Whether you’re looking to maintain your weight or lose some extra pounds, people always wonder how many calories should I be eating?
To really figure this out, you first need to understand how your body utilizes calories to function properly, and then it takes a little bit of math. It’s not rocket science, but it does involve a short equation.
What is a Calorie?
A calorie is a measurement unit that applies to how much energy your body gains from the foods you eat. This energy can be utilized during vigorous exercise, but it is also used for things you don’t necessarily pay attention to like every day functions such as breathing, eating, digestion, blood circulation, walking, and so on. This figures into your daily caloric intake for weight maintenance, because you must first look at how active you are to figure out how many calories you body uses on average for daily functioning. After that, you can figure in how many calories you need to cut to lose weight.
What Causes Weight Gain?
Serious health issues aside, depending on how active you are, the number of calories you need to consume to maintain your weight will vary. Obviously if you sit at a desk all day, you are not going to burn as many calories as if you were on your feet all day chopping wood.
This is what leads to weight gain – when you consume more calories than your body can burn. It doesn’t matter if you’re eating an organic, 100% healthy diet. If you eat too many calories, the extra energy taken in is turned into adipose tissue (aka fat) by your body to be used at a later date. This is all thanks to evolution when food was scarce.
How to Lose Weight
On the contrary, if you consume less calories than you burn, your body taps into your fat stores for energy, causing fat loss and leading to weight loss.
Determine Your Lifestyle
One of the most important factors in determining how many calories you need is to look at your daily activity level to determine how many calories your body needs to function properly.
Are you sedentary?
Sedentary does not mean that you lie around all day in bed. It actually pertains to people who predominantly sit at a desk all day. Chances are, if you have a job in an office and do not take part in daily exercise, you fall under this category.
Are you active?
If you’re a server in a restaurant where you’re on your feet all day but not doing significant physical labor, or if you are doing an entry level exercise program, then you lead a moderately active lifestyle.
Are you extremely active?
If you do physical labor for your living, like a landscaper or construction worker, or you are doing an intense at-home program like Insanity or P90X, then you lead a highly active lifestyle.
It’s a delicate balance that you may need to play around with, but now that you can figure out what style of life you lead, it is now time to determine how many calories you should eat for weight maintenance and weight loss – time to break out the pen and paper or your calculator:
|To Maintain Your Weight||Weight Loss|
|Sedentary||Multiply your current weight in lbs x 12||Multiply your current weight in lbs x 12 then subtract by 500|
|Active||Multiply your current weight in lbs x 13||Multiply your current weight in lbs x 13 then subtract by 500|
|Highly Active||Multiply your current weight in lbs x 14||Multiply your current weight in lbs x 14 then subtract by 500|
Your final numbers should not be set in stone – they are general guidelines. It’s a great place to start when you begin any weight loss program or if you’ve never had true success losing weight, but you will probably need to make adjustments to suit your specific body. Not all metabolisms are created equally and even stress and hormones can take its toll on the way your body is burning calories. To begin a weight loss diet, cutting your calorie maintenance needs by 500 is always a good place to start, which will leave you with a healthy, sustainable weight loss of about a pound per week. Sometimes, you will need to lessen or increase these amounts.
Don’t Starve Yourself
I have seen way too many people do this when they are trying to lose weight. Everyone wants to lose weight fast by slashing their calories down to nothing, but it is never healthy to cut your calories too much. In fact, cutting your calories too much can actually lead to weight gain, because your body goes into starvation/survival mode.
NEVER go below 1200 calories – this is not a sustainable diet and can be dangerous to your health if followed for too long. On the other hand, if you are looking to add some muscle, then you may need to increase your calories to aid in weight gain.
Still Having Trouble Losing Weight?
If you’ve stuck to the above caloric recommendations for 7-10 days and have not lost any weight, try subtracting another 300 calories from your diet for the next 7-10 days to see if you have any luck. If you still don’t lose any weight, try increasing your calories by 400 to see if that helps. If you still don’t see any weight loss after the increase in calories, you may need to take a look at the foods you’re eating to figure out where you may be going wrong.
Not All Calories are Equal
Please keep in mind that not all calories are the same – you have to watch what you eat in addition to eating less calories than your body burns naturally to lose weight the right way. This means you can’t just eat pizza and junk food at your recommended weight loss amount, because it can actually wreak havoc on your body and inhibit weight loss results by messing with your insulin levels. Even not eating enough protein can be counterproductive for your health and fitness goals.
All in all, the best way to manage your weight in a safe and healthy way is to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
If you have any questions about this article or need help with your diet, please feel free to contact me.