Tracking Calories Article Key Points

  • Tracking calories of every single piece of food consumed daily can be challenging. Many individuals overlook occasional treats or snacks, making comprehensive calorie tracking tedious.
  • The study suggests that keeping track of daily food and drink intake is a critical factor for successful weight loss. However, the study found that perfect dietary tracking isn’t necessary to achieve significant weight loss. This conclusion was derived from the observation of 153 participants in a weight loss program, showing flexibility in tracking can still yield positive results.

Weight loss is a complex journey influenced by numerous factors, such as adherence to diet and exercise regimens, behavioral change strategies, and social support. (Sarwer et al., 2005; Wing, 1995) Additionally, setting multiple goals and managing them simultaneously can contribute to successful weight loss. (McKee & Ntoumanis, 2014). Notably, two factors have shown their effectiveness and importance: accurate dietary tracking and an innovative approach that shifts the focus from obsessing over exact calorie counting to a more sustainable, personalized method.

Using an app to track your appropriate calorie target, activity level, serving size, carb, fat, protein, and water intake in a food diary is the standard way to create a calorie deficit for healthy weight loss. But, have you ever wondered how “Counting Calories to Lose Weight” and “Tracking Food Calories” affects the weight loss journey?

Tracking Calories and Their Impact on Weight Loss

In today’s digital world, tracking your nutrition and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be as simple as using a calorie calculator app you download on your smartphone. One such application, MyFitnessPal, offers an extensive food database that enables users to log their daily food intake, providing a comprehensive look at their eating habits and the history of their previous food log. The daily calorie intake and macronutrient (macros) breakdown are displayed, helping users make informed food choices and achieve their health goals.

Historically, maintaining a meticulous record of every calorie consumed daily has been the key component of most weight loss strategies, with the effectiveness of such calorie counting predicting the outcome of weight loss interventions. Some studies have shown that individuals who track their calories using various methods, such as mobile applications or manual tracking, can accurately estimate their caloric intake. (Ferrara et al., 2019; Nadeem et al., 2023)For example, a study utilizing a food tracking app found that the app accurately coded calories and carbohydrates and could be used in dietary intervention studies. Additionally, research using a mobile application with food recognition technology achieved an overall accuracy of approximately 80.1% in classifying and computing calories.(Nadeem et al., 2023)


One significant feature of this application is the calorie counter. With this tool, users can easily track the number of calories in each food item they consume. To log a food item, one can either enter the details manually or use the barcode scanner feature. Simply scan the barcode on the nutrition label of the food package, and the app will automatically pull the information from its database.

MyFitnessPal isn’t just a calorie tracker; it also functions as a fitness tracker. The app can integrate with other fitness devices such as an Apple Watch. All the data, including food intake, exercise, and weight, are displayed on a convenient dashboard that provides a comprehensive overview of your health progress.

Best Nutrition Macros Tracker Tools and App for Logging Food Calories

MyFitness Pal offers additional features such as customized meal plans, macro goals, and in-depth analyses of your eating habits. However, even the free version offers a wealth of tools to help you manage your nutrition effectively. And for new users, there’s a free 30-day trial to experience the premium features.

Registered dietitian professionals often recommend this app, not just for its extensive features but also for its focus on education. The app encourages users to learn about their food choices, understand portion sizes, and even identify sources of saturated fat and lean protein in their diet.

The logging feature of MyFitnessPal can also be used as a food journal, allowing users to track trends over time and make necessary adjustments to their diet and exercise routines. This includes the ability to track specific dietary habits like intermittent fasting. The graph function can visually represent the user’s progress over time, providing tangible motivation for achieving health goals.

