Part Two: How Many Calories Do You Need?
How much weight do you want to lose and how do you use calorie counting to get the job done? Well the very first thing to know is that a pound of fat is equal to 3,500 calories. So, theoretically, if you want to lose a pound a week you need to make sure that you burn 3,500 more calories than you consume.
That means you can eat 10,000 calories a day as long as you burn 10,500 calories. After burning an extra 500 calories a day for 7 days, you’ve lost a pound. But how many calories do you really need each day to function and stay healthy? Certainly not 10,000, so let’s take a look.
How to Decide How Many Calories to Eat Every Day
The first step to determine how many calories you need to eat each day is to calculate what is called your “resting metabolic rate.” Your resting metabolic rate is the number of calories your body needs to function at rest.
Your Sunday may be a resting day. You may run a few errands but for the most part you may hang out around the house. Your body doesn’t need extra calories because you’re not asking it to do anything much beyond keeping you alive.
You need energy for breathing and keeping your heart pounding. You need energy to digest your food and to keep your brain functioning. Beyond that, you may not need any additional energy. So your metabolic resting rate may be lower than you imagine.
There’s a calculation that you can use to determine your metabolic resting rate:
- For Women: BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)
- For Men: BMR = 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years)
For example, if you’re a 45-year-old woman who is 65 inches tall (5 foot 5 inches) and you weigh 150 pounds then your resting metabolic rate is:
- 655 + (4.35×150) + (4.7×65) + (4.7×45),
- Or: 655+652.5+305.5+211.5=1824.5 calories
As you begin tracking your calories you’re going to quickly realize that you’ve reached your resting metabolic rate in just a few small meals. For example, consider a breakfast consisting of:
- 1 fried egg (92 calories)
- Toast with butter (115 calories)
- Orange juice (110 calories)
- Coffee with cream (90 calories)
This traditional breakfast puts you at around 400 calories and you haven’t even left the house yet. There still needs to be room for two other meals, plus snacks. Keep in mind also that your goal is to lose weight, not just to maintain your weight. This means you’ll need to burn more calories than you’re eating. If you’re not exercising then you’d need to drop your daily caloric intake to less than your metabolic resting rate.
This means for our example 45-year-old woman who weighs 150 pounds, she’d need to eat less than 1824.5 calories each day. If she wants to lose one to two pounds a week that means consuming 500 to 1000 fewer calories a day.
Now this can get extreme. If she needs 1824.5 to function and she wants to lose two pounds a week that means she only has 824.5 calories every day. As you’ve seen from the breakfast example, she’d reach that number in virtually no time.
The Role of Exercise in Calorie Counting and Restriction
Adding exercise to your calorie-counting program can be a tremendous help. For example, if you add one hour of walking at a brisk pace it will burn 250 to 300 calories. Jog that same amount of time and you’ll burn somewhere between 450 and 500 calories.
This means that our 45-year-old woman can lose a pound a week by eating 1824 calories and exercising for an hour a day. She gets to eat more and the exercise helps her burn more calories throughout the day. Exercise boosts metabolism, which means that her resting metabolism may actually increase.
Different types of exercise have a stronger impact on calorie burn. According to the Mayo Clinic, a 160-pound person can burn the following calories in an hour of exercise:
- Aerobics, high impact: 533
- Bicycling, < 10 mph, leisure: 292
- Resistance (weight) training: 365
- Rollerblading: 548
- Rope jumping: 861
- Rowing, stationary: 438
- Running, 5 mph: 606
- Running, 8 mph: 861
- Stair treadmill: 657
- Swimming, laps: 423
As previously mentioned, there are handy calculators, mobile applications and online programs that will calculate the number of calories you’ve burned as you enter your information throughout the day. For example, you’d enter your weight, age, and the intensity level of the exercise you preformed as well as the length of time you worked out.
As you go through your day and track your calories, adding exercise to your day means you can eat more and still lose weight.
But doesn’t exercise make you hungrier?
There are people who have complained that when they exercise they actually gain weight. There may be a few reasons for this.
If you eat a diet that is nutritionally poor, then your body will require you to eat more after exercise because it needs the nutrients to recover from that exercise. Eating a diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein is a much smarter approach. You won’t feel the need to binge after you work out.
Meal planning and timing makes a huge difference as well. If you don’t eat breakfast and you head right to the gym, you may feel extremely hungry as your body tries to make up the deficit. Try to eat an hour to an hour and a half before you work out. Then plan a smart post workout snack. A protein bar, a protein smoothie, or something simple like an apple and peanut butter will help your body recover and prevent overeating after a workout.
Finally, it’s possible that the people who are gaining weight when they work out are replacing fat with muscle. Muscle weighs more, and as their body makes the transition they may weigh a little more. But they may also be dropping clothing sizes at the same time.
When counting calories and adding exercise to your program it’s important to pay attention to the type of food you’re eating as well as the overall calorie count.
Sample Calorie Restriction Plan
Breakfast – One cup oatmeal with a half cup of low fat milk, a tablespoon of honey and a handful of blueberries.
Lunch – Turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with lettuce, tomato, and mustard. Handful of vegetables or a small salad with vinaigrette.
Dinner – Baked fish or chicken breast with a cup of green beans and a small salad with vinaigrette.
Two Snacks – One apple with a handful of almonds or a tablespoon of almond or peanut butter. Greek yogurt with strawberries.
Total Calories for the Day: 1,300 calories.
You’ll notice a few things about this sample menu. First, there are snacks. You’re actually eating five meals. The second thing you may notice is that it’s a lot of food. You’re not going to go hungry with calorie counting.
And if you include exercise into your day then that can add another 300-500 calories to your burn, which means you can add an appropriate amount of your favorite food to your day. For example, maybe you can have a cookie with dinner or a bit of cream and sugar in your morning coffee.
You know that calorie counting helps you lose weight and stay in control of your intake. You also know how to determine your resting metabolic rate. This gives you the power to determine how you regulate your calories.
For example, if you want to lose a pound a week you know that you need to burn 500 more calories than you consume. (500 x 7 = 3,500 calories, and remember that 3,500 calories is equal to one pound).
You also know that it’s important to choose the foods you eat wisely. You can eat a piece of cake and consume 25% of your daily calories, or you can have a turkey sandwich and a piece of fruit and still only consume 15-20% of your daily calories.
You know that while a calorie is a calorie in terms of measurement, your body treats calories from different foods differently. A piece of cake will cause a blood sugar spike, which leads to low blood sugar later, low energy, and cravings. Long term, it leads to insulin resistance and diabetes, which causes fat storage and weight gain. That turkey sandwich and fruit helps you maintain balanced blood sugar and there are no long-term ill effects.
You also know that by adding exercise to your daily routine, you have more wiggle room in terms of food quantity – you can eat more. What we haven’t talked about yet and what is important to your success is HOW you count those calories. In the next section we’ll take a look at tips, tools, and methods to count calories and lose weight.