Whether you're looking to lose weight or just maintain it, the key is balancing calories. To break it down, a calorie is a unit of energy, and to maintain your weight you need to consume as many as you burn. If you decide to take the plunge into the world of weight loss, however, you'll need to lower your calorie intake. A diet composed of healthy foods is important, but when it comes to weight management, calories really are queen.
When you're maintaining your weight, you're in what's known as caloric balance. According to nutritionist Lyle McDonald, women need around 14 calories per pound of body weight daily to maintain weight. This varies from person to person though, so the most accurate way to track whether you're in a calorie balance is to weigh yourself once a week. If the scale's not moving, or fluctuates around the same amount every weigh in, you know you're on track.
You've got to create a calorie deficit to lose weight, which means burning more calories than you consume. It takes a deficit of 3,500 calories to lose 1 pound of body weight, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you're currently maintaining your weight, cut 500 to 1,000 calories from your intake each day and you'll lose 1 to 2 pounds per week.
To work out your calorie needs a little more accurately, use the basal metabolic rate formula to determine how many calories you burn each day at rest:
The formula for women is BMR = 655 + ( 4.35 x weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 x height in inches ) - ( 4.7 x age in years )
From here, you then factor in your activity level to find how many calories you burn in an average day. Multiply your BMR result by 1.2 if you're sedentary, 1.375 if you're lightly active, 1.55 if you're moderately active, 1.725 if you're very active and 1.9 if you're extremely active.
Once you have your magic number, stick at this calorie intake to maintain weight, or reduce it by 500 to 1,000 per day to lose weight. These recommendations are all based on equations and theories and, while they're accurate to a degree, you may need to tweak them to find what works best for you. The easiest way to do this is at your weekly weigh in. When attempting to lose weight, shoot for 1 to 2 pounds of weight loss per week. If you're not achieving this, lower your calories by a further 100 to 200 per day. If you're losing more than 2 pounds per week after the initial few weeks of dieting, you should push your intake up a little. If you're in the 1-to-2-pound sweet spot, keep doing what you're doing.
- A Guide to Flexible Dieting; Lyle McDonald
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Healthy Weight - It's Not a Diet, It's a Lifestyle
- BMI Calculator: BMR Formula
- BMI Calculator: Harris Benedict Equation
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.