Calories Do Count

Calories Do Count

by Kim Hardin, RD

Are you confused by all the fad diets and nutritional information available today? Maintaining a healthy weight is really quite simple - it all comes down to calories. If you take in more than you need, you'll gain unwanted pounds. But how do you know how many you need?

Here's a three-step plan for designing the perfect eating plan.

Step 1: Calculate Your Caloric Requirements

Many dietitians rely on the Harris Benedict Equation, which considers your BMR (the calories your body needs at rest) and your activity level. You can find plenty of calculators on the Web or use the following formulas to determine your caloric requirements.

Calculate your BMR

Women: BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in lbs) + (4.7 x height in inches) " (4.7 x age in years)

Men: BMR = 66 + (6.23 x weight in lbs) + (12.7 x height in inches) " (6.8 x age in years)

Multiply BMR x your exercise factor

  1. Sedentary (little or no exercise) = BMR x 1.2
  2. Lightly active (light exercise/sports 1"3 days/week) = BMR x 1.375
  3. Moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3"5 days/week) = BMR x 1.55
  4. Very active (hard exercise/sports 6"7 days a week) = BMR x 1.725
  5. Extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training) = BMR x 1.9

Step 2: Calculate Your Current Caloric Intake

Write down everything you eat in a day, including portion sizes. Break out those measuring cups and spoons, and read labels to find out how many calories are in a serving. Pay attention to preparation methods: foods that are fried or served with sauces contain additional calories.

Here are some estimates for foods that typically don't have labels:

  • 1 small piece of fruit = 60 calories
  • 1 cup salad greens = 25 calories
  • 3 oz cooked fish = 165 calories
  • 3 oz cooked lean pork, beef, or chicken = 225 calories

Step 3: Cut Calories to Lose Weight

For the best long-term results, nutritionists recommend gradual weight loss. To lose a pound per week, subtract about 500 calories per day from your current intake. You can easily do so by eating 500 fewer calories, or by expending 500 calories through exercise or activity, or by combining the two: eat 250 fewer calories and burn 250 calories.

Identify foods that are high in calories and low in nutrients (such as soda pop and candy bars) and decrease them from your diet.

Expend more calories by increasing your activity level. A 150-pound person can burn an extra 100 calories by doing the following activities:

  • Gardening for 20 minutes
  • Walking the dog for 20 minutes
  • Bicycling for 25 minutes
  • Jogging for 15 minutes
  • Aerobic dancing for 15 minutes

Fad diets may seem glamorous, trendy, exciting, and new, but they rarely work over the long term. If you want results that last, follow these three steps and take charge of your weight once and for all.