I now get a fruit cup (70 cal). Instead of a lemonade (90 cal for 8 oz), I get the diet lemonade (30 cal) . I also gave up the Chic-fi-a sauce because its 140 calories per packet!! That's the equivalent of 2 big apples or a 1/2 pint of Halo birthday cake ice cream. I'd much rather eat those calories than spread them on a sandwich. Instead, If I want something on my sandwich, I'll use light mayo (35 calories) or ketchup (15 calories) on my 440 calorie fried chicken sandwich.

I'll also make sure that if I'm going to eat Chic-fil-a during the day that I balance it with the other meals I have planned. Example, If I have Chic-fil-a for lunch, I will eat a big salad with a lean protein for dinner instead of steak or salmon because those are higher in fat and calories than chicken or shrimp. My high fat/calorie indulgence for the day was the fried chicken, so I have to work around it for the rest of the day. I also know that it's high in sodium so I will have a cup of hot water with lemon before bed to try and detox before I go to sleep.

Make sense?

Now lets talk about Cook Out Milkshakes for a minute. I mentioned that I was never going to give those up and I won't, but there was a time during my journey when I did. Early on I gave up a lot of sweets and foods with sugar because I wanted to see quicker results and I didn't want to be tempted. For me, that worked. As I lost weight, I was able to gradually add some of my favorite foods back into my diet, but only by balancing.

When I DO order a milkshake, I don't drink the whole thing. I share it with Robby or I'll only have 1/2 or a 1/3 and then throw it away. Regardless of how much I consume, every calorie goes into the app so I can balance my day. Most days I'm way under my range because I exercise. However, there are some days, like the days I have my milkshakes, I can be over and I'm okay with that.

Empty Calories.

We know there are foods with hidden calories, meaning that they have more calories than you originally thought. There are also foods that have empty calories, meaning that they have absolutely no nutritional value. Empty calories can be found in alcohol, candy, soda, fancy coffee drinks, etc. Eating these foods is always a choice and you can figure them into your daily intake, but there are healthier options and better ways to enjoy your calories. I will never tell you to give up Starbucks, but you could consider making healthier options when ordering. Get non-fat or sugar-free. Try to cut calories where you can and you'll find that eating within your range is possible.

One last thought about empty calories. I made the decision to give up alcohol. I wasn't a big drinker, but I did enjoy a glass or two once in awhile with my girlfriends. When I realized that each glass was 100+ calories, I chose to eat my calories rather than drink them. That's not to say that I won't indulge once in awhile, we all do, but it's all about moderation.


It took over a year for me to learn all of this and I'm still learning everyday. Be PATIENT with yourself through this process and don't get discouraged and angry with yourself if you miscalculate and eat above your range or if you make mistakes along the way. We all live and learn. BUT, don't use those mistakes to RATIONALIZE sabotage efforts. You're Negative Ninny will sweep in and try to convince you to stay off your plan. DON"T LET HER.

Shut her down. Drink a glass of water and keep on going.

You can do this. I know you can, because I DID it and I continue to DO it everyday.

If I can do this, YOU can do this.

Bee healthy. Bee happy.


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