How many calories do I really need?

22 10 2012

Cathy Shaw

Do you ever wonder how your physician or registered dietitian came up with that magic number? You know, the number of calories that you should aim for to help you lose weight. Do you often wonder if they just pull that number out of a hat?

Well, I can assure you that this is not the case. In a recent survey, they found that 9 out of 10 people did not know the correct number of calories that they should consume daily (IFIC Food & Health Survey,2011), so it is easy to see why people are confused about how much they should eat. Recommendations for calorie goals have changed over the years with the evolving science of nutrition and metabolism. Many professionals used to recommend that most women should follow a 1,000 to 1,200 calorie diet and most men a 1,200 to 1,500 calorie diet to promote weight loss. At these levels, they are reducing calories for weight loss, as well as preventing inadequate vitamin and mineral intake. However, we have found that this is not always effective as everyone’s body structure and metabolism are different. These goals may be too low for many people, not even meeting their energy needs at rest. Calorie needs are very individualized and depend on many factors other than gender. There are many ways to estimate energy needs, but they are based on an individual’s height, weight, age, gender and level of physical activity. These calculations are more accurate and can give you a much better place to start with a weight management program. There are many on line calculators that can help you estimate your current energy needs using this information (such as http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/calorie-calculator/NU00598 ). But here’s the trick – be honest and accurate with the information you enter!

So what does it take to lose weight and what are reasonable goals? One pound equals 3,500 calories, so aiming for a daily calorie goal that is 500 calories less than your current needs should result in weight loss of 1 pound per week. This is where your registered dietitian or doctor will come up with a calorie goal (such as 1,500 or 1,800 calories) for your weight loss program. Often this can be achieved through small changes in both diet and physical activity. To lose 2 pounds per week, you would have to cut calorie intake by 1,000 calories per day, which, depending on your current energy needs, can be more difficult to achieve. This requires more significant changes in your diet and physical activity levels, which may be difficult to maintain over time. Overall, an initial goal for weight loss should be about 10% of your current body weight (about 20lbs for a 200lb person). After this goal is reached, then it’s time to reassess energy needs for weight loss as well as future goals.

Losing weight is a significant life challenge for many people, and each person is unique. Nutrition and physical activity goals need to be tailored to your specific needs to help you navigate your road to success!

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