UNITED STATES—When it comes to maintaining a healthy weight, two things come into play: exercise and the amount of calories consumed. Yes, the idea of calorie counting is not something that is fun for most of us to consider, but we have to examine just how many calories we consume on snacks or meals that we perceive have small calorie counts.

The goal for most Americans is to maintain a calorie intake between 2,000 and 2,500 daily. Now if you consider your three meals a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner, you’re looking at around 550 to 650 calories per meal. Don’t forget to factor in those snacks you take between those meals.  Sounds feasible, but for some not so much, if you’re one of those people who eat on the go.

Many restaurants have been forced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to display the amount of calories consumed in meals, this is very important in my opinion for those of us who eat at fast food restaurants. It’s so amazing to realize, how a sandwich or small snack can equate to about 500 calories.

Just the other day I stopped at a fast-food chain, I won’t name names, and I had to make a decision between two meals, one was about 600 to 700 calories, the other about 1000 to 1200 calories. It grabbed my attention, instantaneously. I wavered to the meal with the less calorie count, as well as the amount of fat as well. While waiting for my food, I scanned the fast food menu, and I was secretly appalled at the amount of calories in some of the breakfast sandwiches and meals; I’m almost vowing at this point to eliminate fast-food completely from the diet.

These same ideals factor into cooking and eating at home. Those processed foods we buy from the grocery store are so bad. While lunchables are the perfect snacks for kids, the caloric intake, the amount of fat, sodium and cholesterol is shocking. Parents are better off making sandwiches and snacks for the child to ensure they get full off of their meal, but also ingest something healthy doing the day.

It’s like buying a large bag of potato chips. The worst thing you can do is take the entire bag and snack on it. Remember calories are counted based on the amount of servings. That entire bag of chips might have 6-8 servings, if its 150 calories per serving, eating an entire bag can amount to about 900-1100 calories being ingested. Not good, not good at all.

Anything eaten at home or on the go needs to be considered a snack, no large portions. If you want to indulge in something turn to fruits and veggies, particularly veggies. We seem to forget how important these things are to the body, and the calorie intake for veggies tend to be very low, so you can consume quite a few and get full at the same time. Prime example is the cucumber which is virtually a calorie free food, similar to celery.

The problem comes when adding dipping sauces like ranch, peanut butter or cream cheese; those are added calories the body doesn’t need. Instead of grabbing for a sugary snack, grab a natural sugar by eating an apple, orange, banana, pear or even a few berries.

The key to losing weight is to equate the amount of calories consumed with the amount of calories burned each day. Yes, the goal is at least 60 minutes of exercise daily. Rather that be walking, biking, swimming, cycling, weight lifting, running, the key is to DO SOMETHING. An active body is much better than an inactive body.  Of course, mentally you might be burnt out thinking about it, but think of the results that will be earned by a healthy and good looking body; it’s worth it.

Most exercise equipment keeps track of the number of calories that you are burning, if you’re doing outdoor activities where the amount of calories burned becomes a bit more difficult to measure, just consider if the body is physically exhausted, if you’re hurting a bit, that’s a good thing always. Its not always fun counting calories, but to some degree it’s important to know what you’re consuming because some of us are taking in 2,500 to 4,000 calories a day and we have no clue of it. What’s worse, the things we’re eating have way more calories than we suspect or know.