Friday, October 24, 2008

How Many Calories Should I Eat A Day?

One question I hear all the time is "How many calories should I be eating a day?" This, of course, varies greatly from person to person. It depends on not only your weight but also your height; the taller you are the more you burn because you have more lean body tissue and this lean tissue (muscle) uses more energy than fat. It depends on whether you are male or female; men typically have more muscle mass, so they burn more calories (not fair!). It depends how old you are because after a certain age (around 35) we start burning fewer calories and that number continues to decrease gradually as we continue to age. Finally, it greatly depends on your activity level because if you get a lot of exercise you naturally are burning a lot more calories.

Here's a quick and convenient way to estimate of how many calories you need. Multiply your weight by 15 to get the number of calories you need per day to maintain your weight. If you weight 150 pounds and you are happy with this weight, you need (15 x 150) approximately 2250 calories a day to maintain it. This is a very general starting point, because from these numbers we don't know whether you are male or female, active or sedentary, young or older. It's just an estimate.

If you would like to lose weight, multiply your present weight by 10. If you weigh 180 pounds and you would like to weigh less, a good estimate is for you to eat (10 x 180) 1800 calories a day. Again, it certainly depends on how active you are, how tall you are, and whether you are male or female (a man could lose weight faster on this calorie level than a woman), but it's a good place to start.

Play around with the range of 10 to 15 times your weight. If you weigh 160 pounds, look at the numbers from 1600 (16o x 10) to 2400 calories (16o x 15). You could probably lose a pound a week by limiting your calorie intake to 1600 calories, and you would probably maintain your weight if you ate 2400 calories a day. Remember if you are middle-aged, female, less than 5'4", and not very active you will need to keep your calories in the lower part of this range to lose, and maybe even to maintain your weight.

If you are very overweight (say, 270 pounds or more) you should multiply the weight you would like to be by 15 to find a good starting calorie level. People who are nearly 100 pounds overweight are carrying that extra weight as fat tissue, which does not burn nearly the calories of our muscles, organs, and other body tissue. So a 270 pound woman may aim for (170 x 15) 2550 calories to start losing weight. It sounds like a very high calorie level for weight loss to occur, but people who are this heavy are usually eating more than 2500 calories a day! Therefore, reducing your intake to less than you usually eat will result in weight loss. You do not have to start with a 1200 calorie diet and feel starving to lose weight. Eat a little less; take your time with weight loss. Make it permanent!

Now, just a quick note on where to go from here: how do you figure out what to eat once you figure the appropriate calorie level? It's pretty tough counting calories all day, so take advantage of using some estimates again here. Aim for 1/3 of your calories at lunch and 1/3 of your calories at dinner; slightly fewer at breakfast to allow for small snacks during the day. If you want to eat 1800 calories a day, divide that into a 400 calorie breakfast, a 500-600 calorie lunch and dinner, and a couple of 100-150 calorie snacks! Read your labels and get to know what the calorie content is of foods you eat often. Some websites calculate these for you so it may be helpful to enter your food intake on one such as The Daily Plate.

Post any questions and we'll help you get started!

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