Most people have heard you should count your calories if you are trying to control weight. Still, it can be complicated to understand how many calories are needed to lose weight and maintain good health. Calories supply the body with the energy it needs to survive.
Without taking in enough calories, people can wind up lowering their metabolism and cause their body to function improperly. However, if too many calories are consumed without burning them, the calories are stored as fat, and weight-gain occurs. There needs to be a correct balance between taking in the right amount of calories to supply the body with the energy it needs, without overeating. (For more information, read The Link Between Metabolism And Your Weight.)
What Are Calories?
Understanding what calories are can be complicated, but it is essential to realize their importance. The technical definition of a calorie is the amount of heat needed to increase the temperature of one gram of water one degree Celsius. A simpler way to understand calories is by looking at them as a measure of energy. The body needs energy from calories in food to sustain all of its activities including basic functions, such as breathing, sleeping and circulation.
Determining Caloric Needs
A person’s individual caloric needs vary depending on several factors like age, gender, body-size and activity level. While calorie needs vary from person-to-person, they also change throughout a person’s lifetime. Although calculating exact caloric needs can be complicated, it is important that a person has an estimate of how many calories he needs for proper weight management.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), an easy estimate for caloric needs for women is eating 10 to 12 calories per pound to maintain their current weight. Adult men need to eat between 13 to 15 calories per pound to maintain their weight. It is important to keep in mind, that the above calculation is an estimate. Age, activity level and a person’s individual metabolic rate also need to be factored in to determine calorie needs.
Are All Calories Equal?
All calories are not equal in terms of nutritional benefits for the body. Carbohydrates, fats and protein are all needed for the body to function properly, but they are needed in different amounts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the daily calorie breakdown for most adults should include the following:
- Calories from carbohydrates: 45 to 65 percent
- Calories from protein: 10 to 35 percent
- Calories from Fats: 20 to 35 percent
It is important for people to be aware of empty calories in their diet. Empty calories are considered foods that do not have any nutritional value and should be limited. Most empty calories are from sugars or solid fats. Common foods with mostly empty calories include candy, soda, butter and chips.
In order to lose one pound, a person has to burn 3,500 calories more than he or she uses. This may seem like a lot, but if calories are reduced a little each day, it can add up over time. For instance, reducing calories by 500 every day over the course of one week can result in a one pound of weight-loss. (For tips on calorie reduction, read 9 Easy Tips For Cutting Calories Every Day.)
In addition to reducing the amount of calories taken in, a person can burn more calories through increased physical activity. Various forms of exercise can burn different amounts of calories depending on exertion level and duration. In addition to daily exercise, lifestyle changes can help people increase the amount of calories they burn. Simple changes to incorporate more activity into a person’s lifestyle can help burn more calories, such as taking the stairs whenever possible, walking more and participating in active hobbies. (If you’re looking for ways to burn more calories, check out Household Chores That Burn The Most Calories.)
Tips For Reducing Calories To Lose Weight
Although there are many types of diets, losing weight simply comes down to eating fewer calories than your body needs. When people burn more calories than they eat, the body uses stored fat for energy, which leads to weight-loss. Some tips for reducing calories include the following:
- Watch for hidden calories: Calories that a person may not take into consideration include cream in coffee, butter, mayonnaise on a sandwich and salad dressing.
- Limit calories from beverages: Soda and fruit juice both contain a lot of sugar and calories. Consider limiting both and switching to water.
- Order food grilled instead of fried: Fried foods usually have more calories than foods that have been grilled or baked. Also, skip food that has been prepared in cream or butter sauces, which can add a lot of extra calories.
- Read food labels: Most food packages have food labels, which list the amount of calories, fat content and grams of protein and carbohydrates. (To learn more about food labels, see How To Read A Nutrition Label.)
Calorie counting may be recommended for losing weight, but it is also important to understand the types of calories that should be eaten. While calories from essential fats, carbohydrates and protein are needed, empty calories with no nutritional value are not. Making the right food choices and balancing caloric needs takes a little practice, but it is essential for weight management.