Justin’s Calorie Counting Guide 🤔🗯🍔📝

The purpose of this post is to discuss how I count calories.

The audience is someone who is interested in a perspective on how to count calories for weight loss purposes.

The post is not a general weight loss guide. It is focused on issues related to coming up with accurate calorie counts.

Some background: I used to be around 300lbs. I’m now ~180lbs. There were a lot of ideas that went into my successful weight loss, but a reality-focused and honest approach to calorie counting was key IMHO. So if this is a topic of interest to you, maybe you can learn from my experience.


The absolutely most important, totally non-negotiable factor for successful calorie counting is honesty.

There are various ways you can be dishonest with calorie counting.

You can intentionally not log food “cuz its just a little tiny bit.”

You can “forget” to log food.

You can give a too-low estimate of the calorie content of food you ate.

To succeed, you’ve gotta dump the dishonesty.

If you want to successfully count calories, you need to be energetically and enthusiastically figuring out ways to make your calorie counting more accurate.

If you don’t have that kinda attitude, you won’t succeed.

Some people make a half-hearted attempt to count calories so that they can convince themselves they “tried” and claim helplessness regarding being too fat. If that’s your goal, then this guide isn’t for you, cuz my purpose here is to give you some tips on how to actually succeed.

Get an app

You need a way to track your calories if you’re going to succeed at calorie counting.

You don’t strictly need a specialized app. You could just make a list of what you ate or something like that. The Notes app on iPhone could theoretically work.

But specialized apps have a ton of advantages, such as:

a. big databases of food pre-loaded in that you can search (like you can just type “apple” and get the nutritional information for an apple, or “mcdonald’s cheeseburger” and get the info for that)
b. nifty things like barcode scanners that can make calorie counting and getting other nutritional data for many things as trivial as pointing your phone’s camera at the food box
c. ability to set weight loss goals and see what your calorie budget should be
d. cool graphs and charts showing how you are doing as far as your goals this day/week, how you’re doing on your weight loss journey, etc etc

So get an app. They’re cool, useful, and cheap/free.

i’ve tried a few. I use MyNetDiary, mostly cuz I’ve been using it a long time and know how to get it to do what I want. There might be a better app out there, but I haven’t seen one yet that was clearly better enough and also worth figuring out how to use in the way I use MyNetDiary. Lots of what I say to do should work with tons of apps, though.

Get a kitchen scale (or two)

If you wanna know how many calories you eat, it’s very useful to know how much your food weighs.

A kitchen scale will help you tremendously.

Here’s an example kitchen scale.

(This one is water resistant)

When I say you should weigh your food, you may think there is a separate food weighing step and then a food preparing step. This is not necessarily the case. We can be efficient about this!

For example, say you are making a sandwich.

Basically every kitchen scale has a “Tare” button. This lets you reset the measured weight to 0 with some weight already on the scale.

So you can place the plate on the scale, then hit Tare.

Then put the bread† on the plate. Weigh it, log the calories in your app, hit Tare.

Put your deli meat on the sandwich. Weigh, log, hit Tare.

Put your cheese on the sandwich. Weigh, log, hit Tare.

Put your condiment on the sandwich. Weigh, log, hit Tare.

You’ve logged your food and now you have a sandwich on a plate ready to go 😀

Note that if you have the same thing a lot in the same amount, you may want to make a recipe out of it so you can skip the steps above. MyNetDiary (and I’d guess other apps) lets you save a set of ingredients as a recipe. But if you’re going to do that, make sure that you actually make it the same way, or alternatively, make sure you log the new ingredients in addition to your “base” recipe. E.g. if you saved a recipe for a cheesy omelette without bacon in an app, and then you make the omelette with bacon, don’t just log your cheesy omelette recipe; log the bacon!

†(Packaged bread typically comes pre-sliced with a given calorie amount per slice, so in that case you wouldn’t need to weigh the bread)

You may think scales are only useful if you cook at home. WRONG!

They can be useful on the go. I’ll talk about that more below, but for now know that portable kitchen scales are a thing, see e.g. this one.

Consider other ways to measure stuff

Scales aren’t the only way to measure stuff in a way that helps your calorie counting.

Volume measurements can be helpful.

E.g. these liquid measuring cups can be very useful.

I often put some milk in my coffee. Measuring e.g. an ounce of milk in a mini measuring cup is faster than turning on a scale, getting it set to the unit of measurement you want, Tare-ing it, and then weighing.

Make use of easily available information

Lots of the food you eat will have nutritional information already easily available for it. So use it!

