What are calories?
When it comes to losing weight, terms like “low calorie,” “zero calories,” and “calorie-cutting” are thrown around all the time. You may often find yourself wondering, How many calories should you eat a day? Despite what society may tell you, you don’t want to go overboard with the calorie-slashing. In fact, cutting calories may not help you lose weight at all.
“Calories are a unit of energy,” says Alex Robles, MD, of The White Coat Trainer in New York City. “They serve as fuel to allow your body to perform all of its necessary functions. This includes movement such as walking, running, and carrying groceries, and automatic functions such as breathing, food digestion, and blood circulation. Almost every single thing that is edible contains a certain number of calories.”
Calories come from fat, carbohydrates, and protein. Any calories your body doesn’t use are stored as fat and converted to energy if needed, though this is rare since most of us are constantly consuming calories, according to Susan Besser, MD, of Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland.
So how many calories should you eat a day?
How many calories do you need? There’s a formula to find that out. Finding out how many calories you should eat a day depends on your activity level. According to Besser, the average adult needs about 2,000 calories a day. If you’re trying to lose weight, you should cut 500 calories. But there’s another precise method to figure out how many calories you should eat in a day. Your Basal Metabolic Rate should be able to answer the question of how many calories do you need.
To calculate your BMR, fitness trainer Nick Page of The Trainer Page in Holbrook, New York, recommends the Harris-Benedict Formula. If you’re a male, you would do 66.47 + (6.24 x weight in lbs) + (12.7 x height in inches) – (6.755 x your age). If you’re a female, you would do 655.1 + (4.35 x weight in lbs) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x your age). Then calculate this number based on your estimated weekly activity level:
- Little to no exercise (BMR x 1.2)
- Little exercise – sports/workouts 1-3 times a week (BMR x 1.375)
- Medium exercise – sports/workouts 3-5 times a week (BMR x 1.55)
- Hard exercise – sports/workouts 6-7 times a week (BMR x 1.725)
- Intense exercise/sports or physical job or 2X a day training (BMR x 1.9)
It’s important to note that this number doesn’t necessarily answer the question “how many calories do you need?” Although this does stand as the ideal formula to use as a guideline, weight loss boils down to more than just a number. Living your healthiest life doesn’t equate to shedding pounds, and obsessively counting calories can spiral one into an overly compulsive diet with dangerous downfalls. The induced stress can actually raise your cortisol levels, making it even harder for you to lose weight. And if you’re still wondering how many calories should you eat a day, here are some more simple tricks to help you determine how many calories are ideal for your weight loss goal.
How to burn calories and reduce your intake
“The most effective way to burn more calories is to simply get moving,” says Stephen Campolo, Flx Body Fitness fat loss and nutrition expert. “Even if it’s just going for a 30-minute walk or riding your bike. Any time your body is in motion you are burning calories. Start where you can and as you progress you can begin to implement weights or a steady workout routine.”
Campolo also recommends tracking your calories to better understand what you’re eating and reduce your intake. There are several apps you can download on your phone which will scan bar codes and enter what you eat and calculate the calories you eat that way. “Most people greatly underestimate how much they are eating, so tracking this will give you a good idea of how many calories you are actually consuming,” Campolo said.
This, combined with exercising, can help you lose weight. But it’s important to remember you need calories to function, no matter how much weight you’re trying to lose. Want to see where you can cut excess calories? Here are 100 easy ways to cut 50 calories throughout your day.