A Guide to Getting Started With the LIVESTRONG Calorie Tracker

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Instead of beating yourself up over previous failed attempts or jumping on a "quick-fix" diet, follow the American Dietetic Association's recommendation for long-term weight-loss success. The big success secret? Adjusting your food portions and choosing healthy foods most often. LIVESTRONG.COM's free Calorie Tracker and weight-loss apps can help you make those small daily changes that lead to big, lasting results.

Mindless eating can add hundreds, if not thousands of excess calories to one's diet. People who track their intake are much more likely to be successful in losing weight and keeping it off.

Registered Dietitian, Alyse Levine

First Things First

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To get started, visit LIVESTRONG.COM and sign up for a free account. Once you're in, you can begin tracking the foods you eat straight away using the "Track" option on the navigation toolbar. Simply choose between "Food" and "Exercise" to track calories consumed or record your workouts. LIVESTRONG.COM's Calorie Tracker differs from other online calorie counters and weight-loss programs, according to LIVESTRONG.COM nutrition advisor and registered dietitian Alyse Levine. LIVESTRONG.COM provides the world's most expansive, accurate food database. "It allows you to track your calorie intake and burn in order to better achieve your goals," she explains.

You can browse weight-loss friendly alternatives to your favorite, frequently eaten foods and learn how to choose and create healthy meals. The Calorie Tracker makes it easy to plan ahead and make tweaks to your current diet. Added bonus? You can ditch the feelings of deprivation that may stem from less-tasty "diet" foods or tiny portions. If you'd normally eat steak and mashed potatoes, for example, the Calorie Tracker may encourage you to consume a large salad, a modest portion of lean beef and a baked sweet potato, seasoned with natural herbs instead.

If you tend to eat similar meals -- oatmeal, fruit and yogurt most mornings, for example -- the tracker allows you to save the menu as a meal with one click for faster, easier future tracking. Saving your favorite recipes for faster tracking with our recipe-builder tool is another great way the LIVESTRONG.COM Calorie Tracker makes reaching your goals easy.

Those of you who are busy and prefer to have the work done for you will love the easy option of our free STRONGER meal plans. We worked with Keri Glassman, the nationally recognized nutritionist and author, to develop meal plans for omnivores, vegetarians, vegans and even a gluten-free option. Receive your flexible, easy-to-prepare daily meal plan, including recipes and shopping list, via email -- simple and convenient! Sign up for the free STRONGER program by clicking on the "Workouts" tab in the tracker and scroll to the bottom right of the page.

Community Support Helps

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As a LIVESTRONG.COM member, you'll have access to our Community message boards, where you can connect with other members with similar goals. The LIVESTRONG.COM community is active with people who have become experts in health and fitness through trial and error while on their own personal journey to health and fitness. Access to our supportive community full of people who are living their own success story is like having your own nutrition and fitness coach on call, 24/7.

By the Numbers

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In order to lose weight effectively, you must create a caloric deficit. In other words, the amount of calories you burn through activity must surpass those you consume. While fixating on "the numbers" isn't typically fun or necessary, general knowledge of how many calories you should eat is important. The LIVESTRONG.COM Calorie Tracker takes the grunt work out of this process by determining your caloric needs and tabulating your daily intake goal for you.

To better understand your caloric needs, click the "Progress tab." From there, select "Calories" from the dropdown list and click "Edit Goal." This will take you to the Calorie Calculator, where your calorie goal will be determined using your age, height, current weight, weekly weight-loss goal and activity level. (You also have the option to set a goal to gain or maintain your current weight.)

Choosing the right weight-loss goal can enhance long-term success. We encourage those seeking to lose weight to aim for a maximum loss of 2 pounds per week, which is considered safe and effective. Rapid weight loss, or 3 or more pounds of weight loss per week, can cause a variety of health problems, including increased risk for gallstones, heart beat irregularities and eventual weight gain, according to the Weight-Control Information Network.

In addition to bypassing these complications, modest, gradual weight loss is less daunting than focusing on one large number. Imagine a high-school graduate stating, "I'd like to ace the bar exam today." While the long-term goal is commendable, the student first has to get through college applications, registration, freshman through senior years of college and apply for law school. Beginning with the end-goal may lead to frustration and dropping out. On the converse, slow, steady progress tends to last in the long-term.