Fast food places, fast casual places, and other big chain restaurants frequently have their nutritional information available in a variety of places, such as a) in calorie counter apps, b) on their websites, c) in their own proprietary apps, d) right on the menu.

Lots of the stuff you buy at the grocery store will also have nutritional information available in a variety of places as well, including right on the label. And as mentioned earlier, with a calorie counter app you can frequently scan the barcode and get the right information. Make sure you take serving size into consideration — like if you bar code scan a box of pasta in your calorie counter app, you will likely get the nutritional information for a single serving of pasta. So if you’re having two servings (or 1.5, or whatever), make sure you enter that.

BTW regarding correct serving sizes in calorie counter apps, you really need to be aware of the size of the item you are scanning. I have noticed errors of a particular kind sometimes which would throw your calories way off. This has come up with e.g. frozen meals and candy bars. Basically the issue is, when you scan an item, there may be an error where it gets the correct food but the wrong amount. An example: you scanned a 15oz stouffer’s lasagna and it gives you the calorie info for a 10oz box. Some solutions here could be a) just manually enter the correct amount of calories, as generic food calories, or 2) tell the app you ate 1.5 servings of a 10oz box 🙂

Another thing worth noting is that you should make sure you are looking at data for the actual configuration of food you are eating.

E.g. if you get a sandwich from Subway, and you get it with cheese, and you find an entry for the sandwich that reflects the calories without cheese, and you use that entry, you are faking reality. You ate cheese!!!

Sometimes there will be a nutrition calculator you can find online for a place, e.g. https://www.nutritionix.com/subway/nutrition-calculator or https://www.chipotle.com/nutrition-calculator. Other times you may have to reference a PDF file or something on the company’s website and figure it out yourself.

Proxies & Adjustments

Lots of people don’t always eat stuff they made at home, and don’t always go to some big chain place with easily available nutritional information.

What to do then?

One technique is to use some food with easily available nutritional information as a proxy for the food you are currently eating.

Here’s a practical example.

I sometimes eat at this no name mediocre pizzeria near work, and their kinda mediocre pizza seems roughly similar to me to a slice from Sbarro (of mall and airport fame).

So when I eat a pepperoni slice at Mediocre Pizzeria Place, i enter it as a Sbarro pepperoni slice.

There are perils here, both in terms of dishonesty and in terms of honest error.

In terms of honest errors, places make stuff differently, you might not remember what the proxy food is like super well, etc.

Also sometimes the first information you may find when researching is not good. For instance, literally as I was writing this and quickly looking something up, I discovered that my calorie counter app had an entry with a lowball estimate (by 70 calories) of Sbarro Pepperoni slices! This is the estimate I was using! Oops!

(Accuracy requires ongoing effort!)

If you have some information about the weight of a reasonable proxy food, one thing you can do is weigh the food you are eating now (perhaps using a portable scale like I mentioned earlier) and adjust for any differences in weight.

E.g. if some cheeseburger you are using as a proxy is 10ozs and the one you are eating right now is 14oz, then enter that you had 1.4 servings of the proxy cheeseburger.

Honesty is super important here. With kinda similar foods, some may have a higher percent of stuff that’s calorically dense (like meat and cheese). You wanna try and find a proxy that roughly matches the composition of the food you are trying to log. It’s fine if the proxy is kinda like a bigger or smaller version of what you are eating, but the composition should roughly match. E.g. some burgers are super meat heavy. If you are having one of those, don’t use a burger that’s heavy on bread and lettuce/pickles/tomatoes as your proxy!

Recipes & Servings

If you make a big thing at home that you’re gonna be eating a number of servings of over time (like a lasagna, say) it can be useful to use the recipe feature of an app like MyNetDiary. This involves you entering the amounts for all the ingredients of the recipe, and then saving the whole thing as a recipe with a number of servings you determine. So if you say a lasagna has 8 servings, it’ll give 1/8 of the calories of the whole thing to each serving.

Again, honesty is important. If you actually wind up eating all the portions and your initial tally of all the ingredients was accurate, you should be fine. But one way you could mess up here is by having irregularly-sized portions, eating the bigger ones first, then tossing the smaller ones (cuz they went bad or whatever). So try and cut the portions regularly, and if you’re not sure or its the kinda thing where determining portion size visually is tricky, weigh the portions.

📚🤔 Justin’s Comments on William Godwin’s The Enquirer, Part I, Essay XI 📖📝

Godwin has us imagine a parent who recently became convinced that their kids are rational beings. As a result of this, the parent tries to be less authoritarian, and encourages their kids to have rational discussions when there’s a disagreement as to what the kid should do.

