Counting Calories Part 2: Estimating Calories Consumed

Last week we talked about the inherent errors trying to count the calories you burn, and today we’re going to discuss the errors when trying to count the calories you consume.

These common errors are the reason some people thing ‘calorie counting’ doesn’t work, and from a certain point of view it doesn’t simply because you can never know for sure how many calories you have eaten or burned…you can only guess.

That is why one of our most important weight loss principles is called CALORIE GUESSING.

Calorie Counting Part 2 Venus Index Podcast

We know you can only estimate the calories you eat or burn, so trying to count them too precisely will just lead to underestimations of how much you’ve eaten and over-estimations of how much you’ve burned.

In todays podcast we’ll discuss the biggest calorie counting errors on the consumption side and how to compensate for these errors and get your weight loss program moving forward.

If you want to read the transcript you can download it here:

Counting Calories Part 2: Estimating Calories Consumed


About John Barban

John is the co-founder of Venus Index, chief developer of the Venus Index workouts and our supplement industry insider.

He will show you exactly how to work out and (not) eat to build your ideal body shape using simple and easy to follow Venus Index approach.

Check out his personal blog at

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  1. Another interesting article. I guess it all comes down to tweaking your diet to find something that works for you.

    I would also add that not only is it more difficult for females due to average portion sizes, but that I think the relationship between size and calories is not linear as the equations suggest. I think it may be more like an S shape, that is that the outliers (a petite female or a large male) have more difficulty in determining their sedentary and weight loss calorie levels. As a petite female, I cannot eat the tiny amounts suggested by formulas, especially at calorie restriction levels, as I just do not get enough food. This means the calorie differential I can create thru diet alone is lower that an average sized person. I was wondering if you agree with this.

    Secondly, I agree that both calories consumed and burned are guesstimates at best. I think though everybody can find a way of eating that gives better results and it is just a matter of testing yourself. For me I have found a couple of powerful strategies and insights. These may not be relevant for everyone but I will share anyway.

    1) Do not drink your calories. For example when I travel from HK to a western country I typically go from my daily practice of 1 black coffee and limited alcohol to cafe latte and wine everyday. I can easily add 300 to 500 calories per day and sure enough I come back to HK 1 to 2 kg heavier every time and my body fat is about 1 to 2% higher . AIYA.

    2) I am wheat intolerant and I definitely put on weight if I eat many processed or starchy carbs / grains. I can eat buckwheat pancakes (fruit) or an (occasional) cake made from almond meal and be fine but if I start eating many grains or flours, even healthy ones, I quickly gain at least 2 kg. Interestingly, hubby has the same outcome despite not being wheat intolerant.

    3) When I travel to countries like Japan, Singapore and Thailand, even when I eat as much as I want, I come back about 1 kg lighter. Key differences are that I walk more (no car hire) and I would typically eat a diet high in protein, healthy fats (eg salmon sashimi), vegetables and low in starchy carbs (only a little rice if required). I also do not have milky coffee or a lot of alcohol. It has always fascinated me that I can lose weight while not restricting calories as much or going to the gym. It may be that I am losing some muscle but my metrics suggest it is not. It may also be that having one weeks break from calorie restricting somehow resets my metabolism / leptin / ghrelin levels.

    4) Meal frequency is key for me. Four to five smaller meals instead of a more typical pattern of 3 meals (and especially a large dinner) keeps my weight and body fat significantly lower.

    5) Plan your treats. If you know which day and meal you are going to have a treat then you are less likely to mindlessly eat cookies. Depending on the body fat % I want to maintain, I cannot have too many ‘planned indulgences’. For me, at 17% bf, I can have 4 to 5 treats a week (not necessarily a whole meal), but at 14% bf this needs to go to 1 to 2.

    I think everyone is a bit different but if you can identify your key ‘triggers’ it can make a world of difference.

    • Most people underestimate the physics part of the equation. Smaller bodies take less calories and work to move on a daily basis. Not only do you have the “bulk” work, but you’ve got the inertial effects you have to overcome (struggling to get out of the car, moving a larger limb to turn off the lights, etc).

      As far as your other points:

      1. Agree totally. I wonder why people never say fruit juice is “junk food”

      2-3. Eating more carbs pulls more water into your muscles and liver. Each molecule of glycogen bonds to 4 molecules of water. What you’re seeing is the result of transient water. Less carbs, less water storage.

