Tracking calorie intake is a very effective weight loss strategy, but the obvious downside is that it takes extra work. Food tracking apps can make it a lot easier though, and the best one in our opinion is Cronometer. When it first came out in 2011 it was far better than anything else available, and they’ve continued to improve it to this day.
We’ve tried just about every app there is, and while most of them are bloated with useless features that detracts from their usability, Cronometer does a great job of focusing on getting the few important things right: It’s fast, lightweight, easily customizeable, and most importantly it has the largest and best database of foods and exercises that we’ve seen. Also it’s free.
Here’s an overview on how to effectively use Cronometer (or any other tracking app really) for weight loss:
The initial set up is pretty straightforward – you just plug in basic stats like height, gender, etc, then select a goal of weight loss, and Cronometer will, using well established scientific equations, calculate your appropriate calorie target. You could alternatively use one of many available online calculators to do this, Freedieting.com is our favorite:
You might be concerned that your calculations are inaccurate, but don’t be – we’ll get to why you don’t need to worry about that in a moment. For now just assume they’re accurate.
And next, if you’re a beginner, we recommend that you start with a daily to weekly meal template, planned in advance, that you just eat over and over again. It might sound repetitive, but it makes hitting your daily calorie target and the overall process so much easier. Most people already pretty much eat the same stuff repeatedly anyhow. Once you get a few weeks of practice and experience it’s certainly possible to open things up and do it on the fly, so don’t feel like you’re doomed to eating this way forever.
Cronometer has most popular chain restaurant meals in its database if there’s a place you like to frequent. Or, you can program a recipe for the thing you like to get so you can subsequently put in a day’s diary with a single click, and you also make sure the calories and macros will work:
On the inevitable occasion that you can’t possibly count, say a family dinner or fancy restaurant, you can just allocate a block of however many calories to the meal:
Then, just try to eat by feel as best you can. If you’re diligent with counting 80-90% of the time and do your best to guesstimate it the remaining ~10% of the time, that can certainly get you close enough to your long-run target that you’ll make progress. Eating by feel will also get easier to do as you gain experience with the days that you do count and can reconcile with how full you feel then.
But what if your calorie target or counting isn’t accurate? We said it doesn’t matter and here’s why, and this is the most important thing: It’s more important to be consistent then accurate.
If you’re consistent with what you eat and how you count it, you can always adjust it a little bit if, after a few weeks, there’s no progress. Eventually you’ll titrate to the right spot, even if your initial calorie target or your counting isn’t totally accurate.
Most people don’t count forever because they eventually get good enough to replicate it by feel, but the key there is that the learning experience of counting calories even just once is honestly invaluable. If you’re having trouble with weight loss, it’s definitely worth trying.