Tracking Calories

By Charlyn Fargo

May 24, 2019 6 min read

My friend Kim has dropped 25 pounds in the past year. Her secret? Tracking her calories. She uses an app on her phone — MyFitnessPal — to know how many calories she eats. Her goal starting out was 1600 calories a day. When she reached a plateau, she dropped it to 1500. At her second plateau, she moved the goal to 1400, which is where she has stayed.

She also makes sure she does some exercise every day — walking on her treadmill or outside on her breaks at work and/or lifting a few weights at the gym.

With the weight loss, she dropped from a size 14 to a 10 and saw her total cholesterol drop 18 points and her LDL (bad) cholesterol drop 20 points. Her HDL (good) cholesterol stayed the same. She's thrilled with the new numbers but says the most important thing is that at age 60, she feels the better than she has in years.

We all want those same results. What made Kim start on her journey?

"I just got tired of feeling the way I did," she told me. "Once I started tracking things, I started seeing progress. That kept me going."

There is no easy way to lose weight, eat healthier or begin exercising consistently. It takes commitment, fortitude and step-by-step good decisions about our food choices and use of our time. We all have a million excuses why we don't have time to work out or prepare healthier dinners.

I know them, because I've used them, too.

If you've tried to lose weight only to regain it, let's try again. Download an app and start tracking. Call a friend and start walking. Choose the salad bar and light dressing over the burger.

This time next year, you'll be glad you did.

Q and A

Q: What is the energy density of a food? I've heard foods with low energy density help you lose weight.

A: Low-energy-dense foods — such as broth-based soups, vegetables, fruit and whole grains — have fewer calories and more air, fiber or water. High-energy-dense foods — such as desserts, candies, ice cream, chips, pretzels and other processed foods — have more calories, less fiber and water and more fat. The bottom line is you can eat a handful of grapes (low-energy-dense) for the same amount of calories as a teaspoon of M&Ms. A piece of fish can be low-energy-dense if broiled or high-energy-dense if fried. Frying a piece of fish can add 200 extra calories to it.


Here's a great summer salad to take to your next potluck or serve at your next grilling party. This toasted pecan, quinoa and maple mustard kale salad is power-packed with nutrients in the pecans, golden beets, green beans and quinoa. The recipe is from Gena Hamshaw of The Full Helping.



2/3 cup fresh pecan pieces

4 golden beets

3/4 cup dry quinoa, rinsed through a fine sieve

1 1/2 cups water

1 cup green beans, chopped

1 small bunch curly kale, stems removed and chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Maple Mustard Dressing:

2 tablespoons olive or pecan oil or tahini

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon tamari, Bragg Liquid Aminos or coconut aminos

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

1 to 2 tablespoons warm water, if needed

To make the salad, preheat oven to 400 F. Trim the beets and wrap each one in foil. Roast for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the beets are fork-tender. Allow them to cool for 10 minutes or so. Then run them under cold water and slip the skins off (they should come off very easily; if you coat the beets with a little oil before roasting, the skin removal is even easier). Chop the beets and set them aside. While the beets roast, add the quinoa and water to a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover the quinoa and simmer for 8 minutes. Uncover the pot, add the green beans and then re-cover and continue simmering quinoa for 5 more minutes. Remove the quinoa and beans from heat and allow them to stand for 5 minutes. Fluff the grain with a fork, re-cover and set aside. Place a small frying pan or skillet over low heat. Add the pecan pieces and toast, shaking the pan about every 30 seconds, until they smell nutty and toasted, about 5 minutes. Transfer the pieces to a plate right away (they'll keep cooking if you leave them in the pan).

To make the dressing, combine the oil, maple syrup, mustard, tamari, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar and nutritional yeast in a small bowl or measuring cup. Whisk to combine. If the dressing is thicker than you'd like, whisk in the warm water as needed. To complete the dish, when all of the ingredients are ready, add the kale to a large mixing bowl, along with 3 tablespoons of the dressing. Massage the dressing into the kale, rubbing the pieces between your fingers, until the kale is softened and well coated with dressing (but not soaked). Add the cooked quinoa and green beans, beets and pecan pieces to the mixing bowl and mix everything together. Keep adding dressing until the salad is dressed to your liking. Taste and add salt if needed and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Serves 6 to 8.

Per serving: 280 calories; 8 grams protein; 28 grams carbohydrates; 16 grams fat (1.5 grams saturated); 6 grams fiber; 280 milligrams sodium.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: Pexels at Pixabay

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