      4. Glad this works for you. And it works for a lot of people. However, for others, it gives them more chances to make errors and eat too much. For example, if you’re tightly controlling meals and you eat a banana thats a large banana versus a small one, you’ve got compounding errors you didn’t know about. In other words, for a lot of people, it’s just more chances to overeat 🙂

      5. Agree here. For most, “dieting” is just like prison. It causes the EXACT same mental effects. When you take away someones freedom, weird things happen. On the other side of the coin, your environment or outer state dictates and influences more of your inner state than most people realize.

      For many, just having dessert in the house makes the person think about it more because it’s now “an option”.

      My personal solution: On cutdowns, desserts are only for outside the house (ie out to eat).

      Triggers are much sneakier than most people realize and there are a LOT of things that imperceptibly influence decisions.

      For example, the color blue is a “trusting” color. This is why most banking websites and social networks have a blue theme. The colors red and yellow arouse hunger, which is why most fast food restaurants have red and yellow in the logos and color schemes.

      In casinos, you’ll never see a winner on the wall that wins MORE than $10,000. This is because more than this amount isn’t realistic for most people. Also, the pictures are always of REALLY UGLY people winning.

      You’ll never see a hot model that won a million bucks on the walls of a casino, as the ugly people winning small denominations cause more people to gamble.

      This is why I say ‘any plan that’s based solely on willpower is 100% doomed to fail’…

      … you’ve got so many chips that YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW ABOUT stacked against you from the get go 🙂

  2. This website is mind blowing and wonderful – But I find this podcast a little confusing.

    Because calorie counting worked for me.

    I’m 5’3 and ½, my goal is 105 pounds, I’m currently at 125 pounds. I got down to 114 pounds at one point and held it there for about six months, counting exactly 1200 calories a day – in one big meal, in the morning. Easier to count, and I get to eat frozen pizza, bowl of ice cream, cookie dough etc. (Yes, I know that’s the wrong way to think of it, but it WORKED! . . . .at least for awhile)

    I counted it out, weighed myself every day, and was 114 pounds exactly. (no exercise – hate to exercise . . . . . .that’s another story). My point is, that tells me that my body is always gonna be up 2 pounds from my calorie count – so if I eat 1000 calories a day, I would be 112 pounds exactly. I know you’re saying counting doesn’t work, but it really seemed to for those six months.

    I wasn’t able to keep it up, because the social life thing became impossible – dinner dates, lunch business meetings, etc. – and also because counting out every spoonful drove me nuts after a while.

    I’m trying to make sure I get the right message from this podcast – is your point – If I want to continue to eat one meal a day – say lunch, to make it more possible socially – I shouldn’t count calories at all? And if/when a person starts to add exercise into the equation, they shouldn’t count ‘calories burned’ either? Because I know for a fact with calorie estimating – I tend to way way underestimate the calorie count of a specific item, when left to my own devices.

    Man, I had no idea this stuff was so confusing. 7 years ago I lost 60 pounds – sixty! – and honestly, it was fairly simple and intuitive – no counting, just cut out most of the crap and fast food. But getting from 125 to 105 and staying there – and being happy, with energy and not grumpy and hungry all the time – it’s tough going.

    • Hey Jessie, don’t let it confuse you. Basically what we’ve done over the last 2 podcasts is to formulate the “proof” (mathematically speaking) of why we recommend to start at your BMR and work down from there when trying to drop weight.

      When you purposefully neglect the calories from exercise, you don’t have to count or worry about recompensation effects such as taking a nap, or being lethargic through part of the day that you would normally have never been lethargic in.

      Fact is, the deficits most people think they’re creating with diet and exercise are much smaller than they think due to the errors we’ve talked about.

      And, the only real way to completely NEGATE all of the potential errors is to estimate your weekly BMR and dance your calories under that for the week, however you want (or can) make it work.

      As far as what happened after you lost all the weight, it’s a pretty simple answer.

      1. By cutting out the crap and fast food, you eat a little less calories and dropped fat, water, and inflammation, which can happen fast. In fact, until you get to around 1-2 inches above your ideal waist, you’re dropping fat, water, and inflammation. However, at some point, all of the “junk weight” is gone and only fat remains, so the process slows.

      2. When you were larger, it took more calories per day to sustain that weight, so while your BMR was roughly the same, simply moving around a heavier body takes more calories on average. It’s more work.

      By eating “cleaner”, you dropped your calories down to the maintanence level of your lower weight.

