So, you’re starting to count calories but not sure what exactly that means. After all, can you even define what a calorie is?  (It’s a unit of food, when digested is converted into energy.) But before your head really starts spinning with the ‘how’ and ‘why’s’ of calorie counting, start with this one piece of information: Not all calories are of the same value, and work in the same way. Lose weight permanently by understanding how to burn them off, one big trick to fooling your body into staying full longer and some quick and easy ways to burn off 100 calories on your lunch break.

Do the Math

Whether you want to shed a few pounds or a couple dozen pounds, know this: Each pound contains 3,500 calories. So, broken down, lose one pound a week just by cutting 500 calories from your daily calorie intake. Or, consume 3,500 calories and make sure to burn off 500 calories each day by briskly walking, jogging, taking a cycling class or trying Zumba. If you only have 20 minutes to spare, jump rope, run a half mile around your neighborhood or do 75 push-ups.

The Value of Your Calories Vary

Although in essence, a calorie is always a calorie, how it stores itself in your body (such as fat, muscle or sugar) will vary. Consider a candy bar versus a handful of trail mix, for example. Even if they are the same amount of calories in, the candy bar will more likely store as fat on your hips, thighs and butt whereas trail mix not only contains more fiber (that will keep you fuller longer) but be less likely to store as fat.  Are you trying to keep up with your active toddler or eliminate that 3pm energy lull at work? Before munching on your next low calorie snack, consider the amount of fat, sugar, carbs and fiber it has. What’s the tradeoff going to be? Is that high sugar (but low calorie) energy bar worth having a burst of energy in exchange for gaining half a pound?

Rethink Your Portion Size

From down home diners to large scale chain restaurants, their common denominator is alive and well – bigger portions than you really need to fill you up. Keep calorie counting simple by remembering that the larger the portion, the more calories it contains. Whether you opt for a grilled chicken salad, rib eye steak or another round of margaritas, remember that the more you eat or drink, the more calories you need to burn off. Eye ball the menu for low fat choices, ask for a lunch sized portion (even though it’s dinner time) or get into the habit of asking your waiter what carb conscious choices aren’t on the menu but can be ordered.

You don’t need to worry about counting calories at every meal as much as you do about how big of a meal you’re consuming. Does your house need cleaning? Burn 100 calories by sweeping, dusting and moping the floors.  Want to impress your friends with a home cooked meal? Prepare it yourself along with a quick clean up afterwards, and there’s another 100 calories burned. Think creatively, and you’ll lose weight with time to spare.