If this mode of proceeding can ever be salutary, it must be to a real discussion that they are invited, and not to the humiliating scene of a mock discussion.

J’s Comment: The “humiliating scene of a mock discussion” is a thing that has come up with people trying to implement TCS and “common preference finding,” due to various misunderstandings. Like people sometimes think “common preference finding” means the process whereby you argue your child into exhaustion so that they’ll go along with what you want to do. So Godwin is sort of anticipating a problem from advanced parenting philosophy, though interestingly he frames the chapter as discussing “vice, frequently occurring in our treatment of those who depend upon us.”

A “real discussion”, according to Godwin, involves things like being impartial.

Godwin says that sometimes you’ll resolve the disagreement right away, and there’s no problem. But sometimes you won’t, even though both people are discussing in good faith.

J’s Comment: this is an important recognition of the fact that disagreements won’t always immediately get resolved. Sometimes people expect disagreements to get resolved very quickly, and when they don’t, they attribute this result to the ignorance/stupidity/bad faith of the person they are discussing with.

Godwin says that in that case, the child should be free to take the action he wants to take. But what commonly happens is that parents impose their will on the child. Godwin says that, looking at it from the child’s perspective, it’d be much better to just know you have to obey from the start than to have a whole fake rational discussion where you still have to obey at the end. He also says that the parent comes to the discussion with a pre-formed judgment that the child won’t have much chance of changing.

The terms of the debate therefore are, first, If you do not convince me, you must act as if I had convinced you. Secondly, I enter the lists with all the weight of long practice and all the pride of added years, and there is scarcely the shadow of a hope that you will convince me.

The result of such a system of proceeding will be extreme unhappiness.

Godwin says that if you’re not gonna treat someone as an equal, don’t pretend. Better to be an honest and mild slavemaster than a fake equal. People can endure being a slave, especially if the master isn’t too harsh. But having pretend-freedom while really being a slave is like torture.

J’s Comment: it can really bias people against better approaches too. If you think you have first hand experience of what more “liberal parenting” consists of — being given fake opportunities to argue for control over your own life which never go anywhere — why bother listening to its advocates or trying it?

Godwin seems to say that the way to avoid this issue is to figure out what your non-negotiable points are as a parent and make those clear. Godwin says this doesn’t necessarily take away from young people’s independence.

It is not necessary that in so doing we should really subtract any thing from the independence of youth. They should no doubt have a large portion of independence; it should be restricted only in cases of extraordinary emergency; but its boundaries should be clear, evident and unequivocal.

J’s Comment: if there’s any non-negotiable things, then independence is being encroached. And if the extraordinary situations are so important, isn’t it important to have good arguments to persuade your child about them? Is this like very contingent advice which assumes that the parent is already gonna be authoritarian anyways?

Godwin says parents shouldn’t cling to their past decisions; they should admit they are fallible. But they should be honest about what’s gonna be decided by authority from the get-go.

He concludes:

It were to be wished that no human creature were obliged to do any thing but from the dictates of his own understanding. But this seems to be, for the present at least, impracticable in the education of youth. If we cannot avoid some exercise of empire and despotism, all that remains for us is, that we take care that it be not exercised with asperity, and that we do not add an insulting familiarity or unnecessary contention, to the indispensible assertion of superiority.

J’s Comment: What precisely he means by impracticable is kinda unclear to me, but he does seem to want to maximize the liberty of children to the extent he thinks is possible, so that’s good.

Toohey Is Pretty Honest But People Can’t Think

(This was adapted from a post on the Fallible Ideas list)

Someone on FI list said that they thought Rand treated socialism as a conspiracy theory in The Fountainhead. The commenter focused on Toohey specifically in arguing their “conspiracy” claim.

But Toohey doesn’t really lie or try to hide what he’s after. And he does public writing! In which he puts his bad ideas out there, except that people don’t have the philosophical skill to see how bad they are.

BTW I think Toohey’s bad ideas are not just “socialist.” I don’t think that’s quite the right framing. Toohey isn’t just an economist or something. He comments on a range of issues, and has a pretty comprehensive worldview that’s thoroughly collectivist.

In the dialogue between Keating and Toohey near the end of the book, Toohey’s not really ranting about the means of production or anything like that. He’s talking about wanting to destroy individuality as such and replace it with his control.

So I think individualist vs collectivist is the better frame for understanding the conflict between Toohey and Roark’s ideas.