      So, lets say you were 180. Every 100 kgs = 100 kcals for every km you walk. If you walked 3 kms on average per day in normal life (this is an example), you’d burn about 150-200 more kcals per day than your 120 weight, just by being BIGGER.

      You’re looking at a swing of 1000-1500 kcals a week.

      If eating “clean” naturally dropped your weekly load by this amount, then it makes sense that you lost and then stagnated as your body reduced in size (less daily work).

      This isn’t “metabolism”, this is simply physics.

      Does this make sense?


      • Consequently, this is also why no one ever gets “ripped” without some type of PURPOSEFUL caloric restriction.

        Simply changing the macronutrient contents or type of calories won’t get you there unless total calories are mindfully accounted for.

        In other words, no one wakes up ripped 🙂

        Every calorie type “diet” stagnates

      • Hey B

        when using the BMR caculators they say to multiply the figure by for example 1.2 when sedentary… should i use the BMR as is or multiply by 1.2 as i am pretty sedentary (without VI) ie: desk job.. so does that account for basic movement.

        So basically im asking should we be using the BMR figure as is or to multiply using 1.2 for a fairly sedentary person?


  3. Oh . . . . .I kind of think I see. So it all starts with a BMR – it’s the bmr- I need to go calculate it. It’s like the slimmer you get, the more nit picky you have to be. I know you won’t believe this, but when I was lost 60 pounds, it was coming off 2-3 pounds a WEEK, just by not going to Mcdonald’s/Burger king all the time, walking 1hr a day, and giving up the daily sodas and vending machine! I thought I was the greatest weightloss wonder of the world! It wasn’t ‘easy’ exactly, but it was straightforward. 🙂 Oh well . . . . . not so much
    . . . .I bet I can create a weekly bmr deficit, wheather it’s a weekly fast or saying goodbye to froz. pizza, and I will have to actually start real exercising, like strength traininng, for the first time in my life – all to get these last ugly pounds off! Argggh!

    Brad, this stuff is a lot tricker than it sounds. I guess that’s why everybody’s not ripped 🙂


    • Ultimately, people aren’t as “fat” as they think they are 🙂

      The numbers just don’t support it. Numerically, there’s NO WAY you could lose 2-3 lbs of pure bodyfat a week just by “eating clean”. That would be a deficit of MORE than 7000-10,500 kcals a week.

      I say more than because your body NEVER burns 100% bodyfat. There’s always glycogen burning. So to have a 3500 “fat calorie” deficit, you’d likely need a TRUE deficit of 4-5000 calories.

      Also, if you gained 5 lbs in a week, if it were ALL FAT, you’d need 17,500 calories ON TOP of your maintanence levels, which would mean you were likely socking away 5000 calories PER DAY on average (which is tough to do).

      In other words, a good percentage of weight gain or loss is water and inflammation.

      Now, what this ratio ends up being (fat/inflammation) I have no idea. We’re looking into it now.

  4. Hi Brad –

    I thought over what you said and I think you might have missed something here . . . . . .I’m back, after calculating my bmr at 1300. So I would prob. need to eat 900 – 1000 cals a day, which I’m pretty sure I could do easy – I work a desk job. But, no offense, I found a big flaw in your method. Anything below 1200, continued for more than a few days is called the ‘starvation mode’ for women. The body is hungry, and starts to cling to every calorie. (Maybe it’s diff. for men?) It took a LONG time – months and months – for me to get down to 114 pounds eating 12oo, but when I finally did, I was able to maintain it at 1200. If women my height and size follow your plan, I might need to eat less calories – say 900 or 800 a day – FOREVER to be that same weight of 114. Then what happens when they still have a few to lose..

    You see, the woman’s body will have adjusted down to smaller amount of calories, and when she tries to raise it, it will gain weight. A crash diet will throw off the metabolism, possibly forever. Ask any expert or look in any women’s fitness magazine, it’s true – and I’ve read them all.

    That’s why they say don’t do super low calorie crash diets! I would love to just make my calories super low and lose all the weight quick, but I don’t want them to come back again! I know girls who have screwed their body chemistry up with constant diets – it’s not safe! I belive that this might work for men, but not for women, women are diffirent.

    No offense, but I bet a lot of women who do this plan will gain it all back plus extra pounds when they go back up to BMR calorie rate.

    • Jesse,

      I suggest you check your facts. If you search the scientific literature in this field you’ll find out there is no such thing as the ‘starvation mode’ as you describe it.
      Also there is no scientific reason or proof that a woman or man is different when it comes to fat loss. It’s just calories in and out, and however low you can manage going is how much fat loss you’ll experience.

