The number of carbs in that slice of toast, the grams of fat in yogurt and the amount of protein in egg whites—if all of those nutritional values have escaped you, it’s time to get back to basics. If you’re looking to lose five pounds, the best new way is good old-fashioned calorie counting.
“No matter what plan you’re following, fat loss boils down to one simple equation: burning more calories than you con-sume, so long as you maintain or increase your muscle mass,” says Gary Reinl, coauthor of Get Stronger, Feel Younger: The Cardio- and Diet-Free Plan to Firm Up and Lose Fat, one of the latest books instructing readers to keep track of calories again. In other words, you can cut carbs, eat low-glycemic-index foods or ban fat all you want, but you still won’t trim down if you’re eating more than you’re burning.
Let’s go back to square one: calories are a measure of energy in food. Lulu Hunt Peters’ bestseller, Diet and Health, with Key to the Calories, published in 1918, was the first book to outline a method of counting calories as a way to regulate weight. To lose one pound of fat, the calorie-counting method says you have to burn about 3,500 calories. To do that, you could choose to eat 500 fewer calories per day for one week, burn an extra 500 calories per day for a week through exercise or combine the two by eating less and expending more.
While the approach has risen and fallen in popularity, a recent analysis of 80 weight-loss studies, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, revealed that curbing calories—with or without exercise—was the most effective method of keeping weight off for more than four years.