The emergence of digital health tools has further reinforced the importance of dietary tracking. A Stanford Medicine-led study found that the more closely individuals tracked their weight-loss efforts with digital health tools, the more weight they lost. Those who used digital tools to monitor their behaviors lost more weight than those who self-monitored less frequently with digital tools. (Patel et al., 2021)

Tracking Calories Studies

A 2017 study published in the Journal of Diabetes Research assessed the role of dietary tracking in a Diabetes Prevention and Management (DPM) program, revealing a clear connection between consistent dietary tracking and significant weight loss. Participants were divided into groups based on the consistency of their tracking, and only those who tracked over 66% of the time achieved significant weight loss, establishing the importance of dietary tracking for sustained long-term weight loss success.(Ingels et al., 2017)

However, this approach can be challenging and daunting, and its necessity has been questioned in recent research. Even the most dedicated of us often find it hard to resist the allure of an occasional snack or a late-night indulgence. Most people tend to underestimate how many calories they are consuming.(Pietiläinen et al., 2010; Yanetz et al., 2008)

The extent of this underreporting can be quite significant, with one study showing obese twins underreporting their intake by 764 calories per day compared to their non-obese counterparts. Another study found some individuals underreporting their intake by over 2000 calories daily. (Buhl et al., 1995) Even skilled dietitians were found to underreport their calories by 223 per day. In contrast, non-dietitians underreported their calories by 429 per day. (Champagne et al., 2002) While diet tracking is often considered a crucial component of successful weight loss, a new study suggests it may not be necessary to track every single calorie to achieve significant weight loss.

tracking calories counting calories lose weight counting calories in food tracking food calories
Participants were divided into groups based on the consistency of their tracking, and only those who tracked over 66% of the time achieved significant weight loss, establishing the importance of dietary tracking for sustained long-term weight loss success.(Ingels et al., 2017)

Effective Weight Loss Without Counting Every Calorie

A collaborative research initiative involving teams from the University of Connecticut, the University of Florida, and the University of Pennsylvania tracked the self-reported dietary intake of 153 participants over six months. They aimed to identify the optimal dietary tracking thresholds to predict weight loss. The study aimed to identify the optimal dietary tracking thresholds necessary to predict weight loss of three, five, and ten percent after half a year. The researchers argue that the Personal Points program, such as the Weight Watchers system, reduces the burden of accurate tracking, allowing a list of zero-point foods that don’t require tracking. A personalized point system with zero-calorie foods eliminates the need to calculate every calorie.


Weight Watchers has over 200 ZeroPoint foods. The general zero-calorie foods categories are lean meats, fruits, veggies, high-fiber grains, and non-fat dairy. Here is a short list that Weight Watchers Zero Point Foods:

  • Non-starchy veggies 
  • Fruit
  • Fat-free yogurt and cottage cheese
  • Eggs and Poultry
  • Fish and Shellfish
  • Tofu and Tempeh
  • Corn and Popcorn
  • Beans, peas, lentils

There was a correlation between those who tracked and weight loss. This six-month study showed that you don’t need to track 100% of your calories daily to lose weight. At the end of the study, people only need to track around 30% of the days to lose more than 3% weight and 40% of the days to lose more than 5% weight, or almost 70% of days to lose more than 10% weight. The key point here is that you don’t need to track every day to lose a clinically significant amount of weight. (Xu et al.)

tracking calories counting calories lose weight counting calories in food tracking food calories
At the end of the study, people only need to track around 30% of the days to lose more than 3% weight and 40% of the days to lose more than 5% weight, or almost 70% of days to lose more than 10% weight.


The researchers found three distinct trajectories. One they call high trackers, or super users, who tracked food on most days of the week throughout six months, and on average, lost around 10% of their weight. However, many participants belonged to a second group that started regularly tracking before their tracking gradually declined. By the four-month mark, only about one day per week. They still lost about 5% of their weight. A third group called the low trackers, started tracking only three days a week, and dropped to zero by three months, where they stayed for the rest of the intervention. On average, this group lost only 2% of their weight.

New Approaches to Weight Loss: Personal Points Program and Zero-Point Foods

These findings seem to align with an innovative approach to weight management, such as the Personal Points program by WeightWatchers, supported by the aforementioned collaborative research initiative. This program assigns personalized points and includes a list of zero-point foods, eliminating the need to calculate calories for every consumed item. This approach aims to reduce the burden of accurate tracking and make the process less tedious, which might not be sustainable for many users in the long term.

Regardless of the diet or weight loss strategy, traditional and digital calorie tracking and innovative approaches like the Personal Points program emphasize consistency, sustainability, and personalization. Such advancements in dietary tracking systems promise a more efficient, less burdensome route to successful and sustained weight loss.

