Probably the hottest topic in the world of dieting!I will divulge what considerations are necessary for calories, when it comes to shedding body fat. If you want to skip my intro on why I don't have clients count calories, go ahead and skip to the second half. :)
No, I don't advise my clients to obsess over counting calories. Rather, I teach them proper portions of foods, and to choose the best foods in each category of macronutrients: proteins, carbs and fats. Once clients learn, through practice and tracking, what the correct portions and the best options are and how to put meals together, they are then consuming the correct amount of calories for them.
Remember, my principles of eating clean (and shedding extra body fat) are the following:
Eat some of each macronutrient each time you eat - ie., an apple and a small handful of almonds features carbohydrate, a tiny bit of protein and some fat. So it is balanced, and keeps blood sugar levels stable.
Eat between 4-6 smaller meals / day.
Follow correct portion sizes.
A certain amount of education regarding calories is, however, necessary. For example, clients need to know that most starches the size of your fist feature 2 servings of carbs, around 200 calories. Most lean sources of protein the size of your palm are between 100-200 calories (a ton more for fattier cuts of meat). A fat source the size of your thumb is between 100-200 calories, typically. Greens are low enough in calories that it's generally safe not to count them for much (plus they are so filling, and so good for us, that they satiate appetite and have us further cutting worse calories elsewhere). Fruits are about 100 calories per serving. That is one SMALL apple, 1/2 banana or one very small one, or 1/2 cup of berries.
It is good to pay attention to labels, and to know what you're eating. It is helpful to pay attention to calories for the first little while in order to learn, and to be better able to eyeball later on. But counting calories can take the focus off of the more important lesson in eating better: choosing the most bang for your buck, nutritionally - and go ahead and obsess away over BALANCE.
I will, however, recommend that you follow this link and calculate your basal metabolic rate. This is the rate at which your body burns calories before you have gone grocery shopping, have chased after your dog down the street, or have thrown someone down in a boxing ring. BMR Calculator
My basal metabolic rate, for instance, is 1346.2. This means that if I were doing absolutely nothing, I would need to consume 1346.2 calories per day to stay at the same weight. I am pretty active, so it is reasonable that I consume between 2000-2200 calories a day to stay at my current weight. Therefore, if I wanted to lose weight, by the recommended calculation of burning an EXTRA 500 calories per day and CUTTING 500 calories, I would aim to be between 1500-1700 calories per day.
Now let's divide this into meals - if you are consuming 5 meals/day, a reasonable recommendation would be to consume 400 calories for 3 meals of the day, and 150-200 calories per mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack.
So, there's the math. Get acquainted. But then, don't be jailed by it. Focus on balanced, wholesome meals for permanent weight loss. Believe me, I've tried everything because I feel it's my responsibility to be my own guinea pig to learn what works. And not only that, but I've worked with hundreds, and many of whom have ALSO tried everything. Learning to love the right foods in the right balance trumps math, figures and diets EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.