Nasi Lemak and Fitness 103: Estimating Calories

In 101, we covered the flaws of calorie counting.

In 102,we calculated the protein and calories you need to be eating.

In 103, we’ll set sail on the journey to mastering the mystifying art of calorie counting.

Let’s go, young padawan

3 Steps To Caloric Estimating Mastery

Prelude: List

List the food that you eat most frequently.

Break the food down to the basics, be as specific as possible:

Tuna sandwich: White bread (Massimo), tuna in brine (Ayam brand), chilli sauce (Lingham’s), super slim cheese slices (Bega).

Chicken rice: White rice, chicken breast, oil, black sauce.

My list: Massimo wholemeal bread, white rice, sweet potato, yellow noodles, lean meat (chicken, fish, pork, beef)*, salmon, corn on the cob…


(*Calories and protein per serving  of different meats don’t differ much (if net weight is controlled). This only includes the lean cuts: skinless chicken breast, lean fish,  95% lean ground beef etc.

Pork belly, chicken thigh with skin, and tenderloin and even salmon don’t make the list.)

Step 1: Measure

Tools: Food scale

Battle weary but loyal.

For all foods listed, measure a regular* serving. There are 3 ways to go about this:

By weight: Grill some chicken, and weigh out 100g, that’s usually the portion you get eating out (think regular chicken breast serving by chicken rice stalls).

By serving dish: Fill up a bowl of rice, think 加饭 (add rice) in a Chinese restaurant, or the bowl your nasi dagang lady uses to scoop from the rice bucket. Weigh with food scale to ensure accuracy (let me help: shoot for 200g).

By label: Utilize nutritional label of pre-packaged foods.

I recommend doing the same with noodles, brown rice, porridge, quinoa, oats or any “base” you consume.

Use this step is to create visual awareness of a foods’ regular serving. Familiarize yourself with the portion of a bowl of rice, a plate of noodles or a 100g serving of meat (important transition into Step 3).

(*Note the irregularities in regular. The portions i measured out were what I deem as regular in places I patronize. There’s only a handful of chicken rice, mixed rice, and nasi dagang stalls that have The Malaysian Body’s seal of approval. Yours may differ, it’s fine)

Step 2: Create Food

Tools: MyFitnessPal and Google

Create your regular foods in the app: MyFitnessPal. I get my nutrition data from SELFNUTRITIONDATA.

In the examples above, the results:


(In 102, I mentioned that fat and carb ratio isn’t a big issue, but no harm including them when creating your food in MyFitnessPal).

Step 3: Estimate

There’s certainly nothing wrong with carrying a food scale everywhere, but if the scale doesn’t match your Prada clutch, your next best step is to be good at guesstimating.

Outside food is rarely prepared in our standard servings, but it’s fine. Have a look at how I break down this plate of Nasi Lemak:



*Important: Notice the inclusion of 2.5 tbsp oil. I keyed it in to represent the calories for sambal, oil in the curry chicken, and santan in the rice too.

How I came to 2.5 tablespoons? A rough* estimation. I track most foods I eat out to contain at least 1 tablespoon of oil, and I increase my estimate the greasier the food gets.

For a serving of chicken rice, it probably falls around 1 to 1.5 tbsp oil per serving, but for a bowl of laksa (finishing the entire soup) and the nasi lemak above, around 2 to 2.5 tbsp. A double patty, double cheese Ramly burger will easily be around 2.5 to 3.5 tbsp oil.

Tip: I advice most of my clients to err on the side of overestimating oil content when dieting.

(*Through years of cooking experience and reading nutritional labels in restaurants, you will develop a better sense of how much fat a certain food contains)

Step 1: Measure again

Measuring should not be a one time feat. Repetition = familiarity. Keep measuring until you can accurately tell 200g of rice from 250g (the difference between 250 and 325 calories).

It pays to be very familiar with food portions.

Keep doing this, and gain mastery in using your mouth as a food scale, i.e., eating loads of rice and measuring out the amount after completion of meal. Because not every restaurant will serve you with a regular bowl or portion.

A situation where this skill can be useful.

Do it imperfectly, every damn day

As imperfect as calorie counting is, it’s the closest way we can be objective about consumption.

You know what else is imperfect? You.

…okay, me too.

People tend to underestimate their calorie intake by 30%, i.e., eating 3000 calories thinking it’s closer to 2000. It’s also not something unique to overweight people (source). The psychology behind this is intriguing, perhaps a topic for another time.

Thus, I find it fitting to end with this quote:

“If you don’t know how much you need,
The default easily becomes more”

Ryan Holiday

After 3 series of Nasi Lemak and Fitness, I implore you- Start counting.

Perhaps the most profound application of this quote has to do not with dieting, but with contentment.

Step back, reflect, and appreciate what you have. Outside of shelter, a well-fed belly, good company, and good health, how much more do you need?

I’m not judging your dreams, they are worth chasing, but the chase for what you desire should not be mistaken for the perpetual chase for more.

More often than not, more brings us away from the state we desire.


Till 104.

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