When I first lost weight 5 years ago, I didn't know about Spark at first and had a lot to lose, so I ate the same things, but cut each portion I'd usually eat in half. It was an easy way to cut calories since I was eating way too much. I lost 50 pounds that year. After I'd started losing that way, I added in exercise and started making better food choices too. It all adds up.
Numbers come hard to me, especially calories. I've learned to label my food groupings with the calories involved as well. For instance, instead of (milk and cereal), I now have "Milk and Cereal 195." I have a food group named "GLOP" which is now "GLOP 250." By listing the calories with the food group, it's easier for me to remember how much I'm eating without having to go into the collection itself. (I haven't tried this with my "favorites," but that's next.)
No matter how big or small it is, if I eat or drink it, I track it. At first I just ate whatever and tracked it later to see what I consumed. Now I plan ahead and track my food BEFORE I eat it, so I can see whether I can afford to eat everything I planned or if it will be outside of my nutritional goals. I can then adjust if necessary before it's too late. :)
I started going to the gym before work and even if I didn't have enough time some days to work out, I went to the gym just to take a shower to keep myself in the routine of going there every morning. Also keeping track of your calories is very easy these days. I lost 30 pounds by just doing 20 -30 minutes on the elliptical a few times a week and trying to stay within 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day. My goal every day is only 1,200 but if I went over a little, I knew I had a little room to spare.
A drastic change in diet will cause a significant amount of weight loss! Keeping a daily journal to count calories sounds daunting, but it isn't as bad as you think.
Don't know how many calories, etc. particular dining out meals have? Try fitnesspal.com/food/search & type in the food you want to find. It will have the restaurant in paranthesis to the right of the food item. I couldn't find a particular meal on the restaurant's website & found it here (although I wish I hadn't...YIKES!)
I have been counting all my calories for several months. At first, it was a little time consuming but I put all my favorites in and it only takes me a few minutes a day now. I know it has helped because I've lost 12 lbs! It has helped made me more cognizant of what I'm eating and the nutritional values of the foods. It has helped keep me in check because I didn't want to write the candy bar I had so I just didn't eat it.
When using the nutrition tracker, you have the option of adding a food not in your meal plans. I don't use the meal plans right now. What I do is always enter all the nutrition facts for each food that I can--that way you can learn as you are reading the label, and copying the information, what you should know to make good decisions about each item. Also, sometimes the other person's information may not even be correct, even when it's from SparkPeople. It could be out of date.
Take mental notes of calories in food, do flash-card drills if you have to.
I finally have gotten serious by combining calorie counting (1300 calories a day) and aerobics classes (2 per week) in addition to treadmill the other 3 days and strength training on one of those days. The pounds are shedding at a good, steady pace!
I found that if I packed healthy snacks for work, I was getting hungry through out the day and would eat everything in my lunch bag. Next thing I knew, I did not have many calories left for dinner (maybe 300). I have since cut out these completely.