Tracking your caloric burn, or energy burned through physical activity, is as important as tracking your food intake. The LIVESTRONG.COM Calorie Tracker makes it easy to determine your daily caloric expenditure, whether you work out in a gym, take to the outdoors or simply clean your house. While 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular activity and regular resistance training per week is ideal for optimum health, weight control may require more activity and/or greater intensity exercise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To track your workouts, select the "Exercise" tab via the Track option in the Calorie Tracker. Create custom workouts for fast, easy tracking or copy a workout you tracked previously with the simple click of a button. The Calorie Tracker also allows you to "Track Calories Manually," which comes in handy when you use a heart-rate monitor or exercise equipment that reports your calorie burn. The database lists a grand spectrum of activities, from lesser-known niche hobbies to more conventional calorie scorchers, such as biking, jogging and dancing, which burn anywhere from 200 to 700 calories per hour.

If you’re not sure where to get started with working out, sign up for the free STRONGER program mentioned above. In addition to the free meal plans, STRONGER also includes access to 10 free workout videos led by celebrity trainer Nicky Holender, which includes High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), plyometrics, strength training, and recovery and flexibility.

Track Progress to Stay Motivated

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In addition to tabulating your calorie intake and expenditure, the Calorie Tracker provides graphs and charts that reflect your progress. These visual aids provide encouragement when you're doing well, motivation when you're struggling and can help you observe weight-shift patterns. Women, for example, may experience modest weight gain each month due to hormonal changes. If you notice that every month around the 15th, your weight increases then drops a few days later, you're less likely to feel discouraged by the increase and less likely to give up.

Since weight fluctuates continually, viewing a graph that shows a downward curve rather than fixating on the 1- or 2-pound increase since yesterday is more useful and encouraging. To view your progress for Weight, BMI, Calories, Protein, Fat, Carbs, Fiber, Sodium and much more, visit the "Progress" tab via the Track option.

Consistency Counts

Consistency is vital while using the LIVESTRONG Calorie Tracker and for weight loss in general. "So many people eat mindlessly these days," says Levine, "multitasking while they shovel food into their mouths, grazing on snacks every time they pass through the kitchen or the candy bowl on their co-workers desk. All this mindless eating can add hundreds, if not thousands of excess (and unwanted) calories to one’s diet."

If each time you eat a snack or meal, you record it in the LIVESTRONG Calorie Tracker, you'll become more mindful and less likely to overeat. "People who track their intake," Levine explains, "are much more likely to be successful in losing weight and keeping it off."

Consistency means tracking your foods, beverages and activity throughout each day, rather than in hindsight. Overweight people underestimate their caloric intake by roughly 40 percent compared to normal-weight individuals, according to Brian Wansink, Professor of Marketing and Applied Economics at Cornell University and author of "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think." If you try to recall what you ate for breakfast yesterday, your chances of underestimating are higher.

Vigilant tracking can also help you determine problem areas in your lifestyle. "It highlights what is missing or in excess in your diet," according to Levine. "If you are consuming too many processed foods or not enough fruits and vegetables or too many refined carbohydrates, your food patterns become much more obvious." Recording your meal just before you eat can help you stick to a healthy, calorie-appropriate meal. If you don't have access to the LIVESTRONG.COM Calorie Tracker via your computer at any given time, record your meal, snack or activity in a notebook or using the companion Calorie Tracker app, available in the App Store. The LIVESTRONG.COM Calorie Tracker app offers all of the same features mentioned in this article and allows you to track seamlessly, wherever you are.

Maximize Your Success

Set realistic goals. While you may feel tempted to strive for a model-thin physique, few people are naturally predisposed for such thinness. Your healthy weight range is based on numerous factors, including your age, gender, activity level, muscle mass and overall health. For best results, discuss your goals with a trusted health care professional.

Weigh yourself first thing in the morning, without clothes. This will give you an accurate starting weight to enter into the Calorie Tracker. When you decide to weigh yourself again, try to do so at roughly the same time, since body weight fluctuates throughout the day.

Share your goals. Sharing your goals publicly on LIVESTRONG.COM's Community message boards or with a spouse or supportive friend can help hold you accountable and open the door for ongoing support. Avoid sharing your goals with friends or family members who are not encouraging, however, which may do the opposite.

Change it up. The Calorie Tracker makes it easy to venture into new food and fitness realms. If you're "stuck in a rut," search the site for fun, tasty recipes or consider a form of exercise you've never tried before. Maintaining variety can help keep you emotionally and physically stimulated and prevent quitting due to tedium.

Reward yourself. As you progress, celebrate your successes, whether big or small. Purchase a new top that highlights your leaner physique or treat yourself to a day at the spa. The more you focus on your positive efforts and results, the more likely you'll be to stay on-track and enjoy the process.