Here’s a real shocker: little 5’2” Suzy Q has different nutritional requirements than linebacker-sized, Jim Bob. Why then are we all taught to follow a 2,000 calories a day diet? This number has become sort of a general benchmark for calorie consumption, and yet, it’s completely off target for many individual’s actual needs. Rather, our daily calorie budget should be specific to our bodies and not an arbitrary number. When we eat for our body type and specific energy requirements, we can prevent weight gain and can even promote weight loss.
So how do you go about discovering your individual daily caloric needs? The first step to proper eating is to find your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) or the amount of calories needed to survive and carry out basic functions, like breathing and digestion. In a nutshell, your BMR is how many calories you would expend if you stayed in bed all day. Knowing your BMR allows you to modify your daily calorie intake to create a deficit to lose weight, or to create a weight maintenance plan.
Calculate your BMR:
655 + (4.3 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)
66 + (6.3 x weight in pounds) + (12.9 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years)
These calculations will result in your BMR, the calories needed for basic bodily functions. Now, because most of us aren’t lying in bed all day (as much as we’d like to), we need to account for activity to find our daily caloric needs.
Now that you understand your most basic caloric needs, you must take your daily activity into account to create a more complete nutritional plan.
If you are:
Sedentary: BMR x .20
Lightly active: BMR x .30
Moderately active (exercise most days a week): BMR x .40
Very active (exercise intensely on a daily basis or for prolonged periods): BMR x .50
Extra active (hard labor or athletic training): BMR x .60
Add this number to your BMR and the result will be the number of calories you can consume and maintain your current weight. If you’re interested in losing weight, you’ll have to take in fewer calories. Note that as you age, lose weight or change activity levels, your BMR changes. So you may have to make adjustments as you progress.
Now that you’ve calculated your personal nutritional requirements, it’s time to track those pesky calories. If you’re interested in losing weight, tracking your calories is especially important. In fact, studies have shown that dieters that keep a record of their calories lose substantially more weight than those who do not. The trick is to do the counting before you dive in, not after the meal. It will lead to healthier food choices.
Some people like to keep an old school pen and paper calorie record. This could be as sophisticated as a calorie counting guide with places for each meal and lists of typical food calorie amounts or as basic as a pocket notebook where you jot down your meals and calories.
Technology lovers may prefer online programs where they can record their calories or calorie counting applications for their smartphones. I typically use an iPhone app for my tracking so I can log calories throughout the day. The data gets uploaded to my account online so I can always use a computer to add calories if my phone’s not handy. The online account is especially helpful because it provides an analysis of my nutrition in addition to just tracking. This way I can understand what nutrients I’m lacking or where I need to cut down—in my case, more veggies and fewer chocolate-chip cookies.
In fact, I’ve found that by just becoming aware of what exactly I’m putting into my body has motivated me to eat better. Understanding what’s in those cheesy fries and how they’ll completely throw off your calorie budget for the remainder of the day, will make you more apt to choose a healthier option. So get out your calculator or abacus, figure out your BMR and set your weight loss goals. Happy calorie counting!