So the most popular goal according to 43 Things is “Losing Weight”. It’s not surprising that it ranks high, due to an increasing obesity epidemic in many First World countries and the emphasis that media places on being thin. It’s also a challenge to do since food is cheap, plentiful, and fast.

So what does it take to lose weight? For the average person, the formula is simple- eat less then you burn off. I see balancing out calories the same way that I see balancing my budget. If I spend more money than I have, then I’ll go into debt. If I eat more calories then I can burn, then I gain weight. Sounds simple.

But obviously it’s not that simple since so many people struggle with the problem.

I’m trying to lose a few pounds myself. I’m at a healthy weight for my size, but not by much. During college I put on a bit of weight- not quite the “freshman 15”, but enough that when I dropped 5 pounds after entering the workforce, people noticed the difference. I am trying to get back down to my pre-college weight by losing 8 pounds. I’m not trying to follow any particular diet, but instead I’m using the technique of calorie counting to keep track of what I eat and what I burn. Calorie counting is when you log everything that you eat and all the exercise you do during the day.

I’ve been doing this for about two weeks now and it’s been an enlightening process. During the workweek I’m usually able to stay within a hundred calories of my daily target since I’m usually eating food that I made at home on a regular schedule. But on the weekends, my calorie consumption tends to jump since I’m out and about and eating at odd times. Eating out at resturants also tends to wreck my goal for the day since portions are huge and I don’t have much control over the cooking process or the ingredients used. But on the positive side, I’m also seeing how exercise is a great way to burn off the extra calories.

So far, I’ve only met my daily calorie consumption goal about one-third of the time. But the technique is working because I’m now aware of how these habits are affecting my weight and what I need to do to lose the pounds.  I now think twice before going for seconds or grabbing that candy bar. I’m also more motivated to go work out. So far, I’ve already lost two pounds on the program.

Here are some tricks that I’ve developed along the way that might help you.

1. Don’t bring the unhealthy stuff home. When you go out grocery shopping, don’t buy junk food to start with. This will help eliminate temptation at home, since it’s rather hard to tear into a bag of potato chips if there’s no potato chips around to start with.

2. Find healthy alternatives. If there’s some food that you feel you can’t live without, try researching some alternatives. For example, I have a bit of a sweet tooth and like ice cream. However, ice cream tends to have a lot of calories and sugar in it. So I’ve switched over to having small servings of yogurt with fruit. My sweet tooth is happy, I don’t feel like I’m denying myself, and I’m cutting out a lot of calories.

3. Love the leftovers. If you like to go out to eat, split an entree with a friend or plan to take half the entree home as leftovers. By doing this, you not only cut the calories in half, but you also get two meals for the price of one.

4. Cook at home. I save a lot on calories by preparing meals at home and then either eating them there or brownbagging them to work. Not to mention that I’m saving a lot of money this way too.

5. Set a clear goal for yourself. Instead of just saying that you want to lose weight, set a tangible goal for yourself like losing 10 pounds in 10 weeks. Then post that goal on places like your refrigerator or treadmill so you can keep yourself motivated.

As for calorie-tracking software, there’s lots of options out there. I’ve tried two. The first one is SparkPeople. This is a website that besides tracking calories and exercise also includes a healthy recipe section; a forum area for discussion; and groups that you can join with other people that have the same goals as you do. I used SparkPeople for several weeks; but not consistantly since I needed to remember to log in each day to add stuff in. Still, if you are looking for support beyond tracking, this is an option to look into. As a bonus, using the site is free.

The tracking software that I’m using now is “Lose It!”. This is a free app that can be downloaded to your iPhone/iPod Touch device and then used to track calories and exercise. The software lets you set a goal (ie. lose a pound a week) and it will calculate what your daily caloric intake should be. I like it because it is very simple to use, but more importantly, since I usually carry my Touch wherever I go, it’s easy to log in information after every meal and be aware of where I’m at during the day.

In any case, whether you’re counting calories; following a diet like Atkins or South Beach; or just working out more and trying to eat healthier; losing weight is a lifestyle, not a goal. It’s something that will require healthy, sustainable habits to achieve. But living a lifetime with a healthy body that can take on any goal that you want to do is well worth the price.