A friend of mine is trying to lose weight by watching her calories. Personally, of all of the weight loss diets and fads out there, this makes the most sense to me. Your body requires a certain amount of calories to function. If you consume less calories than it requires, it breaks down fat and muscle to get those calories. If your calorie intake is more than your body requires, it stores the excess calories as fat. So, regardless of the diet, the only way you’re going to lose weight is to consume less calories.
The amount of calories your body burns in 1 day is called your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Factors that affect your BMR include height, weight, age and gender. Here is a formula that you can use to calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate:
Women: BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)
Men: BMR = 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years)
This BMR formula doesn’t take into account if you have a higher muscle-to-fat ratio nor your activity level. Therefore, a more accurate way to determine how many calories you use during an average day is to take the Basal Metabolic Rate that you calculated above and plug it into what’s called the Harris Benedict Equation. This equation factors in your activity level to determine a more accurate assessment of how many calories you burn during the day. Here is the equation below:
- If you are sedentary (little or no exercise): Calories = BMR x 1.2
- If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week): Calories = BMR x 1.375
- If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week): Calories = BMR x 1.55
- If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days/week): Calories = BMR x 1.725
- If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training): Calories = BMR x 1.9
These calories are basically what you need to consume on a daily basis to maintain your current weight. With this number you can then calculate the calorie intake you need to eat in order to either gain or lose weight.
Calorie Needs to Lose Weight
There are about 3500 calories in a pound of body fat. So, you need to create a 3500-calorie deficit through diet and exercise in order to lose 1 pound of body weight. This calorie deficit can be achieved by either calorie-restriction or by a combination of fewer calories in (diet) and more calories out (through exercise). The combination of diet and exercise gets you the best results for lasting weight loss. Visit my other blog post to learn about Essential Components of a Fitness Program.
If you want to lose fat, a good guideline for decreasing your caloric intake is to reduce your daily calories by at least 500, but not more than 1000 below your maintenance level (This will cause you to have either a 3500 or 7000 calorie deficit per week which is equivalent to 1-2 pounds). If you only need to lose a small amount of weight, stay closer to the 500 calories because 1000 is too much. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that calorie levels never drop below 1200 calories per day for women and 1800 calories per day for men. If you have a small to moderate amount of weight to lose, reducing your caloric intake by 15-20% below your maintenance level is a safe way to go.
Here are some simple ways to cut calories out of your diet:
- Eliminate red meat – Build your meals around fish and poultry.
- Cut out fried foods – Grill, bake, roast, broil or boil your food. No more French fries and snacks like potato chips and Doritos
- Begin your meal with a soup or salad – This will curb your hunger and will help keep your portion sizes in check.
- Stop drinking soda/cola – For every 20 ounces of soda you drink, you’re consuming more than 250 calories. You can blow your entire calorie budget for the day on soda.
- Drink water – Try to drink 8 glasses a day. Even if you don’t hit 8, try to consume more than usual.
- For other ideas visit my other blog posts – Easy Ways to Cut Calories Without Feeling Deprived & Healthy Eating Tips So You Don’t Need to Diet
If you’re overweight, losing as little as 7-10 percent of your weight can improve many of the conditions linked to being overweight such as high blood pressure and diabetes. However, slow and steady weight loss of no more than 1-2 pounds per week is the safest way to lose weight. Too rapid weight loss can cause you to lose more muscle than fat. It also increases your chances of developing things like gallstones and nutrient deficiencies. Making permanent changes in your eating habits and physical activity is the only way to lose weight and keep it off.
Calorie Needs to Gain Weight
If you have the opposite problem and need to gain weight, you need to consume more calories than you burn. Once you calculate the number of calories you need to maintain your weight, eating an extra 500 calories per day will gain you an extra pound a week (roughly 3500 calories). If you increase your calorie intake to gain weight then you should try to increase your level of physical exercise in order to maintain or increase your lean body mass or muscle mass. Exercise can help both your physical and mental health. Visit my other blog post to learn about the Basic Principles of a Good Fitness program.
Whether you need to lose or gain weight, controlling your calorie intake during the day controls your weight. You didn’t get over or under-weight overnight so it’s not going to get better overnight. You should only change your weight by 4-8 pounds per month. The biggest thing is to change your eating habits and add exercise (if possible) to your lifestyle.