I used to look down on counting calories. I thought people who counted calories were uptight. That's the hippie in me that I trot out when convenient. I was very snooty about the whole idea without giving it a whole lot of thought. I have a vague memory of perceiving calorie counting as just too... much. Now, having done it for a number of months, if not a year or more, I realize that (a) it IS hard, (b) it HAS helped me figure out HOW MUCH I CAN ACTUALLY EAT and still maintain (or improve) my physique. I didn't need to count calories when I first undertook to lose thirty pounds, the changes I needed to make were obvious. However, now that I'm very, very close to my goal weight (within five pounds), it's a battle royale and I need every tool I can get.
I used to record my food in a notebook but I would never review what I wrote, so I thought, "What's the point of saving all this junk if I never look at them?". Last year I bought the Busy Office Page-A-Day Calendar 2011 (but for 2010!), plonked it on my kitchen counter, and scribbled my food intake into it ALL YEAR LONG.
I couldn't believe that I actually found a method that worked for me for an entire year straight. I enjoyed it so much, I bought another one for this year: Busy Dad's Page-A-Day Calendar 2011 (see photo, below). I enjoy the solid block of pages, the wide-ruled lines, the roominess for recording and making calculations, and tearing off the pages and throwing them away the next morning. And, when I bother to read the left margin, it's usually entertaining or insightful.
Workman Publishing makes a variety of these, six in all.
I also use the The CalorieKing Calorie, Fat & Carbohydrate Counter 2011. It, too, has a good feel in the hand and has everything I need. It's small enough to fit on the counter, too.
Through MUCH trial-and-error, I've gotten a pretty good handle on how much I can eat (approx 2100 cals/day with one day of 3500 cal/week; I tend to distribute the 2100 per day into a two day allotment of 2400/1800) and still change my shape (in an excruciatingly slow process - rapid changes always blow up in my face). I do short, INTENSE, metabolic resistance training and am aiming for a cartoony, Wonder Woman, appearance. I have a lot of muscle (relative to the 'typical' female... see Skwigg's blog for a great post on the variety of body shape ideals and the mis-match in shared perceptions that result when the ideal is unarticulated), and thus my ability to ingest such high calorie amounts. I'm 5'8" and 143, last time I weighed (which is rare, I usually just judge by appearances and the way my clothes feel).
Disclaimer: No, I don't always adhere to my own rules. I don't always record every day. I don't always stay at or under my limit every day. It's all very much a work-in-progress. If I like it, if it's helping me (not always the same thing!), I do it. And sometimes I don't always do what's best for me. Sometimes I question whether or not calorie counting is more helpful than not. Calorie counting is simply a tool that may or may not work for you. Do what works, nobody can make or enforce rules except yourself. For me, when I do choose to count calories, this is the set-up I use.