In a single selection from a newspaper article in The Fountainhead, Toohey says or implies that:

  1. egotism is evil
  2. originality is bad
  3. collectivism is good, and those who oppose collectivism should be restrained and held in check (implication is by force)
  4. nobody should strive for better than what can be immediately appreciated by the man on the street
  5. being humble and subordinating yourself is good
  6. conformity to tradition is good for its own sake
  7. monotony is good in art
  8. dogma is good
  9. obeying dogma makes originality possible (?!)

I’ll go through the Toohey article from The Fountainhead to show what I mean:

Keating read from an article entitled “Marble and Mortar,” by Ellsworth M. Toohey:
“… And now we come to another notable achievement of the metropolitan skyline.

Note Toohey here leads with his conclusion (that it’s a “notable achievement”, which is actually kinda flat praise). He’s helping the second-handed reader, who can now cite Toohey’s overall opinion at a dinner party conversation without even having to read much further:

A: “Did you see the latest Toohey article?”
B: “Ah yes, the one about the Melton Building! A ‘notable achievement” indeed!”
A: “Quite so, quite so!”

We call the attention of the discriminating

flattering reader.

to the new Melton Building by Francon & Heyer. It stands in white serenity as an eloquent witness to the triumph of Classical purity and common sense.

People like common sense and think its accessible. It’s not something they have to struggle to understand. Toohey’s trying to say you can appreciate the building without having to try too hard or get out of your comfort zone or learn something new.

The discipline of an immortal tradition

Toohey doesn’t like people who do new stuff (like Roark) and wants them to obey tradition.

has served here as a cohesive factor in evolving a structure

Notice that the “tradition … served … in evolving a structure.” Where’s the architect in this story?? Toohey thinks individuals like architects don’t really matter.

whose beauty can reach, simply and lucidly, the heart of every man in the street.

We go from common sense to the common man on the street.

There is no freak exhibitionism here, no perverted striving for novelty,

Notice how negatively Toohey frames originality!

no orgy of unbridled egotism.

I think this bit is pretty clear…

Guy Francon, its designer, has known how to subordinate himself

see? Toohey hates the individual, likes submission and obedience.

to the mandatory canons

mandatory?! why?

which generations of craftsmen behind him have proved inviolate,

How did they prove these canons inviolate? What counts as proof of inviolateness? What’s the craftmen’s answer to Roark?

Toohey’s not starting a conversation and asking for criticism here. He’s offering solemn pronouncements as an authoritah. He doesn’t want people to ask or think about such questions. He just wants them to nod their heads and obey.

and at the same time how to display his own creative originality, not in spite of, but precisely because of the classical dogma he has accepted with the humility of a true artist.

How do u display originality by obediently and humbly accepting mandatory dogma?

It may be worth mentioning, in passing, that dogmatic discipline is the only thing which makes true originality possible….

Toohey’s passing off straight contradictions in his writing and people read it and feel flattered instead of insulted. Odd case!

“More important, however, is the symbolic significance of a building such as this rising in our imperial city. As one stands before its southern façade, one is stricken with the realization that the stringcourses, repeated with deliberate and gracious monotony

lol @ a “praise” article calling something monotonous….

from the third to the eighteenth story, these long, straight, horizontal lines are the moderating, leveling principle, the lines of equality. They seem to bring the towering structure down to the humble level of the observer.

As he indicated earlier, Toohey wants to bring greatness down. He doesn’t want anything challenging or threatening to the lowest common denominator. He doesn’t want people to be reminded of what greatness could be like or what men might be able to achieve.

They are the lines of the earth, of the people, of the great masses. They seem to tell us that none may rise too high above the restraint of the common human level, that all is held and shall be checked, even as this proud edifice, by the stringcourses of men’s brotherhood….”

read that last part again:

none may rise too high above the restraint of the common human level, that all is held and shall be checked, even as this proud edifice, by the stringcourses of men’s brotherhood…

“restraint” and “all is held and shall be checked” are of particular note here imho.

this is pure naked evil. this is an ode to a mob using force to tear down great people and keep them down.

So yeah, Toohey’s bragging about what his values are, in print, in a major paper, in an article with his byline, which is read by top people in the society.

Toohey’s public writings are about as clear regarding his ideas about individualism vs collectivism as Hitler was about his anti-semitism in Mein Kampf, and people are just too bad at thinking to notice.

There was more. Keating read it all, then raised his head. “Gee!” he said, awed.
Francon smiled happily.