      Anyone who isn’t losing weight (but trying by counting calories) is more than likely overestimating how much they have eaten (hence the topic of this podcast)


  5. Hey Brad –

    I admit I’m not an expert, and I haven’t read any scientific data – but in all the fitness magazines like ‘Shape’ and ‘Women’s Health’ and ‘Self’ they say don’t go below 1200 calories FOR ANY REASON. I want to believe you, because it sounds good, but why would all the magazines say that? They can’t be saying it for no reason. If I eat 800 calories for 6 months, get the weight off quick, then go back to whatever my BMR is for my new weight, I will blow up like a ballon, cause my body/metobolisom will be used to very low calories right? There is even a BBC documentary where that happend to the women on low calorie diets – checkk it out – Super Skinny Me :

    • Why would they say it?

      Plenty of reasons. #1 may be the fear of women getting really compulsive and the “skinny” at all costs mentality that this could lead to.

      Remember, we get to say what we say because we have a DEFINITIVE goal in mind when we say it. There is no “goal” in the magazines except “be healthy”.

      Basically, since there’s no clear goal, they have to use “rules” to cover all of their bases. That’s essentially where all the “rules” come from.

      Also, keep in mind that eating in a free range condition, where food can be obtained WITHOUT LIMIT, there is no “check” on intake unless YOU DO IT YOURSELF.

      In other words, losing weight and then going back to free range is just going to put you right back where you were.

      Your “maintainenace ” calorie load will always be lower with the smaller body. It has nothing to do with metabolism. Plus, overeating by 200 calories with a smaller body is a MUCH bigger deal than overeating by 200 with a larger body.

      The MAIN PROBLEM with people after losing weight is people feeling like they get to go right back to normal eating with no checks.

      You still have to check yourself, although it’s just not as strict.

      Does this make sense?

  6. Whoops, I’m sorry, that last message above was addressed to John

    • No worries.

      Hey Jessie, all BS aside. Pick up the systems (if you haven’t already) and get posting on your blog and in the forums. What most people don’t realize is that unlike a magazine, we’re RIGHT THERE beside you the whole time.

      So if you have a lifestyle hangup or you follow our advice and it’s not working for some reason, we’ll get you figured out!

      This is probably worth TEN TIMES or more what you’ll pay for access.

      (Plus the other women inside are really cool as well)


  7. Hey Guys,
    Love your stuff, really helps put things into perspective. With the understanding that we want to lose fat as fast as possible, I am wondering what you would say is the bare minimum of what I need per day. I’ve read Brad’s book on protein and from that I guess that I should average about 100 grams per day (I’m 6’0″ 195 lbs with a goal weight of about 175 lbs I’m guessing; waist is currently 33.50″). Outside of that, should I just shoot for the least amount of carbs and fat I can per day within reason? I’m not going to eat nothing but whey protein, but you know what I mean. I train 4-5 days a week on just squats and body control movements (basically gymnastics stuff – Ido Portal if you know him), so no Crossfit met-cons or cardio for me. This keeps my training fun and keeps me able to wake up at 4:30 for work (desk job). Thanks again.

  8. Hey Guys,
    Love your stuff, really helps put things into perspective. With the understanding that we want to lose fat as fast as possible, I am wondering what you would say is the bare minimum of what I need per day. I’ve read Brad’s book on protein and from that I guess that I should average about 100 grams per day (I’m 6’0″ 195 lbs with a goal weight of about 175 lbs I’m guessing; waist is currently 33.50″). Outside of that, should I just shoot for the least amount of carbs and fat I can per day within reason? I’m not going to eat nothing but whey protein, but you know what I mean. I train 4-5 days a week on just squats and body control movements (basically gymnastics stuff – Ido Portal if you know him), so no Crossfit met-cons or cardio for me. This keeps my training fun and keeps me able to wake up at 4:30 for work (desk job).

    Also wanted to add. On most days I have a small breakfast of egg whites and a couple of nuts and then only have light cream in my coffee until dinner. So a semi-fast I guess. I don’t count/guess calories anymore because I found that I kept on “eating up to” my calorie level for the day. Just like you guys said people do.

    Overall, I’m not worried about losing muscle or wrecking my metabolism by under-eating since I weight train, I just want to make sure that I’m thinking about this right as I go for 1.61

  9. I have just one question: Brad wrote “In other words, a good percentage of weight gain or loss is water and inflammation.”
    I wonder how inflammation can add weight?

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