Final Thoughts on Sustainable Weight Loss Strategies

Remember that achieving overall health and wellness is not just about monitoring your calorie intake or hitting your macro goals. It’s about making sustainable changes to your lifestyle that will lead to long-term weight maintenance and improved health. And tools like MyFitnessPal can be invaluable aids on this journey.

There’s a clear correlation between the frequency of dietary tracking and the amount of weight lost. However, the extent of this tracking doesn’t have to be 100%. Innovative approaches to counting calories in food, such as the Weight Watchers’ Personal Points system, can alleviate the burden of tracking every calorie consumed.

While it’s evident that calorie tracking can significantly contribute to achieving your weight loss goals, striking a balance between rigorous tracking and flexibility is the key to a sustainable weight loss journey. It’s important to remember that achieving long-term weight loss success goes beyond just dietary habits; it involves changes in lifestyle, regular physical activity, and continuous monitoring.


Buhl, K. M., Gallagher, D., Hoy, K., Matthews, D. E., & Heymsfield, S. B. (1995). Unexplained disturbance in body weight regulation: diagnostic outcome assessed by doubly labeled water and body composition analyses in obese patients reporting low energy intakes. J Am Diet Assoc, 95(12), 1393-1400; quiz 1401-1392.

Champagne, C. M., Bray, G. A., Kurtz, A. A., Monteiro, J. B., Tucker, E., Volaufova, J., & Delany, J. P. (2002). Energy intake and energy expenditure: a controlled study comparing dietitians and non-dietitians. J Am Diet Assoc, 102(10), 1428-1432.

Ferrara, G., Kim, J., Lin, S., Hua, J., & Seto, E. (2019). A Focused Review of Smartphone Diet-Tracking Apps: Usability, Functionality, Coherence With Behavior Change Theory, and Comparative Validity of Nutrient Intake and Energy Estimates. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth, 7(5), e9232.

Ingels, J. S., Misra, R., Stewart, J., Lucke-Wold, B., & Shawley-Brzoska, S. (2017). The Effect of Adherence to Dietary Tracking on Weight Loss: Using HLM to Model Weight Loss over Time. J Diabetes Res, 2017, 6951495.

McKee, H. C., & Ntoumanis, N. (2014). Multiple-goal management: An examination of simultaneous pursuit of a weight-loss goal with another goal. Journal of Health Psychology, 19(9), 1163-1173.


Nadeem, M., Shen, H., Choy, L., & Barakat, J. M. H. (2023). Smart Diet Diary: Real-Time Mobile Application for Food Recognition. Applied System Innovation, 6(2), 53.

Patel, M. L., Wakayama, L. N., & Bennett, G. G. (2021). Self-Monitoring via Digital Health in Weight Loss Interventions: A Systematic Review Among Adults with Overweight or Obesity. Obesity, 29(3), 478-499.

Pietiläinen, K. H., Korkeila, M., Bogl, L. H., Westerterp, K. R., Yki-Järvinen, H., Kaprio, J., & Rissanen, A. (2010). Inaccuracies in food and physical activity diaries of obese subjects: complementary evidence from doubly labeled water and co-twin assessments. Int J Obes (Lond), 34(3), 437-445.

Sarwer, D. B., Wadden, T. A., & Fabricatore, A. N. (2005). Psychosocial and Behavioral Aspects of Bariatric Surgery. Obesity Research, 13(4), 639-648.

Wing, R. R. (1995). Changing Diet and Exercise Behaviors in Individuals at Risk for Weight Gain. Obesity Research, 3(S2), 277s-282s.


Xu, R., Bannor, R., Cardel, M. I., Foster, G. D., & Pagoto, S. How much food tracking during a digital weight-management program is enough to produce clinically significant weight loss? Obesity, n/a(n/a).

Yanetz, R., Kipnis, V., Carroll, R. J., Dodd, K. W., Subar, A. F., Schatzkin, A., & Freedman, L. S. (2008). Using biomarker data to adjust estimates of the distribution of usual intakes for misreporting: application to energy intake in the US population. J Am Diet Assoc, 108(3), 455-464; discussion 464.

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