Patients ask me all the time how many calories they need daily. I’m not a big fan of counting calories but clearly knowing the boundaries is important. Your weight is a balancing act, and calories play a big role. Knowing how calories impact your weight and ways you can best cut caloric intake is a key part of any weight loss program.
Despite all the diet strategies out there, weight management still comes down to the calories you take in versus those you burn off. Fad diets may promise that the secret to losing weight is by avoiding carbs or eating a mountain of grapefruit, but it really comes down to eating fewer calories than your body is using. This is the only way to shed pounds.
Our bodies constantly demand the energy derived from food to keep functioning. Calories fuel our every action, from fidgeting to marathon running. Carbohydrates, fats and proteins make up our main sources of energy. Regardless of where they come from, the calories you eat are either converted to physical energy or stored within your body as fat. These stored calories will remain fat unless you use them up, either by reducing calorie intake so that your body must draw on these reserves for energy, or by increasing physical activity so that you burn more calories.
If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight. And if you eat fewer calories and burn more calories through physical activity, you lose weight. Period. Because 3,500 calories equals about 1 pound (0.45 kilogram) of fat, it’s estimated that you need to burn about 3,500 calories to lose 1 pound. So, in general, if you cut about 500 to 1,000 calories a day from your typical diet, you’d lose about 1 to 2 pounds a week. (read about the G.R.A.D.E diet).
It sounds simple. However, it’s more complex because when you lose weight, you usually lose a combination of fat, lean tissue and water. Also, because of changes that occur in the body as a result of weight loss, you may need to decrease calories further to continue weight loss.
So back to the initial question –
How many calories should I be consuming a day?
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and FDA (Food and Drug Administration) have recommended dietary guidelines that include the number of calories you should consume a day, depending on your age, level of activity, and gender. The chart below will help you find out how many calories you should consume. If you regularly take in more than the recommended amount, you will gain weight.
Sedentary means a lifestyle that includes only the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life. Moderately active means a lifestyle that includes physical activity equivalent to walking about 1.5 to 3 miles per day at 3 to 4 miles per hour, in addition to the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life. Active means a lifestyle that includes physical activity equivalent to walking more than 3 miles per day at 3 to 4 miles per hour, in addition to the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life. The calorie ranges shown are to accommodate needs of different ages within the group. For children and adolescents, more calories are needed at older ages. For adults, fewer calories are needed at older ages.
There is also a way to calculate your caloric needs based on the Muffling- St Jeor equation. A formula estimated to be an accurate way of estimating caloric needs in numerous studies. There are also apps that can track every calorie consumed.
Whatever the resource, knowing the total calories needed each day can be a wonderful tool in achieving your weight loss goals.
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