Getting good nutrition involves more than just eating the right number of calories; the type of calories you choose significantly impacts your health -- and how you feel. Unfortunately, Weight Control Information Network reports that more than 64 percent of women in the U.S. are classified as overweight or obese. Choosing a healthy meal plan based on your individual calorie needs will help you maintain -- or achieve -- that slim, hourglass figure.
If you’re already at a healthy weight, aim to eat just enough calories to maintain that weight. According to Harvard Medical School, sedentary women need 13 calories per pound of body weight, moderately active women require 16 calories per pound and vigorous exercisers need up to 18 calories per pound of body weight each day. For example, a moderately active woman who weighs 125 pounds needs about 2,000 calories per day, while an active, 125-pound female requires about 2,250 calories in a day.
Due to long, intense workouts typically used in athletic training, female athletes may need even more calories than women who exercise regularly. According to the University of Missouri, women athletes generally need 20 to 23 calories per pound of body weight each day. This is equivalent to 2,500 to 2,875 calories a day for a 125-pound female athlete.
Calorie-reduced diets are the most effective way for overweight women to shed extra pounds. However, if your calorie intake drops too low, you run the risk for nutrient deficiencies and negative side effects, such as nausea, fatigue and dizziness. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, most women can safely lose weight following 1,000- to 1,200-calorie diets, but women who weigh more than 164 pounds and those who are regular exercisers usually need 1,200 to 1,600 calories a day during weight loss.
Getting the right proportion of carbohydrates, protein and fat in your diet will help you meet your nutrient needs and look and feel your best. Carbs and protein each provide 4 calories per gram, and fat contains 9 calories per gram. The Institute of Medicine recommends that women get 45 to 65 percent of their calories from carbs, 10 to 35 percent from protein and 20 to 35 percent from fats. For example, if your 2,000-calorie diet consists of 50 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent fat and 20 percent protein, you’d need 250 grams of carbs, about 67 grams of fat and 100 grams of protein each day.
Healthy Meal Plan
Eating a variety of healthy foods -- such as whole grains, lean meats and poultry, seafood, low-fat dairy foods, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils -- and taking a daily multivitamin supplement can help you meet all of your nutrition needs, including requirements for fiber, vitamins and minerals. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, women who eat 2,000 calories a day should aim for 2 cups of fruits, 2.5 cups of vegetables, 6 ounces of grains, 5.5 ounces of high-protein foods, 3 cups of dairy foods and 6 teaspoons of oils each day.
- Weight Control Information Network: Overweight and Obesity Statistics
- Harvard Medical School: Good Nutrition: Should Guidelines Differ for Men and Women?
- University of Missouri: Female Calorie Needs
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: How Are Overweight and Obesity Treated?
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images