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How many calories should I really be eating?

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How many calories should I really be eating?

A question we often hear in the fitness industry; "How many calories do I need to eat to lose weight?" or "I'm eating healthy, why am I not losing weight?" Both of these questions are basically the same, because sometimes in order to lose weight you need to eat more! 

Your calorie needs depend on your weight, height, age, gender, activity level, and other factors (like pregnancy). “If you exercise on a regular basis, you will need to take in a bit more calories to maintain your weight,” Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, a dietitian in New York City, told Fox News. “However, exercise doesn’t burn quite as much as we think, and it is not possible to exercise away an overly caloric diet.”

Many online calculators exist — and in the scientific community, Mifflin St. Jeor and Harris-Benedict and are viewed as two of the most accurate. “These equations calculate the number of calories your body needs to function while at rest,” explained Angie Asche, MS, RD, a sports nutritionist and owner of Eleat Sports Nutrition. While calorie needs vary greatly by person, women tend to need 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day, and men typically require between 2,000 and 3,000. Remember though, everyone's needs are different so don't go by these numbers strictly. If you really need to lose weight, make sure to meet with a registered dietitian to make certain you are eating to lose weight in a healthy manner.  

You don’t necessarily need to count calories, though. Many nutrition experts are proponents of mindful eating, which encourages tuning in and listening to the cues that tell you when you’re hungry and when you’re beginning to feel full. Make sure you balance your plate with meals made of mostly whole foods, including plenty of protein, healthy fats, and fiber. Proteins and fiber especially will help you feel full quicker and longer.

Does the quality of calories matter?

Nutrient density is a concept that is just as important, if not more so, than calories. Think about eating 100 calories worth of potato chips versus almonds. They both contain the same number of calories, the almonds provide protein, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants — and the potato chips, empty carbs and salt. Because the nutrients that the foods contain are so different, your body will treat them as such. You’ll absorb the almonds more slowly, helping to stabilize your blood sugar and keep you fuller for longer. You’ll burn through the potato chips more quickly, perhaps wanting to eat more as a result.

How do calories relate to weight loss and weight gain?

While one pound equates to 3,500 calories, weight loss and weight gain aren’t as simple as calories in and calories out. But let’s start here: If you want to lose weight, you’ll need a deficit so you’re burning more than you’re taking in.

Avoid eating too few calories, though. Caloric deficits that are too low sets you up for failure. By eating to few you put your body in starvation mode, slowing your metabolism and resulting in lean muscle mass loss. You’ll see many quick-fix diets advocating 1,200 calories or less, but these can be detrimental to your metabolism when followed long term. Weekend cleanses and detox tend to just help you lose water weight, not true body fat.Your quick weight loss is weight you may gain back once you go back to eating a normal diet. Instead of a speedy weight loss, aim for a slower, lasting one, with a goal of losing 1 to 2 pounds per week. This is typically an average loss over time because your body isn’t a machine — you’re likely to lose a little more one week, a little less another. Aim for a deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories daily, which you can accomplish through a combination of reducing calories and increasing exercise.

To lose weight without feeling hungry, you’ll want to add volume in the form of fruits and vegetables, since the water and fiber they contain helps you feel satiated — as well as whole grains, providing fiber and protein. Look first to cutting calories from added sugar, which doesn’t provide a nutritional benefit. One your goal has been reached, make sure to keep up with the healthy meals and keep up with your physical activity, otherwise you'll see the scale slowly creeping back up.

Remember; it's a marathon, not a sprint!


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